For one Rotorua family who fled to New Zealand as refugees seven years ago, the citizenship ceremony today was a momentous occasion.

Eric Alvarez, his wife, Sebastiana Canales De Alvarez, and their son, Erick Alvarez Canales, fled El Salvador in 2011 fearing for their own safety.

Speaking to the crowd in the Rotorua Lakes Council galleria today Eric gave his full pepeha in te reo.

"We came to New Zealand not for a better life, but for an actual living future.

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"We left our country in 2011 and I nearly died on the plane, because I'm afraid of heights."

Eric Alvarez (left), Sebastiana Canales De Alvarez and Erick Alvarez Canales from El Salvador become New Zealand citizens. Photo / Stephen Parker
Eric Alvarez (left), Sebastiana Canales De Alvarez and Erick Alvarez Canales from El Salvador become New Zealand citizens. Photo / Stephen Parker

Eric said that after a 20-hour flight he couldn't believe he was really seeing the land so far from El Salvador.

"It was such a beautiful, green land."

He said New Zealand Immigration didn't hesitate in accepting them as refugees and that was something the family would always be grateful for.

Eric now works as a police officer in Rotorua.

"We are very, very grateful to New Zealand and to the people of New Zealand for the opportunities we have had here."

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Sebastiana was in tears as she accepted her citizenship and shared an enormous hug with the friends who had come to support them.

Their son Erick is now a Year 13 student at Rotorua Boys High School.

"It's been a long journey. We have been in New Zealand now for seven years," he said.

"I am proud to be in my final year at boys high and next year I will be going to university to study a Bachelor of Arts and teaching."

A total of 30 new Kiwis were welcomed, with four from India, nine from Fiji, three from El Salvador, seven from the Philippines, two from Korea and five of British origin.

Pupils from the Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School perform for the citizenship ceremony. Photo / Stephen Parker
Pupils from the Rotorua Seventh-Day Adventist School perform for the citizenship ceremony. Photo / Stephen Parker

To open the ceremony pupils from the Rotorua Seventh Day Adventist School gave a kapa haka performance.

They sang waiata, performed poi and did a haka, dedicating one of their songs to the late Aunty Bea.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick spoke at the start of the ceremony about the "diverse family of Rotorua growing and growing".

She applauded the children on their performance told them that by the end of the day "all of these people will be Kiwi".

"For some of you this has been quite a long journey, but never let your own culture leave your hearts.

They were given a kohuhu seedling "to put their roots down" in Rotorua as well as a corsage for the women and a book for the men.

Rotorua's new Kiwis
Harpreet Kaur Bains (India)
Lakshya Bhalla (India)
Mr Bhakskran (Fiji)
Yogeshni Devi (Fiji)
Mithal Vasishtha Karan (Fiji)
Sebastiana De Jesus Canales De Alvarez (El Salvador)
Eric Adalberto Alvarez (El Salvador)
Erick Ernesto Alcarez Canales (El Salvador)
Roshni Rangini Lata Kumar (Fiji)
Salend Kumar (Fiji)
Priyesheel Priyanka Kumar (Fiji)
Anushika Akansha Kumar (Fiji)
Urvashibahen Narendrakumar Patel (India)
Rakesh Prasad (Fiji)
Lalita Devi Prasad (Fiji)
Victoria Elizabeth Rangiahua (Britain)
Wenie Iryn Alculzar Ruiz (Philippines)
Jaeyoung Shin (Korea)
Juyong Shin (Korea)
Harpreet Singh (India)
Mark Anthony Medado Solon (Philippines)
Jane Abing Solon (Philippines)
Tamara Dominique Abing Solon (Philippines)
Martin Lean Abing Solon (Philippines)
Kristyana Denis Abing Solon (Philippines)
Auguste Kristofiere Abing Solon (Philippines)
Brian Lee Abbott (Britain)
Susan Elizabeth Forsman (Britain)
Robert David Lyon (Britain)
Joe Taylor (Britain)