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Refugees making Masterton their new home

To mark yesterday’s World Refugee Day, new New Zealanders who have recently settled in Masterton share their experiences.

In the two and a half years since Masterton became a refugee settlement centre, more than 20 families and 15 individuals have made the Wairarapa their home.

New Zealand Red Cross coordinates community settlement with a number of agencies responsible for services including health, education, and support finances.

All the former refugees are from Pakistan and are Ahmadiyya Muslims. They arrived in New Zealand as part of the country’s annual refugee quota.

Masterton District Council’s Refugee Resettlement Steering Group brings together representatives from agencies assisting former refugees.

Councillor Stella Lennox, who is co-chair of the group, said the settlement of new New Zealanders is bringing value to Masterton.

“It is fantastic to see new arrivals adding to the diversity of the community, in workplaces and schools, and through social and sporting activities. The community has made them welcome, as I was sure they would, and we are richer for it.”

Group co-chair Imam Mustenser Qamar added that it is gratifying to see the Ahmadiyya community growing in Masterton.

“They have found a safe home in the Wairarapa, and I know that is something they appreciate greatly.”

Bilal and Kiran, Tooba, Muneeb, and Faiza are all new New Zealanders who have settled in Masterton. While their journeys to reach their new country have been immensely challenging, they share the joy and relief of now being in a safe, welcoming place.

Bilal and Kiran

In Pakistan, Bilal and Kiran gained professional qualifications – Kiran has a degree in early childhood education, and Bilal a diploma in electrical engineering – but their lives were difficult. The couple lived a life hiding their beliefs.

“We have the same prayers, the same holy book [the Quran], the same food, but we were never able to be ourselves. It was no way to live,” Kiran said.

In Pakistan, Bilal was working as an electrical engineer with an international poultry company when they experienced violence.

“When they heard I was Ahmadiyya, people came to our house with sticks, and the police, and threatened to burn it down,” he said.

“We had to sell the house and flee the country with what savings we had. Our son was two at the time.”

For the next four and half years, the family were refugees in Sri Lanka, Bilal’s immediate family having already scattered around the world.

His sister and brother had already been resettled to the United States, and his parents went to Madagascar.

In early 2023, Bilal and Kiran found out they would be going to New Zealand.

The family, now with three sons, arrived at Te Āhuru Mōwai o
Aotearoa – Māngere Resettlement
Centre a year and half ago.

“When we arrived, we just had our bags. When we got to Masterton, they gave us everything and set up a house. It was amazing.”

New Zealand Red Cross set up houses before families arrive in Masterton.

“We are very happy to be here. The boys love their school, and we love the school.”

“They feel like they were born in New Zealand, but they want to go to Pakistan too. They have bought a Pakistan flag for the wall.” says Kiran.

While both Kiran and Bilal need further education in New Zealand to have their qualifications recognised, they have both found other work that also enables them to support Kiran’s parents in Pakistan.

Bilal is working at Breadcraft as a baker and machine operator, and Kiran has a job at Tū Ora Compass Health in Masterton as a health navigator guiding other former refugees in the region through the NZ health system.

“I miss Pakistan, but we are able to live freely here – it is a peaceful place to live,” Kiran said.

Tooba

Tooba is also a new New Zealander in Masterton.

She is moved to tears as she describes arriving at the house she now calls home.

“People don’t realise how small acts of kindness can make a huge difference to former refugees. When we arrived at the house, we were very excited and wanted to share it with our families overseas, but we had no internet access.

“A Red Cross staff member left us her phone for a hot spot for a couple of hours – it was a surprise that someone would be so nice. Our family were saying ‘the people must be very kind’ – and they are.”

“Finally, it is our home. I don’t think much about our past, we think more about our future. We as a family want to do something very good in return for this country and the people of this land.”

Tooba has a Master’s degree in Botany that she is keen to turn into a PhD one day. She is currently working as a settlement lead for the New Zealand Red Cross in Masterton.

