Dunedin gives Syrian refugees an All Blacks kinda welcome

A large group of Red Cross workers and local volunteers met 13 Syrian families at Dunedin Airport this morning, with one refugee saying he feels like he’s been “born again”.

There were hugs and tears as residents welcomed the 49 nervous refugees to the southern city.

The group are the first of many due to be resettled in Dunedin over the next year.

Red Cross will provide initial support in helping them settle in, find employment and connect with community services like healthcare and schooling.

Among those families arriving today are Wafaa Alshram and her 13-year-old son Ahmed. The family had to leave behind their 16-year-old son in Syria.

Through a translator, Ahmed said he was overwhelmed by the kindness of people and the welcome they received.

“The first day I arrived here, I feel like I’m born again and I am feeling this is a different world.

“[It’s] very warm hospitality and all the welcomes that even we didn’t receive back home, not even from the president, not anyone,” he said.

He’d heard Dunedin was “the most beautiful place”.

“We just want to stay here and live in peace with you.”

Well Ahmed, I can tell you this much: there we absolutely agree.  We want you to live in peace with us too. Would have been nice to know your mother’s views, but they aren’t in the article.

[Red Cross] Secretary general Tony Paine says there’s been a strong show of support for the city becoming a resettlement centre.

“We encourage everyone to reach out and be that friendly face over the fence, but give it a little time — let the families settle in and get to know their new homes. Moving is hard for anyone, even if it’s just across town. For these families, it will be an even more daunting task.”

He says the families will be understandably anxious about their new homes.

“Anyone who has moved cities or to a new town where you don’t know anyone knows it is a time of anxiety and stress and that’s no different. People will be trying to suss out New Zealand and how we do things so it’s a difficult time for people so they need some space and some support but it’s a natural thing to do to move somewhere new, and really that’s the story of New Zealand.”

I hope our UN-based vetting process is as sound as the government believes it is, because then we truly have grateful refugees who are getting a brilliant start at a whole new life. On that basis, I wish them all the best.


– Newshub


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  • Muffin

    Time will tell.

  • LabTested

    The family had to leave behind their 16-year-old son…

    Tell us more..Why? Did he fail even the most basic security screening?

    • Miss McGerkinshaw

      Maybe he just didn’t want to leave but ‘had to leave behind’ sounds so much sadder than he’d just preferred to stay for whatever reason?

    • HR

      Gone to Europe and disappeared?

      • Cadwallader

        Yes; racing across Europe in a nice new pair of Nikes.

        • one for the road

          With a smartphone, et al

    • Mrs_R

      ‘The family had to leave behind their 16-year-old son in Syria.’

      That sentence also gave me pause. When I first read it I wondered if only a set number of family members could be chosen to leave, and I imagined the unlucky distraught 16yr old who was left behind. Heart stopping. And then I thought where is dad, and I wondered if the 16yr stayed with him. But the part that says ‘had to leave behind’ does make it sound like the family was torn apart. How’s that for an early morning waffle :)

    • OneTrack

      He had joined ISIS and refused to leave?

  • Cadwallader

    Dunedin clings rather loosely to its claim to be a Scottish city. The links other than street names etc are fading. In 50-100 years it’ll be interesting to see what linkages Dunedin can then ascribe to.
    If these arrivees are genuinely grateful for a new life it’ll be revealed in their children/grandchildren. I suppose some of them have every likelihood of becoming students at Otago University one day. I hope the ongoing deprecation of our values by the academics there does not disillusion the newcomers and cause them to yearn for “home.”

  • hookerphil

    I hope they cOme from the Damascus area ” Syria – mostly desert; hot, dry, sunny summers (June to August) and mild, rainy winters (December to February) along coast; cold weather with snow or sleet periodically in Damascus” as they will be getting some weather like that in the next few months.

