World Refugee Day: Family enjoying life in Dunedin

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Settled in the south . . . Former refugee Aicha Dwara and five of her daughters have been living in Dunedin for more than a year, since arriving as part of the first group of Syrian refugees to settle in the city in May 2016. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

The quiet of Dunedin is a far cry from the bustling, busy Aleppo, Aicha Dwara says.

The Syrian former refugee arrived in Dunedin with five of her daughters in May last year, as part of the first group of refugees to resettle in the city.

Speaking to The Star with the support of an interpreter ahead of World Refugee Day today, Mrs Dwara said life in the Syrian city before the civil war had been loud and busy, with four million residents and temperatures over 35degC.

However, once the war began, the family had managed to live in central Aleppo for a year before they decided to leave for neighbouring Lebanon, Mrs Dwara said.

“It was very difficult, very bad.”

She left Syria in 2012, living in Lebanon for four years before moving to the other “end of the world”, a process than took more than a year to arrange.

While Mrs Dwara had originally just contacted the United Nations for “some support” during her time in Lebanon, the family was offered the chance to move – but UN staff could not say where the family would end up.

“We thought it would be Norway or Sweden.”

She said the family’s life in Lebanon was a “very bad experience”, with Syrian workers paid less than half the amount of their Lebanese co-workers, expected to work more than 10 hours per day and unable to go to school.

It had also been a difficult transition for the family to move from owning their own home in Aleppo to paying more than $US500 ($NZ692) a month in rent in Lebanon.

Mrs Dwara said while she had not worked while living in Aleppo, she had lost her husband in the war and had to support her family.

“I had girls, I had to work.”

Her dream was for her Turkey-based daughter Wala and her family to come to New Zealand, as they were struggling with little work, supporting two children and dealing with bad treatment from many Turkish residents.

“There is so much oppression for the Syrian people.”

Mrs Dwara and her family were now enjoying life in Dunedin, taking up English classes and settling in to the city – and she dreamed of eventually owning her own home again.

Her daughter Ola Akkam joked that “everything” was good about Dunedin, “except for the weather”.

“We have cold [in Syria] but here it is always cold.”

World Refugee Day is today, June 20.

The next round of Red Cross refugee support volunteer training starts on July 18.

Phone Dunedin Red Cross on (03) 477-1527 for more information.

Donations of warm blankets and duvets are welcomed.