Southland accepts its first group of refugees as Invercargill becomes a resettlement area

Southland has accepted its first group of refugees as Invercargill becomes a new resettlement area.

After years of living in fear, the three families from Colombia finally have a safe place to call home, in Invercargill.

Years of conflict and drug wars in the South American country meant many families chose to cross the border into ecuador to escape.

"If we stayed in Colombia, maybe we would already be dead," Flor Ciro, one of the refugees, told 1 NEWS. 

Gabrielle Humphreys of Invercargill Red Cross said in Colombia "there's a lot of pressure to grow cocaine or work in that world in some way".

Fifteen Colombians are now living in Invercargill, the first of more than 90 refugees arriving in the next year.

"Having a rural background means that they're well suited to the area. Southland's got a very strong economic strategy and wants more workers," Ms Humphreys said.

It was heartbreaking for the refugees to leave their loved ones.

"We miss them a lot, but here we know that we are calm and safe," Ms Ciro said.

And they've held on to a little piece of home - a flag from their homeland. 

"We carry Colombia in our heart and although it's far away it's still in our hearts."

Their goal now is to learn English and get jobs. 

Invercargill Deputy Mayor Rebecca Amunsden says thousands more people are needed in the province.

"We need 10,000 more people to move to Invercargill and Southland in the next 10 years, and so the refugee families play a really important part in that," she said.

Locals are embracing the new arrivals.

"A few different places have started Spanish classes so that people can learn Spanish. And it's become really popular," Ms Amunsden said.

And while the refugees say it's "very cold", the cooler climate is an adjustment they are happy to make as they build a new life in the south.

Invercargill has become a new resettlement area, welcoming three families from Colombia. Source: 1 NEWS