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Yousef Mazraeh was forced to flee Iran with his wife and three children after a protracted period of imprisonment.
Yousef spent 8 years in prison and his family knew nothing of his whereabouts for 36 months while he was in solitary confinement. When he was eventually released, the family decided it was too unsafe for them to remain in the country.
The Mazraehs fled to Indonesia where they registered as refugees and awaited resettlement.
The chances of resettlement were slim; less than 1% of the world’s 21.3 million refugees are resettled each year.
Yousef was also keen to reunite with his brother, Ali, who had just been accepted for resettlement in New Zealand.
When Ali arrived in New Zealand in 2010, he began the long and expensive process of applying for a family reunification visa.
They waited over two years for the process to be completed and a visa for the family granted.
Yousef is grateful for the support he was offered when they arrived in Wellington.
His kids started going to school while he and his wife studied English. Around a year after they arrived in New Zealand they welcomed a new baby.
“Our first Kiwi-born boy,” he says proudly.
These days the family of six are an important part of their local community.
“When I see my daughters going to town with their friends or my son playing soccer, I feel like I belong,” he says.
“We are stable and this is our life. I feel like we have integrated into this community nicely.”
Mastering a new language was one of the most challenging aspects of their resettlement but now, less than five years later, he’s fluent in English and giving back to his new home.
Finding employment and giving back
Yousef began volunteering with Changemakers Refugee Forum and Refugee Trauma Recovery not long after arriving in New Zealand because he was eager to help other people who had been in a similar position to him.
Through these avenues, he heard about a job opening at Red Cross as a cross-cultural worker.
His application was successful and now Yousef spends his days supporting other families on their resettlement journey through the Red Cross Pathways to Settlement programme.
While most people hate saying goodbye, for Yousef it’s a mark of success.
“When we exit a family [from the Pathways to Settlement programme] it means that they have resettled well,” he says.
“It means they have all of the basic needs; they’re studying, have health care, their kids are in school, and they are happy. I like this because it makes me feel as though I’ve helped someone.”
Although - he admits that there are some challenging aspects to his work, especially when the families he is supporting come to him with concerns about relatives still overseas.
“People often want to know how they can bring their family members to New Zealand under a family reunification visa,” he says.
Family reunification visas are costly and the process is lengthy which means families often remain separated for years, decades, or sometimes never reunite.
“Sometimes they remember their missing family members and start crying,” Yousef says, thinking of his past interactions with people in the programme.
“Listening to people’s trauma and their past is difficult.”
Looking to the future
Yousef is a proud Kiwi and loves his new home. He’s amazed by the beauty of the landscape and kindness of other New Zealanders.
Even the unpredictable nature of Wellington’s weather can’t get Yousef down.
“It’s much the same as our lives, sometimes it’s sunny, sometimes it’s cloudy, and sometimes it rains,” he says, the inner poet shining through.
Yousef is still working with Red Cross and now he’s also studying tourism. He dreams of owning his own tourism company so he can proudly show-off his new country.
He’s also fulfilling a lifelong dream to become an Arabic teacher by providing free lessons to Kiwis who are interested in the language.
The interest in his Arabic classes has been so high that he's expanded his lessons to two sessions each week.
“I wanted to give something back to the community,” he says of his decision to provide the classes.
Yousef is featured in our ‘Get to know me’ campaign, which calls on Kiwis to challenge their perception of “refugees”.