Be­ware: They’re lovely

Street wel­comes fam­ily af­ter nasty let­ter

Waikato Times - - Front Page - James Baker james.baker@stuff.co.nz

Ahmed Alubaidi and his sons are the peo­ple they warned you about.

But de­spite a poi­son-pen writer’s dire pre­dic­tions about state house ten­ants like them mov­ing into a quiet north Waikato street, it turns out they’re ac­tu­ally not that bad.

In fact, hav­ing been driven from their home in Iraq amid vi­o­lence and kid­nap­pings, the refugee fam­ily has seen a lot worse than the small town big­otry that was their wel­come to New Zealand.

And along with hold­ing no grudge against the anony­mous let­ter writer their new neigh­bours say the fam­ily is a de­light to have in the street.

In July res­i­dents of Tuakau’s Brian Cow­ley Place re­ceived a hand­writ­ten note in their let­ter boxes from a ‘con­cerned neigh­bour’ fum­ing that Hous­ing New Zealand had pur­chased a prop­erty in the newly de­vel­oped street.

The note told peo­ple to ‘‘be aware’’ as ‘‘who­ever is mov­ing into that house will be a low in­come earner or WINZ clients’’.

It went on to tell peo­ple to: ‘‘Keep close eyes on any­thing you see hap­pen­ing that seems sus­pi­cious’’.

Lo­cals at the time la­belled the note clas­sist and dis­crim­i­na­tory.

But, Ahmed Alubaidi and his two sons Ab­dulla Ahmed, 18, and Ab­dul Azeez Ahmed, 15, might not have been what the note writer had in mind.

Hous­ing New Zealand had un­suc­cess­fully com­plained to the Me­dia Coun­cil that Stuff’s pre­vi­ous cov­er­age of the cam­paign against the then va­cant house’s un­known oc­cu­pants had breached any po­ten­tial ten­ants’ pri­vacy.

But warmly greet­ing Stuff when it re­vis­ited the street this week, Alubaidi re­vealed a har­row­ing tale of per­se­cu­tion and sur­vival flee­ing war-torn Iraq, and his grat­i­tude towards New Zealand for pro­vid­ing refuge.

‘‘If not in New Zealand me and my sons would be dead. Now, in fif­teen years, who knows?’’

In Iraq, Alubaidi had been a wealthy busi­ness­man based in Bagh­dad spe­cial­is­ing in the im­por­ta­tion of tools.

He says a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate of his com­bined as­sets would be roughly seven mil­lion New Zealand dollars. But it’s all gone now.

As a Sunni Mus­lim he had al­ways been a mi­nor­ity in a coun­try which has a large Shia ma­jor­ity.

‘‘But it never [was a] prob­lem, Sunni next to Shia, you know?’’

How­ever the in­va­sion of Iraq in 2003 sparked off con­flict be­tween the two groups, and over the next three years seven of Alubaidi’s cousins and their fam­i­lies would be mur­dered in their homes by Shia mili­tia.

To make mat­ters worse Alubaidi says his brother Haidr Al Aubaidi con­verted to Shia Is­lam and be­gan as­so­ci­at­ing with a fun­da­men­tal­ist re­li­gious group based out of Iran.

This es­ca­lat­ing ten­sion reached a boil­ing point one night in 2006 when he woke to the sounds of gun­shots and scream­ing out­side his home.

Run­ning out­side Alubaidi says he saw his four-year-old son Ab­dulla be­ing taken to a wait­ing van.

How­ever, Alubaidi was a well-liked fig­ure in his neigh­bour­hood of Kad­himya, and when armed lo­cals saw the com­mo­tion they drove off the would-be kid­nap­pers with gun­fire.

De­spite leav­ing Ab­dulla be­hind, the kid­nap­pers phoned the house one hour later, de­mand­ing the equiv­a­lent of NZ$300,000, threat­en­ing to kill the fam­ily un­less Alubaidi paid the money in two days.

‘‘I take what I can, that night, go,’’ he said.

Alubaidi, his wife Zaynab Alokaly and their then four-year-old and one-year-old sons fled on the back of a mo­tor­bike to Syria at 3am with the equiv­a­lent of NZ$5600.

The fam­ily would spend the next five years in Syria look­ing over their shoul­der. Dur­ing that time Ab­dulla would de­velop a rare ge­netic con­di­tion de­cay­ing his speech and the mo­bil­ity in his arms and legs.

Alubaidi’s wife also was taken by her fam­ily back to Iraq un­der duress.

In 2011 Alubaidi and his two sons moved to Malaysia and ap­plied for the UNHCR refugee pro­gramme, and in 2014 the fam­ily was granted a refugee visa to New Zealand. Af­ter a long ar­du­ous jour­ney Alubaidi says he’s de­lighted that his fam­ily is safe in what he con­sid­ers the ‘‘best coun­try in the world.’’ ‘‘I love New Zealand, I love this coun­try, too much.’’

The fam­ily were given med­i­cal fund­ing for Ab­dulla’s ex­ten­sive care and a $300,000 op­er­a­tion to re­pair nerve dam­age in his legs.

‘‘Who else do this? New Zealand look af­ter my son like fam­ily.’’ The fam­ily were pro­vided hous­ing, and moved from Ma­nurewa to their new home in Brian Cow­ley Place in Au­gust. He said the fam­ily have been ap­proached by at least three neigh­bours wel­com­ing them to the street.

‘‘Peo­ple have been so nice, neigh­bour come bring me plate of sweets,’’ said Alubaidi. Neigh­bour Mary As­tle said the fam­ily the note writer warned about were ac­tu­ally ‘‘lovely, very quiet and very re­spect­ful.’’

Her hus­band Rikki had the chance to talk to Ab­dulla af­ter help­ing him across the road.

‘‘One of the bar­ri­ers across the road was block­ing his way so he couldn’t get down the road on his wheel­chair, so my hus­band moved it for him and they struck up a con­ver­sa­tion, he came home and they sat for a cou­ple of hours yakking away. ‘‘Ab­so­lutely no trou­ble at all.’’

‘‘If any­thing I think when [the writer] no­tices the young fella is dis­abled that should make them feel a bit stink.’’

But far from be­ing up­set at the per­son who left the note, Alubaidi says he un­der­stands some peo­ple feel the need to pro­tect their neigh­bour­hood.

‘‘In Ara­bic neigh­bour­hood, the neigh­bour is more im­por­tant than the house.

‘‘So I un­der­stand, I give him this right.’’ But he would like to ex­tend an in­vi­ta­tion to who­ever wrote the let­ter.

‘‘I want this per­son to come talk to me, and he see, in five min­utes who knows? We could be good friends.’’

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Ahmed Alubaidi and his son Ab­dul Azeez Ahmed, 15, in the Tuakau Hous­ing New Zealand home that was the sub­ject of a poi­son-pen cam­paign be­fore they moved it.

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