  • Hans

    They claim there was strong support in Dunedin to accept the Syrian refugees, this is a incorrect. No one asked the community ever, just a bunch a liberals came up with the brain wave to get migrants to come to Dunedin because the liberals in the city council thought we may make some money out of inviting them here. Government pays around 100k per head so the more we take the more money Dunedin makes apparently – they live in a dream world.

    • Aucky

      Well they are here now Hans and the time for semantics is over. We can either give these people a hand up and remember our own immigrant forebears or we can shun and ghetto-ise them and reap the consequences.

      • Hans

        You are correct and i do truly hope these new kiwis grasp this chance of a life time with both hands, but it is up to them to take further steps up the ladder and contribute to the NZ way of life

      • one for the road

        We should give them a handup and welcome into the community AND they should adopt our culture and social norms (like equal rights and opportunities for all, respect for the individual, etc) – no radical Muslim practices and beliefs allowed in Godsown thank you very much!!

  • Doc45

    My uncle and aunt took in a young Hungarian refugee couple in the 1950’s. They arrived with virtually nothing. They were frightened almost to the point of being sick. They left family behind, some had been shot and others imprisoned. Their struggle with language, culture, getting work, fear was heart rending but with my uncle and aunt’s care and their own determination they became excellent citizens, hard workers, successful in business, true Kiwis and forever grateful. It would make a great book.

    • kayaker

      Similar story with a refugee family from Kosovo who arrived in Auckland I the mid-’90s. They arrived with nothing – rented a house we owned at the time and we befriended them. They, too, were traumatised and left parents and family behind. Over time, they told us of the horror they and their family had experienced. It was just unbelievable. Their children had memories too – it was a very character building time for us, including our 10yo son who was the same age as their son. They became great mates.
      We’re still friends and are so grateful we met – we are humbled by just knowing them.

      They’ve all worked hard (both parents are medical professionals and had to start all over again). Their son is now at Otago Med School, their daughter is a pharmacist. How good is that?

      Funny story – on the first Easter they were here, I bought Easter eggs for the kids. They were so excited! The parents thanked us profusely for our thoughtfulness. I didn’t even realise they were Muslim, but no-one cared. They were just happy to be here. An excellent example of a refugee family who’ve integrated and got on with life.

  • LesleyNZ

    Interesting comment “The first day I arrived here, I feel like I’m born again and I am feeling this is a different world….” Well I hope and pray that Ahmed does hear the Christian gospel message and is indeed “born again”. Afterall – he would not have much of an opportunity to hear the gospel message living back in Syria. It is said that “God works in mysterious ways – his wonders to perform.” Who knows……

    • kereru

      My thoughts exactly! I wonder if he realised what he was saying? When I first stepped on the tarmac at Auckland Airport I could have kissed the ground, but even I did not know the term ‘born again’. Interesting turn of phrase.

  • Damon Mudgway

    Not convinced, never will be. But the choice to assimilate is now well and truly in these so called refugees hands.

  • OneTrack

    How long before there is “trouble” like the last crew in Hamilton had, and they are sent to Auckland. Which has all the housing that is required.

    • johnandali

      If there isn’t a mosque in Dunedin, it won’t be long before the Sunni Saudis offer to build one for them. Then the radical Egyptian branch of the Moslem Brotherhood (also Sunni) will offer to send one of their imams to Dunedin to teach and counsel them. That seems to be the pattern.

      • Davey

        There is one. It’s on Clyde St by the university. Looks like they’ve repurposed an old hall.

  • Greg

    • RealKiwi

      Thank You Greg for posting this link
      I’ve been listening to Paul Weston for quite some time and to any intelligent person he makes total sense. I would hope that some of our politicians listen to what he has to say

  • Christine

    I would still prefer that NZ invited Christian refugees from Middle Eastern countries. Their need is greater. What is happening in the ME countries is a genocide based on belief. Christians have nowhere to go and are even abused by muslims in the refugee camps. Christians at least have a basic sense of the values that the West was built on, and possibly a better chance of integrating.
    Having said that I do wish the Dunedin intake the best of luck.

