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Imagine one day, the walls of your home start shaking, the sounds of our Tūī are replaced by those of loud explosions, fresh air changes to the smell of burning and death, and blue skies are hidden behind grey smoke. Imagine Aotearoa is no longer safe. Bullets and bombs have become the new normal.
What would you do?
In Syria since March 2011, the fighting between state and non-state armed groups has caused large-scale death and destruction, and has triggered more than five million people to flee the bombs and bullets and escape across borders. Millions more have been displaced inside Syria and are still in dire need of assistance. As the war continues, hope is fading fast.
Ten years after the start of the Syrian conflict, people in Syria are faced with a multitude of crises: continuous hostilities, a complete economic breakdown and the COVID-19 pandemic. Infrastructure across the country is ruined. People are unable to cover their most basic needs because of serious shortages of food, water, fuel, and medicines, among other supplies. They are more dependent on aid today than they were five or 10 years ago. Millions of Syrians, who were once self-sufficient, rely on humanitarian assistance and face a serious food shortages. The top three priorities expressed by Syrians are access to food and nutrition, livelihood support and shelter support over winter.
Since the beginning of the conflict, our colleagues at the Syrian Arab Red Crescent have been on the frontline of the humanitarian response to this crisis. With support from across the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, Red Crescent volunteers bring aid, medical assistance and care to millions of people, without regard for political affiliation, ethnicity or creed. Risking their own lives, Red Crescent volunteers are delivering 60 per cent of all aid in Syria.
From Syria to Aotearoa
In November 2014, as an increasing number of people were forced to flee Syria, New Zealand started offering sanctuary to Syrian refugees. A special emergency quota was set up for people who had fled the Syrian conflict, in addition to New Zealand’s annual Refugee Quota Programme of 750.
In the last seven years, Aotearoa has welcomed thousands of Syrian refugees. It is undeniable that Syrians have made New Zealand a better place – a country that is a little more diverse, skilled, colourful and beautiful than before. Over the years, these new Kiwis have shared their culture, skills, food, work ethic with the rest of Aotearoa.
From bringing unique stone masonry skills, to sewing garments and pursuing a dream to be a midwife in New Zealand, Syrian Kiwis have become an integral part of our communities. Just like many former refugees from other countries, they have supported the country which provided them with a safe home, even in the toughest times, including as essential workers during COVID-19 Alert Level 3 and 4 lockdowns.
Meet some of these people.
The Loulou family
The Loulous are just like any other Kiwi family. They argue over messy bedrooms, spend time together and tease each other in the way only families can. However, unlike many in their neighbourhood, they have made a long and difficult journey to get here.
One of the hardest challenges in New Zealand for the Loulou family has been to learn New Zealand Sign Language to communicate with Adbul, the youngest son who grew up deaf. For Mona, Abdul’s mum who spoke very little English before arriving, this has been a particular challenge. She has had to learn two new languages: English and New Zealand Sign Language.
Manahel is a single mother who fled the war in Syria with her three young children. After living in Lebanon for nearly two years, she and her kids settled in Dunedin where she took on a job as a machinist — her first job ever — to provide for her family. For Manahel’s colleagues who work with her on a daily basis, Manahel is an inspiration. Her journey, her attitude in life and her warm personality has deeply impacted her team.
Abdal is a well-known caterer in Dunedin. He can be found at the local Farmers Market on Saturdays, introducing delicious Syrian cuisine to residents.
Abdal was supported by Red Cross’ Pathways to Employment programme as he was in the process of setting up his own business. The Red Cross team encouraged Abdal to attend a first aid course so he could learn life-saving skills such as what to do if someone is chocking or bleeding. Not long after this training, Abdal’s new skills turned out to be very useful – during COVID-19 lockdown in April 2019, Taha, Abdal’s one-year old son, was found in bed not breathing. Luckily, Abdal knew what to do.
Rahaf has always been ambitious. From a very young age, she dreamed of going to university. When the war broke out in Syria and her family was forced to flee, Rahaf did not stop pursuing her goals.
Thanks to her hard work and excellent grades, Rahaf was able to get into Health Science at the University of Otago and win two different scholarships, all the while working part-time. Rahaf’s determination means she will pursue her dream to study medicine, no matter what. She’s enrolled this year to start Biomedical Science, majoring in functional human biology.
Nedal Ebrahim never thought he would be forced to flee his home and start all over again. A former refugee, a supermarket assistant, a passionate cook and a COVID-19 essential worker, Nedal has become an important and valued member of his new community.
Nedal works in the kitchen at Taste Nature. During COVID-19 Alert Level 4 lockdown, Nedal moved to the shop to help restock shelves, as demand for their goods increased. The grocery section in Taste Nature was allowed to stay open and Nedal became an essential worker as a supermarket assistant.
Did you know?
New Zealand Red Cross is the primary provider of community refugee settlement in Aotearoa, supporting and empowering new Kiwis as they rebuild their lives. The Red Cross team is always looking for volunteers wanting to help a new Kiwi family get settled in or employers keen to offer a job to a former refugee.