Refugees determined to return to quake-hit Christchurch

By Hayden Donnell

Ajmal Chakari, who is one of 110 Afghani refugees who was airlifted to Auckland from Christchurch after the earthquake. Photo / Steven McNicholl
Ajmal Chakari, who is one of 110 Afghani refugees who was airlifted to Auckland from Christchurch after the earthquake. Photo / Steven McNicholl

Hundreds of refugees who fled their wartorn countries only to be caught up in the Christchurch earthquake are determined to return to Canterbury.

But many are too scared to go until after March 20 - when 'moon man' Ken Ring has predicted another major earthquake in the city.

Dr Arif Saeid, community services manager for Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ), said his organisation is caring for about 250 people who were forced to flee from Christchurch at its Mangere Refugee Centre and other areas of Auckland.

Many had only just settled in the city after escaping warzones such as Afghanistan, Burma and Iraq, he said.

"This has recreated a lot of that fear. There were many buildings destroyed, like there were in their home countries. There were kids who were playing the fields when the the ground turned to liquid, who saw children trapped up to their waists in the ground.

It brought those memories back to them. It reminded them of a warzone."

Others had waited more than 20 years in refugee camps before getting the chance to settle in Christchurch, he said.

"Many of the refugees that arrived in Auckland were families with children. They lost many of their meagre possessions in houses that have been condemned."

Despite that, nearly all of those who fled the earthquake-devastated city consider it to be their home and want to return to rebuild it, said Mr Saeid.

Their only fear was over Mr Ring's prediction - gleaned from the moon's position and the resulting tidal cycles - of another major earthquake, he said.

Many have postponed their return to Christchurch, putting strain on organisation's Mangere emergency centre.

"I tell them only God knows what's going to happen. But because of the experience they had and because of the aftershocks, that has scared them the most. That is hard. But we are still doing well."

Experts surveyed by the Science Media Centre have discredited Mr Moon's earthquake prediciton.

Mark Quigley, senior lecturer in active tectonics and geomorphology at Canterbury University, said it was opportunistic and meaningless self promotion.

"The redistribution of stress related to our 7.1 mainshock and resultant aftershocks is undoubtedly the dominant control on our aftershock sequence, not the moon or planetary alignment," said Dr Quigley.

"I won't be going anywhere in late March."

He was backed by GNS Science Geological Hazard Modeller Matt Gerstenberger, who said tidal information was an inaccurate and unreliable for forecasting earthquakes.

Those refugees from wartorn countries who were able to stay in Christchurch this week served 250 lunches to emergency services around the CBD cordon.

Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ) provides mental health treatment and rehabilitation for refugees to New Zealand from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq or Burma.

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