Imran is happy with his job as a process worker at Juken New Zealand Limited in Masterton, while daughter Duryaab loves her new school.

Their journey to New Zealand had many hardships.

Tooba recalls being alienated when she was a teenager at secondary school in Pakistan. She says two students discovered she was Ahmadiyya and encouraged the rest of the school not to talk to her or share food with her as it would make them “dirty”.

“My husband, Imran, returned to Pakistan after working 11 years in South Korea but was unable to find work because of his faith.”

These experiences fueled the couple’s desire to find something different for their daughter. In 2017, when Duryaab was a one-year-old, Tooba and Imran sought asylum in Sri Lanka.

“When we left Pakistan, we didn’t know what would happen next. We had been through so much that we didn’t want our daughter to experience,” Tooba said.

“But the authorities do not want you to leave and seek asylum – they see it as an embarrassment to the country. You need someone to help, and that person wants money.”

In Sri Lanka, life continued to be difficult. After attacks on churches during Easter in 2018, the family experienced a renewed lack of safety.

“This had nothing to do with us, but we were forced from our homes, and hundreds of us spent two or three months sheltering in a mosque, struggling for food and water. Our Ahmadiyya community was supporting us as much as they could but still it was hard to manage hundreds of people suddenly,” Tooba said.

The family was finally accepted as part of New Zealand’s refugee quota. It took a further two years to be able to set foot in Masterton – the place they now call home.

Muneeb

Muneeb remembers the very first night he spent away from his family as an asylum seeker, in Sri Lanka in 2020. He was 20 years old.

His family is also divided by the need to seek safety away from their homeland. He has a sister in Germany and another in the United States, one brother in the UK and another who is an Imam in Benin.

His parents, though, were in no doubt that he had to follow his siblings in leaving Pakistan.

“They are around 65 years old now and they said, ‘We can live like this, but you are young, you can’t’.”

Muneeb had experience in wedding videography in Pakistan and was able to support himself in Sri Lanka by occasionally editing videos for a US-based studio.

He remembers it was mentally very tough, and at one point he began losing his hair due to stress. Now in Masterton, his hair has grown back, and Muneeb speaks excellent English – two positives, he said, that came from a difficult time.

“In Sri Lanka, I made some local friends who I used to play games with. I couldn’t speak their language, and they couldn’t speak mine – so we spoke English,” he says.

Currently, Muneeb divides his time working as a cross-cultural advisor at the Red Cross and as a teacher’s assistant for English Language Partners.

Muneeb said his parents remain in hiding in Pakistan and he is pleased he is now finally able to begin the process of sponsoring them to come to New Zealand. He has no doubt where they would enjoy living.

“Masterton is a beautiful city – filled with beautiful and kind-hearted people. Everyone is so supportive and eager to help you if they can.”

Faiza

Faiza arrived in the Wairarapa in December 2023 and has wasted no time in starting the next stage in her life.

She has a background in education and taught physical education in Pakistan. During seven years in Malaysia as a refugee, she taught English, science, and maths to five to 15-year-olds in the refugee community.

In February this year, she started fulltime study for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education at UCOL – Universal College of Learning

Faiza is now getting used to New Zealand’s education system.

“In Malaysia, I was teaching English by reading from a book – but here there is a broader focus on all parts of education,” she said.

“I am enjoying it a lot. It was difficult to start with, but the teachers and others in the class have been very helpful.”

Faiza and her husband Hatum fled Pakistan after receiving death threats.

“Hatum’s cellphone shop was attacked twice, and my uncle and aunt were killed,” she recalled.

The couple arrived in Malaysia as asylum seekers, but their anxiety did not end there, Faiza said. After more than six years, Faiza, Hatum, and their two daughters were eventually told they would be resettled in New Zealand – a place she knew little about.

“I like cricket, and I knew about New Zealand because of the cricket team, but not much else,” she said.

