Beware: They’re lovely
Street welcomes family after nasty letter
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.’’
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.