New Zealand welcomes Syrian refugees to new home

The first Syrian refugees to enter New Zealand since the government announced it would take additional people have arrived in Wellington.

A group of 74 Syrian refugees have headed to their new Wellington homes after a warm welcome full of hugs, laughter and a few tears, local media reported.

About 20 fellow Syrians who had resettled in Wellington during the past year joined about 100 Red Cross staff and volunteers to welcome them on Friday afternoon at Wellington Airport, along with seven new refugees from Colombia and Iraq.

The families, couples and individuals who’ll be starting new lives in Wellington are the first of the extra 750 Syrian refugees the Government has agreed to take in, in response to the major humanitarian crisis facing the Middle East and Europe.

One of the group of about 80 Syrians who arrived last year, Nader Restom-Agha, said he was happy to be welcoming the newcomers to their community. “There was no community to welcome us – and of course they are happy to see us and we are happy as well.

“We are ready to help them and support, and we can teach them things we learnt during the last year and help them settle and we can help them integrate into society.”

He said he hoped the government could take more people. “We wish the government could help us to get some of our relatives who are still in Syria suffering.”

Staff and volunteers have been busy setting up homes and making sure all the right help is in place for each family, says Red Cross humanitarian services manager for Wellington Shane Laulu.

“The feel has been very positive around communities across the Wellington region being very welcoming of the new families,” he told NZ Newswire.

“It’s been a fantastic response and very encouraging in terms of a real sense of Kiwi generosity.”

Refugee support services in Auckland and Wellington have been calling for more funding – and warning that Dunedin needs to start now to prepare for its own new arrivals in April.

The Red Cross’ national programme development manager Rachel O’Connor says the refugees are looking forward to starting anew in New Zealand.

“I had a woman once who said to me that her life stopped when she entered a refugee camp and it didn’t start again until the day she left. That’s our job as the Red Cross, to help people start their life,” Ms O’Connor told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

Most arriving refugees just want to “be able to raise their kids, to get an education and to have a safe life,” she says.

“We have been overwhelmed by Wellingtonians donating items, volunteering their time, and what we’re basically saying is, ‘Be good neighbours, welcome people when you meet them if they’re new to New Zealand’. We’re looking for good employers who might be willing to give somebody their first job, and in two months we’ll be welcoming another small group of refugees as well so we’re looking for more people who might want to volunteer to support them.”

The next groups of Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in March and May.

The Government announced in September that it would welcome 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

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