Full interview: Red Cross' Rachel O'Connor

  • 26/02/2016
Rachel O'Connor (Paul Henry)
Rachel O'Connor (Paul Henry)

There'll be 80-odd new Wellingtonians arriving in town today.

But their journey to the capital has been more difficult than most: they're among the thousands of Syrians who have fled a civil war that continues to rage back in their home country.

The families, couples and individuals who'll be starting new lives in Wellington are the first of the extra 750 Syrian refugees the Government has agreed to take in, in response to the major humanitarian crisis facing the Middle East and Europe.

The refugees touched down in New Zealand in January and they've spent the last six weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre in Auckland.

But now's the time for them to make the move south, where they'll receive plenty of support from the Red Cross and other community organisations.

Staff and volunteers have been busy setting up homes and making sure all the right help is in place for each family, says Red Cross humanitarian services manager for Wellington Shane Laulu.

"The feel has been very positive around communities across the Wellington region being very welcoming of the new families," he told NZ Newswire.

"It's been a fantastic response and very encouraging in terms of a real sense of Kiwi generosity."

There are around 180 volunteers ready and waiting to help the families settle in.

The Red Cross' national programme development manager Rachel O'Connor says the refugees are looking forward to starting anew in New Zealand.

"I had a woman once who said to me that her life stopped when she entered a refugee camp and it didn't start again until the day she left. That's our job as the Red Cross, to help people start their life," Ms O'Connor told the Paul Henry programme this morning.

Most arriving refugees just want to "be able to raise their kids, to get an education and to have a safe life," she says.

"We have been overwhelmed by Wellingtonians donating items, volunteering their time, and what we're basically saying is, 'Be good neighbours, welcome people when you meet them if they're new to New Zealand'. We're looking for good employers who might be willing to give somebody their first job, and in two months we'll be welcoming another small group of refugees as well so we're looking for more people who might want to volunteer to support them."

The next groups of Syrian refugees are expected to arrive in March and May.

The Government announced in September that it would welcome 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years in response to the ongoing conflict in Syria.

Of the 750 places, 600 will be by way of a special emergency intake above the annual refugee quota while 150 places will be offered within the quota.