And thank you Mike Fowler, Principal Hagley Community College, not only for being our host today, but for all the work the College does to be such a welcoming and supportive environment for all.
More importantly I want to acknowledge you Ahmed Tani. Your unwavering support of refugee communities over many years saw you acknowledged in the New Year’s Honours List. Your resolve could have been tested by the atrocity that occurred on March 15, but there you were leading once more. Leading with compassion and kindness, and of course with courage.
I found a speech I gave at a Christchurch celebration of World Refugee Day 12 years ago. I said that New Zealand's response to the needs of refugees reminded us that we have the capacity for goodness and kindness in a world that is not always good and not always kind. I said New Zealand's commitment to welcoming refugees is part of our identity as a nation – it illustrates our humanity, our generosity, our sense of justice.
I say that again today. We have seen that in the incredible response to the atrocity that was March 15, where we came together in unity, inspired by the phrase ‘we are one’, and even more inspired by the expressions of peace, love and forgiveness that we heard from our Muslim brothers and sisters. We remain so proud of our Prime Minister and her leadership, however, for me, it will always be the expression of humanity from our Muslim communities that helped us through one of our darkest of days.
I mention the response to March 15 today, because so many of those worshipping that day in Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre were former refugees.
Refugees flee their homes due to “a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”. I know many of the stories behind what made people refugees. They are salutary reminders of the cruelty and inhumanity that can be imposed on people.
I have met parents who fled their homes, because they wanted their children to grow up free from fear, to live a good life, not hiding in the shadows, but living lives of purpose – and always giving back.
It hasn’t been perfect for everyone who has sought refuge in New Zealand. However, for many it was a safe haven – paradise on earth.
I will do everything in my power to reinstate that sense of peace and safety; and not just from those who would commit such atrocity, but also from those, whose prejudging or bias might not allow former refugees and their children to seize the opportunities our city offers to be the best that they can be.
We have just become a refugee resettlement location after an eight year hiatus post-earthquake. As a council we advocated for that.
I’m told that the first families (21 people from Afghanistan and Eritrea arrived on 1 March) and another 19 in May. One family arrived only yesterday from Eritrea, on World Refugee Day. And I understand they are here today – so welcome, what a special day to arrive. And there is another family coming next week.
On World Refugee Day we are invited to walk in the shoes of refugees – I have talked about the importance of getting to know the stories that lie behind the journey to Christchurch. And the UN is taking steps too, literally. Over the next year, the world is invited to measure their steps. Refugees walk 1 billion miles to safety each year. So the opportunity is there to feel those steps every time you walk, run or cycle: #StepWithRefugees.
Finally can I acknowledge the role of volunteers as we come to the end of National Volunteer Week. Without our volunteers the refugee resettlement programme would not extist. I always think of these as first friends for our refugees. And I thank you all on behalf of the city on this special day.