21 Dec 2018

Two refugee families are preparing for their first NZ Christmas

1:05 pm on 21 December 2018

Two refugee families are preparing to celebrate their first New Zealand Christmas in their new homes next week.

L - R - Anyela, Tenorio and Ana Maria De La Cruz

Colombian refugees Tenorio and Anyela De La Cruz with their three-year-old daughter Ana Maria. Photo: RNZ / Indira Stewart

Lorena Mendez and her nine-year-old son Fabian Cuellar Mendez have been refugees for more than two years and along with her husband Fabio and baby Alan, they arrived at the Refugee Resettlement centre in Mangere, South Auckland two months ago.

Husband and wife Tenorio and Anyela De La Cruz have been refugees for six-and-a-half years and also arrived at the resettlement centre at the same time with their three-year-old daughter Ana Maria.

Both families are from Colombia but flew in from Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Despite the peace treaty between Colombia and Ecuador, violence in the country remained rife, they say.

Tenorio said he faced death threats every day and had been forced to flee his home.

Today, after years of being displaced, they will board a plane to the South Island where they'll be resettled into their new homes in Invercargill.

And they're hopeful for a new start.

"I feel happy," explained Mrs De La Cruz.*

"Excited about moving and also to see what our house is going to be like, our neighbours and surroundings," she said.

"I'm feeling a little excitement, anxiety of looking forward to what's awaiting us," added her husband.

"Yes, we're very anxious too to start a new life in a country where there is no violence. I hardly slept last night because I was excited just thinking about having to leave here and travel."

"Yes I'm very excited about leaving," agreed Mrs Mendez.

"I'm excited about finding out what the house is going to be like, the streets the neighbours. Everything."

While it will be their first Christmas in New Zealand, both families said they hadn't thought about celebrating it.

"The truth is I haven't made any plans yet," said Mrs Mendez.

"I don't have any plans, I don't know...I don't know if I will be at their (Tenorio and Anyela) house to spend Christmas or somewhere else on the street or if I will be visiting others."

"We don't have any plans either," said Mr De La Cruz.

"The thing would be to arrive there and see what we can do there in Invercargill."

Both Mrs De La Cruz and Mrs Mendez explained that traditionally in Colombia, their families would gather on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve to eat together and receive blessings from one another.

L-R -Fabian Cuellar Mendez, Lorena Mendez and Alan Cuellar Mendez

Fabian Cuellar Mendez, Lorena Mendez and Alan Cuellar Mendez. Photo: RNZ / Indira Stewart

But this year, Mrs Mendez admitted it will be different.

"I feel it's very different here. But I have to wait and see what it's going to be like because Christmas is new to us. It's different from the way that they celebrate it in Colombia."

Her son Fabian simply explained what he was looking forward to the most.

"My own house," he said.

And they're not expecting any gifts for Christmas.

"The day they told us about our house, that was the best present for me," claimed Mrs Mendez.

"For me, the biggest gift was the day that they told me that I was coming to this beautiful country," added Tenorio. "That's been the biggest gift I've ever received."

But what they don't know is that the Red Cross have organised Christmas gifts for both families and will be waiting at the airport to celebrate the holiday season with them as soon as they arrive.

Immigration resettlement manager  Sarah Ward

Immigration resettlement manager Sarah Ward Photo: RNZ / Indira Stewart

Immigration resettlement manager Sarah Ward said Immigration New Zealand organised the housing for the families as well as new furniture packages for their homes to help them start their new lives. The Red Cross have also provided them with bedding and cutlery, alongside gifts from other donors.

"Each family here will be matched with a team of volunteers, usually two or three people who are just fantastic because they bring that community sense instantly and when they arrive in Invercargill tomorrow, they'll have a really nice surprise waiting for them.

"And if the weather's good they might even put on a barbecue for them."

The volunteers who will greet the families will also continue to visit them alongside other settlement workers as they rebuild their lives and settle into their new community.

For her first New Zealand Christmas, Mrs Mendez said she is now hopeful for a new future.

"You arrive here with new expectations and you come here with a different view of things. I am here with a hope of a new life."

* The families spoke through a translator.