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Refugees protect vulnerable and help community in clean up

Refugees protect vulnerable and help community in clean up

While the strong in Christchurch's refugee communities stay to help with the clean up, their children, the elderly and the more vulnerable have been flown to Auckland.

Gary Poole, ceo of Refugees as Survivors, says many refugees are staying to help in their communities. The Canterbury Refugee Council chaired by Ahmed Tani has organised more than 50 people from refugee communities to bring spades, shovels and brooms to help clean up around homes and streets.

"But it was decided to get the vulnerable away from the devastation and the continuing aftershocks," Mr Poole says. "The impact of the earthquake on people who have suffered trauma of war and torture can be immense. And for many who are staying, just knowing their children are safe is vital."

Mr Poole, a psychologist, is heading the Refugees as Survivors (RASNZ) trauma team, which is helping earthquake victims. He says innocent people can suddenly become refugees in their own country after an unforeseen disaster.

"We are working with Christchurch Resettlement Services and Health Partnerships PHO to help not just refugees, but any Christchurch resident who has been traumatised."

The group of around 230 refugees from Christchurch, including people from Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Bhutan, arrived at the RNZAF's Whenuapai airbase yesterday. They left damaged homes and with few possessions.

An administration officer at RASNZ says 45 of the refugees are temporarily at a camp in Mangere. Another 120 are at the Mangere Refugee Centre, which has delayed the next scheduled intake of refugees from overseas while the Canterbury crisis continues.

"The Muslim community has taken the rest under its wing on the North Shore and at Te Atatu," the officer says. "But we need more help as some of these situations are temporary. Eventually we hope Housing New Zealand will be able to help us find long term solutions as several of these families are too frightened to return to Christchurch. The impact on these people after what they have been through in their lives before coming to New Zealand has yet to be fully realised."

Several churches are on standby to help. The officer said one woman vicar when asked if her church could house 20 people immediately agreed and that parishioners would help with bedding.

"She didn't even ask any questions about who or why. She just said 'yes'. People have been marvellous."

A former refugee, Dr Arif Saeid, is part of the RASNZ trauma team in Christchurch. Dr Saied was a medical doctor from Afghanistan who worked for Medicins san Frontiers and arrived with his family as a refugee in 2001.

"I am so deeply sorry for what has happened to the people of Christchurch from this natural disaster, and we are responding to help in any way possible," he said. "As a former refugee, I know what it is like to be without a home, and 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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