Mohamad Eid Morad and his family are grateful to be celebrating a safe first Christmas together in New Zealand.

About 300 refugees have arrived here since the Government announced it would take 750 over 2.5 years from Syria in September last year. Yesterday the Government announced an extra $1 million in aid.

The Morad family are from Darayya, near the Syrian capital Damascus, which has been under siege since 2012. The family left and moved to their farm to escape the violence.

In 2013 they were forced to flee to Lebanon where it was difficult for Mohamad and his wife Imane to find work. Their sons Diaa and Ahmad also had to abandon their schooling.


The Muslim family languished in tough conditions in Lebanon for three years before recently moving to New Zealand, along with Mohamad's mother Gazala Dib Fayon.

Mohamad said he feels sad for friends and relatives back in their homeland but is glad to be safe in New Zealand this Christmas, even if it means the family is missing their usual festive celebrations.

"We feel sad about what is happening in Syria, it is beyond our control and what can we do?" he said.

"There were many Christians in Syria and Darayya so our Christmas tradition has always been to visit our friends and neighbours who are celebrating the holiday. We would celebrate with them."

Mohamad said before the war, life in Syria was good.

"We were very happy and comfortable," he said. "Darayya was a beautiful city and it was very famous for doing the best furniture and growing grapes for wine.

"But it has been completely destroyed, all the houses are gone and 400,000 people were forced to flee."

Now the family has settled in New Zealand, Diaa wants to become a doctor and Ahmad a pilot.

"My children are continuing their studies which is the most important thing," Imane said. "Everything here is available for us, the children can study and my husband and I are learning English.

"Our favourite thing about New Zealand is the safety. No matter how long the day or night is, we know we are safe and nothing scares us."

Foreign Minister Murray McCully said New Zealand's $1 million aid money would go to the International Committee of the Red Cross, which has been helping evacuate civilians from Aleppo.