A refugee family's life in New Zealand: The end of 2017 signals the start of a new chapter

As part of our series marking 50 years since the UN adopted the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1 NEWS looks into life for a refugee family in New Zealand.  

As Iraqi refugee Zaid Al-Jarrah finishes his Master’s degree he finally feels settled into life as a Kiwi. Source: 1 NEWS

Zaid Al-Jarrah was an IT engineer in Iraq eight-years-ago when he and his family were forced to flee the country he called home. 

In 2009 he was threatened by militia. Helping to rebuild his country was no longer possible and he fled the Islamic State stronghold to ensure his family's safety.

His wife, Wagha Abdulraheem Al-Salihi, was home with their baby when she narrowly escaped the Baghdad bombings outside government, killing 155 and injuring hundreds more.

The couple and their young children escaped to Egypt, and in 2015 the family came to New Zealand as refugees.

Although New Zealand wasn't the same as in movies, Mr Al-Farrah says it is a "beautiful" place with welcoming communities.

"We are here as New Zealanders. Simple," he said.

Starting life in a new country was not easy for their family.

"If you want success you need to work hard, and that's what we do here,” he said.

He tried hard to get a job, but was unsuccessful. So he turned to study, but was also not able to apply for a student allowance.

"They stopped all the benefits for me, and even to my wife and my family they just give the kids support, so we started the first year very hard," Mr Al-Jarrah told 1 NEWS.

"But again, the Red Cross play a main role here; they enrol us with other communities and support us to live with nothing for the first year."

But financial struggles did not hold him back, when Mr Al-Jarrah talked to 1 NEWS he had just handed in his Master’s thesis for computing and cyber security at Unitec in Auckland.

He will begin the New Year looking for a job, after he celebrates his achievements with his family.

"Especially my wife, she supported me a lot – so they deserve a big celebration after I finish."

The family have settled into their home, but Mr Al-Farrah still thinks back to Iraq.

"The neighbours are very nice. We talk with them a lot, sometimes we talk about New Zealand… Sometimes when they hear stories about Iraq they ask me, I explain to them what’s happening there."