Anna Stevens, Left, Susan O'Connell, centre, and Saralinda MacMillian with a photo of the refugee family there are hoping to sponsor out to Nelson. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

Group hoping to help refugee family


A group of Nelson women are hoping to sponsor an Eritrean refugee family, which has already tragically lost their mother, under a new community scheme announced by the government this month.

Saralinda MacMillan, Susan O’Connell and Anna Stevens last year found out about the plight of Solomon and his two young daughters who are Eritrean refugees living in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.

Solomon’s wife disappeared two years ago while desperately trying to seek asylum in Europe and now Saralinda and her friends want to help Solomon and his daughters get out of the country safely.

Saralinda says she found out about the family through her sister-in-law Phyllis Buton who is a lecturer at Sydney University. Phyllis supervises a medical researcher, Stephanie Johnson, who had been doing voluntary hospital work in Addis Ababa and was contacted by Solomon.

“Solomon walked into the UN offices over there and saw a form for refugees applying to get to New Zealand and contacted Stephanie about it,” Saralinda says. “She told Phyllis about it and Phyllis mentioned it to me and I said ‘I’d see what I can do to help’, so that’s how it started.”

Saralinda says the timing is perfect because the government has just introduced a trial community-based refuge sponsorship category that is separate to the existing quota system.

She talked to Anna and Susan about it and they, along with Stephanie and UK journalist Anne Little, who used Solomon as a translator when she was working in Ethiopia, started raising funds to meet the sponsorship criteria.

The community-based scheme requires the sponsors to fund domestic travel from the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre to their new home, arrange accommodation and furniture and help place the refugees in a job.

Saralinda says they are already well on the way to raising sufficient funds to help Solomon and his family, but urgently need backing from a registered legal entity to meet the last piece of the sponsorship criteria.

Saralinda says Nick Mason of Pitt and Moore Lawyers in Nelson has already helped, providing free legal services for the group’s bid to save Solomon. Now all they need is an appropriate organisation to help the group meet all the scheme’s criteria.

“It’s urgent, because the applications for the community refugee sponsorship close at the end of November and if we miss that we’ll have to wait another year,” she says. “The girls have already lost their mother and Solomon is doing his best to care for them under difficult conditions, but they need to get out.”

Anyone who wants to help can contact Saralinda by emailing [email protected]