Refugees and the Kiwi summer holidays

From Voices, 7:00 am on 23 December 2019

New Zealanders are taking a well deserved break from work to travel and relax with family and friends for Christmas and the New Year holidays.

But how do refugees from different cultures and countries view this time of the year in Aotearoa New Zealand when most businesses shut down?

Meet the Chengazi family, who live in a two-storey house in a quiet suburb in Hamilton down a right of way. The family arrived in October 2018 and this is their second summer in New Zealand.

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The Changezi family (L-R) Farij, Liaquat, Fatima, Madiha, Fazeel and Maliha.

The Changezi family (L-R) Farij, Liaquat, Fatima, Madiha, Fazeel and Maliha. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Father Liaquat tells me life in Pakistan was so different.

"In 2013, we had the worst year in Pakistan. They killed so many people and big suicide attacks over there. So I decide, no, this is not the right time to stay here."

He got visas to go to Singapore and he took his family of six there, and then moved on to Thailand and Malaysia. It was in Jakarta that they declared themselves as asylum seekers.

In 2015, the family's application for refugee status was accepted and files were sent out to countries, and New Zealand accepted them.

The process to get over here took two-and-a-half years, because the time is needed to do various checks and paperwork.

Fazeel Aquil says he likes the people here. "They are so kind and nice."

"And this country is so peaceful," says Mum Fatima Ali, "as in Pakistan I was very scared."

Madiha Ali says this time of the year is just like any other day for them.

"Especially last year, it was kind of hard. When you come here initially you don't have much connection and you don't know what to do."

She says she wishes New Zealand had a holiday for Eid, which literally means a "festival" or "feast" in Arabic. There are two major eids in the Islamic calendar each year.

"It isn't like the holiday for us in the cultural sense," says Madiha.

Fazeel Aquil wants new arrivals not to expect people to reply to emails or phone calls during Christmas and New Years.

"You get sad thinking, why don't they reply? But then you realise they are all on holiday and this is their time to relax and chill.

"You are starting life right at the beginning, and our expectations are a bit higher, so bit disheartening, so don't expect too much. For Christmas, I just want to wish you all a happy Christmas and happy new year - nothing else."

The Gonzalez family have come from Colombia to settle here.

This year marks their first Christmas and summer holiday here in Aotearoa New Zealand, and they are Catholic and love everything about Christmas.

Their words were translated into English by Paula Santacruz.

Gonzalez family (L-R) Thomas (14), Giovanny (23) Gabriel and Barbara.

Gonzalez family (L-R) Thomas (14), Giovanny (23) Gabriel and Barbara. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Giovani is 23 years old and is a student at WINTEC. Tomas is 14 years old.

"I go to Fraser High School and next year I will be in Year 11," says Tomas.

The two brothers are passionate dancers and back home in Colombia they did competitive hip hop dancing.

"It is difficult for you if you start a new country with no speak the same language and you miss the persons in your own country," says Giovanny.

"But I hope you all have a happy Christmas and thanks too for this country - it is very beautiful."

The family describe Colombia as a country rich in resources.

Father Gabrielle Gonzales is a bit sad at this time because the family were forced to leave their home in a hurry and escape to Ecuador, before coming to New Zealand as refugees.

"Everything left behind," he says. "Very sad, but I'm grateful I got my wife here and two children. But still there are children left behind such as my two daughters."

His first impressions of New Zealand were positive.

"When we got to the Mangere Refugee [Centre], their welcome was amazing. It was a beautiful experience to feel that and when we arrived to Hamilton it was amazing, the way we had the flat warming and welcomed by everybody."

Refugees outside the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

Refugees outside the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre. Photo: AFP

"It was very nice because we lost everything because of the situation that we were forced to leave and come here."

Mum Barbara Gonzales says Christmas is about God, family and giving thanks.

"I hope you have a very happy Christmas and as we say in Spanish, Feliz navidad.

"We hope you all enjoy this time in your home with family and with new year coming up I hope all your projects and goals get accomplished in the new year, if they weren't fulfilled this year."

Gabrielle agrees being here in Aotearoa for their first Christmas and New Year holiday is special.

"I just want to say to the people of New Zealand - thank you. Thank you for accepting us, for welcoming us and for being so respectful towards us. "

*This story was made with the help of the New Zealand Red Cross.