The family had just arrived in New Zealand when they heard the sad news that Faiza’s father had died suddenly in Pakistan, but she said they are focusing on moving forward with their lives – in a safe place.

“As a family, we are enjoying the freedom. When we saw police in Malaysia it was time to hide, but here it is very normal. We are comfortable – it is a big relief.”

    If you would like more information about resettlement and employment services provided in Masterton and other areas by New Zealand Red Cross, please visitwww.redcross.org.nz and search for ‘supporting refugees’

    < not want you to leave and seek asylum – they see it as an embarrassment to the country. You need someone to help, and that person wants money.”

    In Sri Lanka, life continued to be difficult. After attacks on churches during Easter in 2018, the family experienced a renewed lack of safety.

    “This had nothing to do with us, but we were forced from our homes, and hundreds of us spent two or three months sheltering in a mosque, struggling for food and water. Our Ahmadiyya community was supporting us as much as they could but still it was hard to manage hundreds of people suddenly,” Tooba said.

    The family was finally accepted as part of New Zealand’s refugee quota. It took a further two years to be able to set foot in Masterton – the place they now call home.

    Muneeb

    Muneeb remembers the very first night he spent away from his family as an asylum seeker, in Sri Lanka in 2020. He was 20 years old.

    His family is also divided by the need to seek safety away from their homeland. He has a sister in Germany and another in the United States, one brother in the UK and another who is an Imam in Benin.

    His parents, though, were in no doubt that he had to follow his siblings in leaving Pakistan.

    “They are around 65 years old now and they said, ‘We can live like this, but you are young, you can’t’.”

    Muneeb had experience in wedding videography in Pakistan and was able to support himself in Sri Lanka by occasionally editing videos for a US-based studio.

    He remembers it was mentally very tough, and at one point he began losing his hair due to stress. Now in Masterton, his hair has grown back, and Muneeb speaks excellent English – two positives, he said, that came from a difficult time.

    “In Sri Lanka, I made some local friends who I used to play games with. I couldn’t speak their language, and they couldn’t speak mine – so we spoke English,” he says.

    Currently, Muneeb divides his time working as a cross-cultural advisor at the Red Cross and as a teacher’s assistant for English Language Partners.

    Muneeb said his parents remain in hiding in Pakistan and he is pleased he is now finally able to begin the process of sponsoring them to come to New Zealand. He has no doubt where they would enjoy living.

    “Masterton is a beautiful city – filled with beautiful and kind-hearted people. Everyone is so supportive and eager to help you if they can.”

    Faiza

    Faiza arrived in the Wairarapa in December 2023 and has wasted no time in starting the next stage in her life.

    She has a background in education and taught physical education in Pakistan. During seven years in Malaysia as a refugee, she taught English, science, and maths to five to 15-year-olds in the refugee community.

    In February this year, she started fulltime study for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education at UCOL – Universal College of Learning

    Faiza is now getting used to New Zealand’s education system.

    “In Malaysia, I was teaching English by reading from a book – but here there is a broader focus on all parts of education,” she said.

    “I am enjoying it a lot. It was difficult to start with, but the teachers and others in the class have been very helpful.”

    Faiza and her husband Hatum fled Pakistan after receiving death threats.

    “Hatum’s cellphone shop was attacked twice, and my uncle and aunt were killed,” she recalled.

    The couple arrived in Malaysia as asylum seekers, but their anxiety did not end there, Faiza said. After more than six years, Faiza, Hatum, and their two daughters were eventually told they would be resettled in New Zealand – a place she knew little about.

    “I like cricket, and I knew about New Zealand because of the cricket team, but not much else,” she said.

    The family had just arrived in New Zealand when they heard the sad news that Faiza’s father had died suddenly in Pakistan, but she said they are focusing on moving forward with their lives – in a safe place.

    “As a family, we are enjoying the freedom. When we saw police in Malaysia it was time to hide, but here it is very normal. We are comfortable – it is a big relief.”

