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.


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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

They say that news is something that someone, somewhere, wants kept quiet. Cam Slater doesn’t do quiet and, as a result, he is a polarising, controversial but highly effective journalist who takes no prisoners.

He is fearless in his pursuit of a story.

Love him or loathe him, you can’t ignore him.

To read Cam’s previous articles click on his name in blue.