29 Oct 2021

Iraqi hairdresser desperate to get family to New Zealand

2:09 pm on 29 October 2021

An Iraqi hairdresser living in Napier says he may be forced to close up and leave if he can't get his family into the country.

Bilal Al-Sharmy at his Greats Cuts and Colours salon in Napier.

Bilal Al-Sharmy at his Greats Cuts and Colours salon in Napier. Photo: RNZ / Tom Kitchin

His sister and her family are in Indonesia as asylum seekers, after threats from Isis drove them out of Iraq.

This comes as New Zealand falls far short of its refugee quota, with some saying the resettlement centre in Auckland should double as an MIQ facility.

Bilal Al-Shamry built his business from scratch, but he said he was willing to throw it all away for his sister and her family.

"I worked hard to get busy and get a good name and all that stuff, but this is nothing to me when it comes to my sister. I don't mind. If I can start here from nothing I can start somewhere as well from nothing, but I don't want to. This place is home to me."

His regular customers said they did not want to him to leave.

"I'd be very disappointed if it got to that point and it'll probably push me to advocate through my networks as well," one of his customers said.

"I think a lot of people would be upset, he's probably one of the most well known barbers around this area," another customer said.

"It's quite busy and quite popular so yeah, no it'd be just a waste to leave ... he's basically the only one that could do my hair, especially my curly hair," a third customer said.

In 2006, under the threat of kidnapping, Al-Shamry moved from Iraq to Syria. He arrived in New Zealand in 2010.

"It's great actually, it's awesome to be here, free, work, live a good life, a decent life, you know. Just, the only hard part is there is no family around you."

He lives in New Zealand with his mother, wife and 1-year-old son - but said his family was not complete.

His sister, her husband and three children were living a peaceful life in the city of Mosul in Iraq when their world turned upside down as the threat of Isis arrived in 2014.

His sister's husband was working in a passport office when two Isis affiliates threatened to kill him because he would not issue passports without official documents.

The family escaped to Beirut in Lebanon and were given refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

But one day at a police checkpoint, an officer would not accept her husband's refugee status letter and said he was an illegal resident. Suddenly, they were again forced to leave.

Eventually they found Indonesia would take them - and had been there for five years as asylum seekers.

Al-Shamry said they had tried every avenue to get them to New Zealand - even badgering the local MP.

"They've just been trying and we haven't found any luck. One of my lawyers, she said let's go to Stuart Nash and see what he can do for us."

Nash told RNZ that refugee status for people overseas was determined by the United Nations, and the government could not influence their decision.

Undeterred, Al-Shamry even tried finding Nash's boss.

Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre's accommodation buildings.

Māngere refugee resettlement centre. Photo: RNZ / Israa Emhail

"Every time when I hear Prime Minister Jacinda in Hawke's Bay, honestly you can't believe, I will stop work, take time for a break and just drive and try to find her so I can just tell her the story."

New Zealand's annual refugee quota increased to 1500 places a year from July 2020.

But since then, largely due to the pandemic, fewer than 400 have arrived.

Asylum Seekers Support Trust general manager Tim Maurice thought there could be a way around it.

"The fact that we have a refugee resettlement centre in Māngere, it's a fully enclosed area, would seem ideal for somewhere to quarantine people so we feel as if with a bit more organisation by the government, they could be accepting a lot more refugees the existing facilities and not affecting MIQ spaces for other New Zealanders."

The United Nations Refugee Agency said there were currently far more refugees in Indonesia than there were places available for resettlement

But that would not stop Al-Shamry - even though it had "been a mission", he said he would never give up hope.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs