Syrian refugees welcomed into Dunedin's arms

Part of the welcoming committee at Dunedin Airport (Dave Goosselink / Newshub.)
Part of the welcoming committee at Dunedin Airport (Dave Goosselink / Newshub.)

A large group of Red Cross workers and local volunteers met 13 Syrian families at Dunedin Airport this morning, with one refugee saying he feels like he's been "born again".

There were hugs and tears as residents welcomed the 49 nervous refugees to the southern city.

The group are the first of many due to be resettled in Dunedin over the next year.

Red Cross will provide initial support in helping them settle in, find employment and connect with community services like healthcare and schooling.

Among those families arriving today are Wafaa Alshram and her 13-year-old son Ahmed. The family had to leave behind their 16-year-old son in Syria.

Syrian refugees welcomed into Dunedin's arms

Waafa Alshram and her son Ahmed (Dave Goosselink / Newshub.)

Through a translator, Walid Abdel Aziz, a father of another family which arrived today, said he was overwhelmed by the kindness of people and the welcome they received.

"The first day I arrived here, I feel like I'm born again and I am feeling this is a different world.

"[It's] very warm hospitality and all the welcomes that even we didn't receive back home, not even from the president, not anyone," he said.

He'd heard Dunedin was "the most beautiful place".

"We just want to stay here and live in peace with you."

Secretary general Tony Paine says there's been a strong show of support for the city becoming a resettlement centre.

"We encourage everyone to reach out and be that friendly face over the fence, but give it a little time -- let the families settle in and get to know their new homes. Moving is hard for anyone, even if it's just across town. For these families, it will be an even more daunting task."

He says the families will be understandably anxious about their new homes.

"Anyone who has moved cities or to a new town where you don't know anyone knows it is a time of anxiety and stress and that's no different. People will be trying to suss out New Zealand and how we do things so it's a difficult time for people so they need some space and some support but it's a natural thing to do to move somewhere new, and really that's the story of New Zealand."

The Red Cross relies on donations of household items to help the families who often arrive with few possessions.

How the Red Cross wants you to help: