Wellington Scoop

The refugees in Strathmore Park, and why we need to take more

by Ian Apperley
My friend is upset. She is Assyrian and has been talking to her aunt in Baghdad and things are not going well. They are trapped inside a suburb the size of Strathmore Park and if they move outside they are likely to be shot.

The house they were living in has been occupied by the opposition and no amount of attempts to move that family are working. They are slowly selling what they have to survive. The chief earner is a senior civil engineer and there is no work. They are trying to move to France. “Do you know anyone in France?” my friend asks.

The war, that we the West restarted so many years ago in the Middle-East, has been a calamity. We destroyed Iraq and we worked with some of the most horrific players on the planet to try and contain the situation. When Syria disintegrated into Civil War, now years ago, the West funded and established what has become ISIL. One of the most feared and destructive forces since World War II. The dog escaped its leash and from Asia to Africa the consequences have been horrific.

The media has become a machine of propaganda. Large companies now control what we get to read, hear, and see. No one can deny the one-sided views that are poured into the population by Fox, CNN, and RT. We are controlled through fear and fear is what sells newspapers. Fear, and cats. I say that in a lighthearted way, however when you look at what sells news it is death and ridiculous items like dancing cats and stunts that have gone wrong.

Into all of this we have New Zealand. A country at the bottom of the world, thankfully in these times, a rock on the edge of the planet, an island of immigrants and all of us refugees in a very large sea. With over four million of us stuck on this rocky isle, mostly in Auckland, we are protected by our nature, the fact that we are not that important in the world, and our non-conflict personalities.

We take in less than a thousand refugees a year, the lowest of countries in our category, even behind Australia who has instituted prison camps on remote third world islands in an effort to keep them out. This will be a horrific legacy for Australia.

John Key doesn’t think we should take more refugees. This surprises me and I wonder how much pressure he is under from Australia and more importantly, if his spin doctors are concerned that letting in refugees would damage his polling. That the older generation and right thinking voters will see it as a sell out.

Another few hundred refugees is hardly going to break the bank and is a chance for us to show that we really care. That we are not a bunch of ex-colonial English whiners who are tucked up in front of the television not talking to our neighbours. That we are smarter than the racists who tell us that refugees will take our jobs and let in terrorists.

Germany will take in 800,000 refugees this year alone and they have opened their arms to them. By population, that would be the equivalent of New Zealand taking 45,000 refugees.

And we don’t want 750 more.

We seem to think that refugees are a drain on our society, that they are some how lesser persons than ourselves, and certainly lesser than those who pay handsomely to immigrate.

My personal experience, living in a part of Wellington that has seen many influxes of refugees over the years, is that those people who come here seeking asylum are more likely to integrate and work hard than the majority of New Zealanders.

They are likely to hold jobs that we don’t want, and more than one of them. They reach out with their own cultures to us, usually through food (which is fantastic by the way) and they are humble. It can take time with them to let them know that they are equals with us, that they are not subservient in some way. Their kids go to school, they get trades and qualifications, and they give back to the community more than most of us. They are amazingly cautious about not offending us and adopting our culture.

Around the corner from me is a barber. The Assyrian boys man it a few days a week as a job to pay for their education and their cars. They have a fondness for taking our old beaters and doing them up. It is an important part of the community because we are poor out here and the costs of getting a haircut, plus the boost to our self-worth as a result, are important.

They have hired a local man who once shuffled around the streets. An unfortunate that is mentally damaged and has been his whole life.

He has a stool that he sits outside the barber on. His job is to sweep up the floor. The boys joke with him, they give him what they can, and they feed him. This man that no one of us was prepared to take on and help (people would cross the street to avoid him) has been adopted by these refugee boys who came from a country we helped burn.

Our Prime Minister, who is a second generation refugee, has forgotten that we have always been a nation with open arms. It is time we had a good hard look at ourselves and reached out to the less fortunate.

We need to put aside our prejudice, our politics, and our ignorance and take more refugees. Otherwise we risk losing a little bit more of our collective soul. These are humans like you and I and one day, hopefully not, the shoe may be on the other foot.

This article was first published yesterday on Ian Apperley’s Strathmore Park blog.

Read also:
Wellington Anglicans offer to house 40 refugee families
Mayors say – double refugee quota


  1. Trish, 7. September 2015, 11:17

    The waves of refugees entering Europe are tragic. They’re reminiscent of the millions of English, Irish, Scots, and Germans who flooded to North and South America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand in the 1800s. And the Germans, Poles, Jews, Scandinavians and White Russians who went to the US before and after WW2. Then the Italians and Greeks who abandoned their country for Australia in the 1960s.
    It would be a nice gesture if the French commissioned a second Statue of Liberty, to be erected on a Greek island facing East, inscribed with those heartfelt words “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”.

  2. Phil C, 8. September 2015, 0:37

    Cracking post, Ian. Aside from the humanitarian and moral obligations, let’s also not forget that Syria and Iraq produced many highly qualified and industrious people who will be of benefit to an economy (as Germany, with an ageing population and low birth rate, has realised.)

  3. Ian Apperley, 8. September 2015, 9:15

    That’s a very important point Phil, one that has been overlooked by those who oppose. The number of skilled migrants, refugees or immigrants, is high. Thanks for commenting. 🙂