I've found out a little about the Azores this week.

It is an autonomous region of Portugal in the mid-Atlantic. An archipelago characterised by dramatic landscapes, fishing villages, green pastures, lake-filled calderas and vineyards sheltered by boulders.

My friend Manuel (Manny) de Farias was originally from the Azores. At his funeral last week I heard that shortly after WWII Manny's parents made the decision to move with their two sons and one daughter to New Zealand.

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Manny was 8 years old at the time. This was to be their home.

I thought what a brave thing to do. Leave home, family and country. Move from a mid-Atlantic Island to Downunder, the bottom of the world without knowing a soul and not speaking English. Having to get stuck in, start from scratch and carve out a new life for the family.

I think two things would have helped Manny's parents acclimatise to the New Zealand way of life. The children and the Catholic Church.

Children make friends easily, even without speaking the same language. And through school, parents become involved and soon make friends too. The de Farias were Catholics, as most of Portugal still is today.

At that time in New Zealand, the Catholic Mass was celebrated in Latin. You could go anywhere in the world, not know the language of the country you were in, and by attending Mass you would feel right at home. If you were staying and putting down roots the church provided you with an instant family.

I think they were all incredibly brave. Those who left their country, and not just since WWII, and set out across the ocean to start a new life. They came to New Zealand from all parts of the world including the United Kingdom (as my great-grandparents did) and Europe.

In the 1800s they knew they would never return home. Thousands of immigrants leaving in search of a better life, better opportunities.

Perhaps if they could they would have stayed at home but for whatever reason - poverty must have been a big driver - they needed or wanted to leave.


It's been the same the world over. People leaving their familiar surroundings striking out to foreign lands. In some cases it may not always have been for a better life, to remain may have cost them theirs.

I watched recently a TV programme on refugees and the camps they have to survive in while waiting to be processed. Waiting for a country to take them in, give them sanctuary and allow them to live peacefully. The opportunity to bring up their families to be good citizens.

The camps were pitiful. The squalor, debasement and utter misery. To force men, women and children to live in these conditions, and at the barrel of a gun, in some instances for 40 years is inhuman.

The programme followed some of the families as they waited. Many had moved from camp to camp and 20 years of waiting is not uncommon. What would that do to you?

It was obvious. Despair to that extent can't be hidden. Why does the processing take so long? Especially when there are new arrivals turning up daily. The camps can't cope.

Children are born, and many will die, never knowing what a normal community actually looks like. With streets and houses with pavements out front. With shops, schools and church. Where you can get a paid job and drive your own car to work.

You have running hot and cold water in your home and you can go out at any time of the day or night. You don't have to carry identification papers and you can have friends and family over to your place at any time.

Children go to school and if they have a hankering for further study, university is an option. You can work and save and in many countries, you will have the opportunity to buy your own home.

In the programme, the refugee families wanted what most of us want. To be able to live in peace and make their own way in life. They are prepared to work hard if only given the opportunity.

I know there is a big difference between those who choose to immigrate, you have to be processed for that too, and refugees. The difference is one is made welcome the other is not wanted.

Manny's parents made the conscious decision to bring their family to New Zealand. This was to be their home and their future. That decision has enriched our community and our country.

If given the opportunity, how many of those who currently sit and wait in refugee camps wouldn't prove to be just as adaptable, dependable and a great asset to any country willing to accept them. There but for the grace of god.