Helping ex-refugees get settled ‘a privilege’

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Helping the first group of former refugees settle in to Dunedin has been a ‘‘privilege’’ for two Red Cross volunteers.
John Elder and his wife, Janet Sim Elder, were among the first contingent of volunteers to assist the 49 Syrian refugees who arrived in the city in April, and will wrap up their official sixmonth stint at the end of the month.
The combination of local meetings before Dunedin was designated a refugee resettlement centre and the ‘‘dreadful images’’ on the news — especially of Alan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee child who drowned in the Mediterranean — had inspired the couple to volunteer, Mrs Sim Elder said.
Mr Elder said it was ‘‘a grave humanitarian crisis I couldn’t not respond to’’.
The natural response was to become a support volunteer and help settle one of the arriving families in to their new city.
Their family of six became very trusting of their volunteers within weeks and even the language barrier did not stop them being able to ‘‘communicate on a human-tohuman level’’, he said.
The couple, who were both wearing Red Cross T-shirts with photos of Albert Einstein with the text ‘‘Einstein was a refugee’’, said they wore their Red Cross identification ‘‘with pride’’.
Mrs Sim Elder said the new residents had ‘‘been a gift to this city and to the country’’, while their arrival had also ‘‘unleashed a spirit of generosity’’ from the Dunedin community.
While their official volunteering would wind up at the end of the month, ‘‘a deep friendship really has evolved’’ with their family.
The next group of refugees arrives in Dunedin tomorrow. About 29 people are expected to be in the group, which is made up of family groups, including at least two Palestinian households. – To find out more about being a refugee support volunteer, contact Dunedin Red Cross on 477-1527.