Matthew Theunissen is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Concert to greet Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees will spend six weeks adjusting to their new country at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre before going to new homes in Wellington. Photo / Doug Sherring
Syrian refugees will spend six weeks adjusting to their new country at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre before going to new homes in Wellington. Photo / Doug Sherring

Refugees arriving in New Zealand from war-torn Syria will be welcomed by some of the country's best-loved artists at a free Auckland concert.

Some 85 Syrian refugees are due in mid-January. They will spend six weeks adjusting to their new country at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre before going to new homes in Wellington.

Arani Cuthbert and her company Diva the Agency have organised a concert on January 23 featuring performances by Neil Finn and the Topp Twins.

She said she was moved to do something after holidaying in Greece where she witnessed the plight of Syrians fleeing their homeland.

"We were there on an idyllic Greek holiday island when that little boy got washed up on the beach," she said.

"We just felt gutted because these people are just like you or me - they're just seeking a better life, trying to get away from war."

Ms Cuthbert contacted the Red Cross to see if there was anything she could do to help.

They decided on the concert at Silo Park, which the Red Cross had said would be attended by at least some of the refugees. The event is free but organisers say a koha would help with resettlement.

"I think there's something very special about New Zealand and we just want to open up our hearts to the refugees that are coming - and our wallets, of course.

"I'm just putting myself in their shoes: imagine losing your home and many of your family and friends. It's about being kind and we just want to show compassion to people who have lost everything and want to start again."

Red Cross national programmes development manager Rachel O'Connor said preparations had started for the Syrians' arrival in Wellington.

We just want to show compassion to people who have lost everything.
Arani Cuthbert

They would be put up in Housing New Zealand accommodation around the capital, which would be kitted out with furniture and household items provided by the Red Cross.

The organisation was also busy training volunteers who would spend time with the refugees to help them get accustomed to their new home.

"We're had so many donations from people, we've been inundated with volunteer registrations and have had to put people on waiting lists to volunteer, so it's been amazing. It's meant that something that could have been very challenging has been quite doable."

The Red Cross was always looking for household items to give to the families, but what the Syrians needed most was offers of work - and good neighbours.

"The families arrive with an incredible desire to get into work - they're rebuilding their lives and that's a great way for them to become financially independent, meet other people in the community and give back to the community.

"So we're always looking for good employers," she said.

The next group of refugees will be sent to Dunedin after their six-week stay at Mangere.

In September the Government announced it would accept 750 Syrian refugees over the next three years.

- NZ Herald

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