Hundreds of Red Cross volunteers to help refugees


The Syrian population of Wellington is about to double.

Tomorrow a new wave of refugees leaves the Mangere Centre for resettlement in the capital.

And if the refugees say they're lucky to be here, it's a feeling matched the hundred or so volunteers who will be their guides.

The Red Cross says it had thousands of applicants from Wellingtonians wanting to help with the resettlement.

"When I got the email to say that I was accepted to be a volunteer, I just felt this absolute intense joy that I'd got in because there were so many volunteers and just a real excitement about being able to help people in need," says volunteer Krissy Harris.

One of the key messages learnt is that the Syrian families are normal, ordinary people who have fled an extraordinary situation.

"I'm sure if Syria was a calm stable country they'd really like to go back, but they're forced to live somewhere [else]," says volunteer Simon Brock. "So I want to be able to give them whatever help I can to settle into a new life here."

Some duties the volunteers are tasked with are enrolling children in schools and accessing government welfare and employment agencies.

Ramai Saidawi, who came here from Damascus in 2014, says that an initial helping hand is vital.

"This is definitely what home is about, being welcomed and belonged to," he says. "This is what they are making me personally feel, and all the other refugees as well."

In Naenae, a cul-de-sac has been home for the past nine months for Loulou family who fled the fighting in Syrian port town of Banias.

Ossama Loulou says he feels more at peace at the grove, due to the lack of crowds.

"And my children have got a good chance to play around," he says.

The family is thriving. Mr Loulou has a job as a motor mechanic and has just bought a car, and their three children are doing well in school.

But Muna Loulou says her first week out of the Refugee Centre was daunting -- she felt lonely.

She says the volunteers made a huge difference and all of them still visits the family weekly. She says she's part of their family.

But perhaps the greatest endorsement of their resettlement is Mr Loulou's plea not to be called a refugee -- he says he's a New Zealander.