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Refugee trauma team to help Canterbury earthquake victims

Refugee trauma team to help Canterbury earthquake victims

An Auckland based trauma team, which specialises in working with survivors of war or torture, has been called to Canterbury to help earthquake victims.

The team is from Refugees as Survivors New Zealand (RASNZ), an agency that provides mental health treatment and rehabilitation for refugees to New Zealand from war torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq or Burma. The team has been recognised internationally for its work.

Gary Poole, RASNZ chief executive, who heads the team, says it will be helping in the second phase of the recovery efforts as the realities of the earthquake begin to further affect people.

“People react to the effects of trauma caused by catastrophic natural disasters in many similar ways as in war zones,” Mr Poole says. “Innocent people can suddenly become refugees in their own country as a result of unforeseen severe disaster at any time. No nation is immune.”

Mr Poole, a psychologist, was working in Afghanistan in 2005 during the extensive and devastating earthquake in Pakistani Kashmir where thousands lost their lives. He was in a first response team from the Aga Khan Development Network and Red Crescent sent to the zone near Muzafarabad.

“The contrast between the superb response of the New Zealand civil defence and emergency services with what happened in Pakistan is evident. In Pakistan there was near chaos with a slow and uncoordinated response from the government.

“Many will now appreciate just how fortunate we are to live in a first world country where there are such excellent resources, well-coordinated civil defence and preparedness. We can manage and recover from such mass disasters so much better and quicker than many other places. It is a national tragedy, but people are resilient and can and do survive severe hardship and profound loss and this will be the case for Canterbury.”

Dr Arif Saeid, the community manager for RASNZ will be joining the trauma team in Christchurch. Dr Saied, a medical doctor from Afghanistan who worked for Medicins san Frontiers, came with his family as a refugee in 2001. He says he is deeply sorry for what has happened to the people of Canterbury

“As a former refugee I know what it is like to be without a home,” Dr Saeid says. “I am forever grateful to the people of New Zealand who accepted us when we were in greatest need. All of us from the refugee communities love New Zealand and want to give something back to our country. Helping out during a time of crisis is one way we can give something of ourselves.”


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