Shafiqa and her children Salim (14), Maryam (10) and Fahim Raza (6) arrived in New Zealand in January 2015 from Afghanistan. They spent six weeks in the Refugee Reception Centre in Mangere before they arrived in Hamilton on March 6.

After Shafiqa's husband died in an accident in Afghanistan she felt insecure. Her older son was 9 at the time and he suffered depression following his father's death. The war in Afghanistan made the family feel very unsafe and threatened by the Taliban. Life was difficult and they had no hope for a better future.

Shafiqa decided to move to Pakistan with her children to provide a better life for them. In Pakistan, she earned money by working in people's houses as a cleaner. The money was not enough to live on, and the job was physically tough. Shafiqa started to beg for money in the streets to support her family.

"I did not have enough money for sending the children to school and my older son had to work in a bicycle repair shop to help me with the costs," said Shafiqa.

Advertisement

"Life was hard in Pakistan but we preferred it to Afghanistan because at least we were safer there."

A neighbour eventually informed Shafiqa about the UN office where she applied for refugee status. After 18 months the family were granted refugee status and accepted for resettlement in New Zealand.

On arrival in Hamilton, Shafiqa and her family were welcomed by Red Cross and support volunteers. The support volunteers supporting Shafiqa are Gabi Klapka, Hoda Kordjazi and Pat Martin.

"The volunteers set up a rental house for us prior to our arrival. I felt so happy when I saw the house was all set up nicely for my family and I liked it from the first moment," said Shafiqa.

"I was relieved that I had enough money to provide food and other basics for my children and I thanked God that we were safe now in New Zealand and we do not have to be scared anymore."

Shafiqa found that biggest challenge in settling into her new life is the homesickness and isolation due to the language barrier.

"We left our friends in Pakistan. It is hard for me to communicate as I am illiterate."

The support volunteers found the whole experience eye opening. Their role included gathering items for setting up the house and teaching the children how to go to school. Although the family did not speak English and were all illiterate, they always found a way to communicate.

Shafiqa told the volunteers recently that she now considers Hamilton her home.

"This was so good to hear. I am so pleased that the family has found peace and a better life," said one of the volunteers.

"I am amazed by how similar we all are, despite the different countries and cultures we are from. The only conspicuous difference is that we are extremely fortunate to be born in a country that is not ravaged by war and violence. We do not have to flee to save our lives."

New families/individuals arrive in New Zealand every other month. The next intake will arrive in Hamilton on December 11.

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT - NZ RED CROSS

New Zealand Red Cross is many things to many people "a hot meal, a safe drive to hospital or knowledge that aid workers help after the earthquake in Christchurch and in conflict areas overseas.

New Zealand Red Cross is part of the largest humanitarian organisation in the world with more than 10,000 volunteers, 5000 members, 90 branches and groups and 480 staff, all working towards improving the lives of vulnerable people in our communities.

One of the seven fundamental Red Cross principles is to prevent and alleviate human suffering wherever it may be found. Red Cross is the primary provider of refugee resettlement services in New Zealand.

Red Cross assists with refugee resettlement in five areas: Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and Nelson. When refugees arrive in their areas of resettlement, they are supported by qualified social workers, refugee-background case workers, cross cultural workers and trained volunteers who help the refugees understand Kiwi culture and to manage systems.

The programmes make a significant contribution to refugee resettlement, nationally and locally. The programmes raise awareness of international refugee resettlement and the historical role New Zealand has played in this area.

This leads to a better understanding of the refugee situation and more tolerance in our community. Supported and successful integration ultimately contributes to connected, healthy communities.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees reports that 59.5 million people around the world are currently displaced. UNHCR speaks about "a record high", counting 19.5 million refugees (people outside the borders of their home country) and 38.2 million internally displaced people (still within their country).

Refugees are ordinary people facing extraordinary conditions. They have experienced war, persecution, discrimination, racism and oppression, and been forced to flee from their homeland for their ethnicity, religion or beliefs. Refugees leave their home country often unplanned, without documentation and separated from family members.

They do not choose their resettlement country. They are mandated by the UNHCR, the United Nations agency for refugee issues. Out of those millions of families forced to flee their homes less than 1% is resettled in a country like New Zealand.

New Zealand accepts 750 refugees each year, as a commitment to the United Nations. This has been New Zealand's UN quota since 1987. The Syrian refugee crisis has led to discussions about increasing the quota.

One way to help is to become a refugee support volunteer with Red Cross. More information about the role and a free training course are at www.redcross.org.nz/what-we-do/in-new-zealand/refugee-services/volunteer/ or phone Hana Schmidt on 849 0285.