    • Duchess of Pork

      Sorry Christine, I hadn’t read this before I posted above in similar vein

  • Duchess of Pork

    My heart breaks for the forgotten ones, the Yazidis and other Christians persecuted beyond measure, seldom even making it to the refugee camps where they too would have the possibility of the new life that has been afforded our newcomers. Middle Eastern Christians must feel that the West has forsaken them.

    • Ruahine

      Some of the appalling things that have been done to Yazidi Teenage girls makes one feel a little unsympathetic towards the UN decided ‘refugees’.
      However not knowing each persons individual circumstances perhaps I am being unduly harsh.
      There you are typical NZ trait. Apologising

      • Duchess of Pork

        I feel sympathetic towards all refugees but am highly skeptical of the
        biased UN selection process. The persecution of Christians in the Middle East has rightly been termed genocide by the US government but it appears that neither they, the UN, the Pope as head of the Catholic Church, Western leaders or the public they serve are prepared to advocate for these forgotten peoples. Have Western secularists done such a hatchet job on Christians over the last 20-30 years that we are now prepared to abandon those who most need our help as relics of a bygone age? I write this as an Agnostic but feel strongly for those victims of war who in addition to having their loved ones killed and maimed, their work, businesses, homes and devotional buildings destroyed are also persecuted for the beliefs that would give them some semblance of comfort throughout their travails.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    The story of NZ according to Paine. What a load of baloney. The only thing we can expect is the ODT towing the Media party line. They forget the gap between Hope and Deliverance.

  • idbkiwi

    “On that basis, I wish them all the best”, hear, hear.

    My wife is sympathetic to the plight of refugees; her father was one, coming to New Zealand in his late teens with his mother and brother as “displaced persons”. Caught up in the ugly events in newly-Communist Romania after WW2 his family were targeted, they were “stateless” as Greek citizens in Romania, they were betrayed and ostracised as capitalists, his father having committed the crime of owning a confectionery factory. The head of the family was taken away by the “special police” and interrogated for seven days, when he was re-united with his family the once proud and strong man was brain-damaged, unable to speak or even dress himself ever again. My father-in-law always burst into tears when he recalled the awful day his father was “released”.

    Arriving in New Zealand with a large number of other Greek refugees during the 1951 waterfront strike they were transported by train to a camp at Pahiatua. On the third day at the camp they were all instructed to get into a line, my father-in-law, Gregory, was deeply suspicious and panicked, getting in lines was an indicator of bad, bad things to come. He described how “a man came down the lines, all the Greeks together, and handed every single person ten shillings” at which point, every single time he told this story he also burst into tears, without fail. “Ten shillings, ten shillings, we couldn’t believe it”, “New Zealand”, he would say often, “is the best country in the world”. He was a hard man and did not live a blameless life, he was successful in business and employed dozens over the years in his string of dry-cleaning shops here in Wellington, but he never forgot the generosity and opportunity extended to him by the people of these shores. He died a proud Kiwi.

  • ross

    Another group to make the ”do-gooders” feel like saints while another ethnic enclave gets set up in New Zealand.

  • sandalwood789

    “Red Cross will provide initial support in helping them settle in, **find employment**…”

    That will be interesting. I don’t think many of these people will be flush with qualifications. I guess there’s always the old stand-by – taxi-driving.

    I wonder if they will be making demands of their employers? Things like halal food, prayer rooms and prayer times and so on. We’ll see.

  • kehua

    I cannot see this working out well for these Syrians, over the last 50 years I have visited Otago on many occasions and indeed have close friends in several of the smaller towns through out the provence. These are all good people but are extremely parochial, how they will welcome Syrian `refugees` is beyond me, Otago people generally seem to hate/distrust anyone from Southland, Canterbury and the North Island even more so if they have Maori or any `dark` blood. This experiment is doomed to fail.