Burglars have robbed an 85-year-old pensioner of his life savings - and his passport - while he was gardening.

Lu Qing Zhai, originally from Liaoning, China, lives on superannuation, and supplements his income by growing and selling Chinese vegetables.

He came to New Zealand as a refugee and has been saving for a trip to visit his two daughters in Australia and an autistic son in China.

But Lu's world came crashing down when opportunistic thieves entered his home on October 31 while he was tending to his vegetable garden.

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They took his wallet, containing about $700 cash, mobile phone, passport and ASB bank Eftpos card.

About $3000 has since been withdrawn from his account and his bank card was also used to pay for $50 worth of fuel at a petrol station.

"It's all the money I have and I took a long time to save it, so I feel really crushed," said Lu, who lives alone at a unit in St Johns.

"I've been saving to visit my children and grandchildren for Chinese New Year. They are the only family I have."

Police confirmed that a complaint relating to this incident was received on November 2 at the Glen Innes police public counter.Police are also advising people to "always lock up", even if they're in the back garden.

Lu Qing Zhai was saving to visit his daughters in Australia for Chinese New Year. Photo / Greg Bowker
Lu Qing Zhai was saving to visit his daughters in Australia for Chinese New Year. Photo / Greg Bowker

Lu, who used to depend on food parcels, said he was living on borrowed money for food and daily expenses.

"In all the years that I've been here, I feel New Zealand is quite a safe country," he said.

"I was just outside the house in the garden, so I didn't think there was a need to lock the doors."

Lu said he had also written the pin number of his bank card and kept it in his wallet because he has a "poor memory".

Friend Poutama Tsoi, 67, is appealing for the thieves to "have a heart" and return Lu's passport, identity cards and other personal possessions.

"These are things that probably have no monetary value to them, but these are of sentimental value to an old man and it will save him a lot of hassle of having to get them replaced," Tsoi said."I cannot believe people would do such a thing."

Tsoi, who has known Lu for eight years, said he has had a "tough life".

Lu and his wife had been persecuted in China for their belief in Falun Gong, a banned group in China.

His wife died in prison while his daughter managed to flee the country and landed in New Zealand as a refugee.

Through his daughter, Lu obtained refugee status and had returned to China just once during his 10 years here.

"Lu is very grateful for everything that New Zealand has done for him and his family," Tsoi said.

"He has found New Zealanders to be so welcoming and kind, which is why he is so disappointed that he is burgled."

A police spokeswoman said they were investigating the matter.

"The file is in the hands of our investigations team who are currently working through the information received," she said.

"As our investigation is ongoing, we are unable to provide any further information at this time."

Police are urging people to protect their home as summer approaches.

"Burglars often enter through unlocked doors and windows or take advantage of weak locks," the spokeswoman said.

"Lock the front door if you're in the back garden, lock your house if you are having a rest or doing something that needs a lot of concentration."

ASB spokeswoman Georgina Bond said the bank had not been notified of the theft or loss of the bank card.

"We will get in touch with Liu Qing Zhai to discuss this with him, however we unable to comment further before we have spoken to the customer direct," she said.

The bank advises customers to never share, write down or tell anyone their PIN number, access code or passwords.