      If you would like more information about resettlement and employment services provided in Masterton and other areas by New Zealand Red Cross, please visitwww.redcross.org.nz and search for ‘supporting refugees’

      < not want you to leave and seek asylum – they see it as an embarrassment to the country. You need someone to help, and that person wants money.”

      In Sri Lanka, life continued to be difficult. After attacks on churches during Easter in 2018, the family experienced a renewed lack of safety.

      “This had nothing to do with us, but we were forced from our homes, and hundreds of us spent two or three months sheltering in a mosque, struggling for food and water. Our Ahmadiyya community was supporting us as much as they could but still it was hard to manage hundreds of people suddenly,” Tooba said.

      The family was finally accepted as part of New Zealand’s refugee quota. It took a further two years to be able to set foot in Masterton – the place they now call home.

      Muneeb

      Muneeb remembers the very first night he spent away from his family as an asylum seeker, in Sri Lanka in 2020. He was 20 years old.

      His family is also divided by the need to seek safety away from their homeland. He has a sister in Germany and another in the United States, one brother in the UK and another who is an Imam in Benin.

      His parents, though, were in no doubt that he had to follow his siblings in leaving Pakistan.

      “They are around 65 years old now and they said, ‘We can live like this, but you are young, you can’t’.”

      Muneeb had experience in wedding videography in Pakistan and was able to support himself in Sri Lanka by occasionally editing videos for a US-based studio.

      He remembers it was mentally very tough, and at one point he began losing his hair due to stress. Now in Masterton, his hair has grown back, and Muneeb speaks excellent English – two positives, he said, that came from a difficult time.

      “In Sri Lanka, I made some local friends who I used to play games with. I couldn’t speak their language, and they couldn’t speak mine – so we spoke English,” he says.

      Currently, Muneeb divides his time working as a cross-cultural advisor at the Red Cross and as a teacher’s assistant for English Language Partners.

      Muneeb said his parents remain in hiding in Pakistan and he is pleased he is now finally able to begin the process of sponsoring them to come to New Zealand. He has no doubt where they would enjoy living.

      “Masterton is a beautiful city – filled with beautiful and kind-hearted people. Everyone is so supportive and eager to help you if they can.”

      Faiza

      Faiza arrived in the Wairarapa in December 2023 and has wasted no time in starting the next stage in her life.

      She has a background in education and taught physical education in Pakistan. During seven years in Malaysia as a refugee, she taught English, science, and maths to five to 15-year-olds in the refugee community.

      In February this year, she started fulltime study for a Diploma in Early Childhood Education at UCOL – Universal College of Learning

      Faiza is now getting used to New Zealand’s education system.

      “In Malaysia, I was teaching English by reading from a book – but here there is a broader focus on all parts of education,” she said.

      “I am enjoying it a lot. It was difficult to start with, but the teachers and others in the class have been very helpful.”

      Faiza and her husband Hatum fled Pakistan after receiving death threats.

      “Hatum’s cellphone shop was attacked twice, and my uncle and aunt were killed,” she recalled.

      The couple arrived in Malaysia as asylum seekers, but their anxiety did not end there, Faiza said. After more than six years, Faiza, Hatum, and their two daughters were eventually told they would be resettled in New Zealand – a place she knew little about.

      “I like cricket, and I knew about New Zealand because of the cricket team, but not much else,” she said.

      The family had just arrived in New Zealand when they heard the sad news that Faiza’s father had died suddenly in Pakistan, but she said they are focusing on moving forward with their lives – in a safe place.

      “As a family, we are enjoying the freedom. When we saw police in Malaysia it was time to hide, but here it is very normal. We are comfortable – it is a big relief.”

        If you would like more information about resettlement and employment services provided in Masterton and other areas by New Zealand Red Cross, please visitwww.redcross.org.nz and search for ‘supporting refugees’

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