23 Dec 2015

Wgtn urged to open heart to refugees

11:00 am on 23 December 2015

Syrians fleeing their country's civil war will arrive in Wellington next year, prompting an appeal for practical and emotional help.

A refugee family from Syria waits in front of a exhibition hall at the Munich fairground that serves as makeshift shelter for migrants.

Syrian families such as this one, pictured in Germany, will settle in New Zealand in February. Photo: AFP

The 85 refugees may have escaped the bloodshed, but will need help making the difficult transition to life in a foreign country.

Wellington deputy mayor Justin Lester said any help was appreciated as many had fled with only the clothes on their backs so were reliant on the kindness of strangers.

"If they don't have the time to volunteer what would be good would be things like single blankets, duvets, bedding, rice cookers, things that people wouldn't necessarily expect, like lawn mowers," he said.

It was important there was continuing support after the initial welcoming fanfare for them to adapt and find a job which helped them integrate.

"What we don't want to do is to make a big song and dance about people arriving and then for it to go into abeyance and they feel lonely... you rise them up and let them down.

"There will be issues. It does take a long time. We know things like after five years only 35 percent will be in employment and that's not great."

Saw Khon Hmine

Saw Khon Hmine Photo: Supplied

A former refugee from Myanmar who made the transition was Saw Khon Hmine.

He studied physics at university, refused to join the military when they asked, was tortured and ended up in a labour camp.

"We have traumas. For example, when I was in the military interrogation centre they really tortured me and it was very serious."

His family were all dead but he remained upbeat - something he attributed to support from New Zealanders and the Red Cross.

"Because of this I can say that refugees are not refugees forever. This is a good message to the audience or to the people around the world as well, we need people like New Zealanders."

Refugee support volunteers Jason and Amy Mackiewicz.

Refugee support volunteers Jason and Amy Mackiewicz. Photo: Supplied

Refugee support volunteers Amy and Jason Mackiewicz will help with such practicalities as setting up Work and Income, medical and school appointments.

Mr Mackiewicz said he wanted to provide refugees with actual friendship, as well as the practicalities.

"New Zealanders can be really welcoming, but we can also be intensely personal and private and so it can be hard to break through that initial welcoming barrier to make friends.

"Part of this for me is helping someone else be successful and feel the security of New Zealand and the warmth of New Zealand.

"We would anticipate a lot of grief, these are people who've had to uproot. To be classed as a refugee they have something that blocks them from being able to be in their own country.

That very fact means that they will miss friends, they'll miss the things that are familiar to them, the way that life works, the rhythm of life."

Red Cross national programme development manager Rachel O'Connor.

Rachel O'Connor Photo: Supplied

Red Cross national programme development manager Rachel O'Connor said locals could help the Syrian refugees in their quest for normality by showing compassion and ongoing support, as many would suffer from post traumatic stress disorder.

Ms O'Connor said it would be a chance to move from sympathy to action.

"The experiences of post traumatic stress disorder is something we do see quite regularly with families... these are people who've had to run for their lives and have experienced things that most of us can't even begin to imagine.

"The amazing thing about their arrival in Wellington is that it's a chance for Kiwis who've been watching the news and being distraught at what they're seeing happening across the world (to do something), and this is a very tangible, practical way that people can engage through providing support for the people who are arriving."

The refugees arrive in Wellington in February.

To donate household items or inquire about becoming a refugee support volunteer call 0800 Red Cross or email hello@redcross.org.nz

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