The Taha family, from Syria, are (top row, from left) Lina,
Heba (8 weeks) Mouhannod, Izdehar, Ahmad, Ibrahim (6 weeks)
and Lobna; (bottom row, from left) Hadi (10), Zenah (6),
Ali (8), Hanin (12) Mahmood (5) Mohammod Ali (5), Noor (3)
and Hanza (2); (front row) Fayk (2). Photo by Gregor
Neurosurgeon Ahmad Taha never planned to swap his life in
Syria for Dunedin, but three years after moving here he is
thankful he did.
Mr Taha (43) arrived in Dunedin in July 2010 on a six-month
locum position as Dunedin Hospital's sole neurosurgeon.
He fell in love with the city and its people so his family
shifted over nine months later.
He had originally planned to return to the Syrian capital
Damascus, but when the situation there quickly worsened he
realised it was time to get his wife, children, his mother,
brother and his children out of the danger zone, he said.
''After some time, I knew Dunedin, I knew the community, I
knew the people, and I found it quite attractive to bring up
the children [here] in terms of education, in terms of
safety, in terms of values of society.
"I felt my family would do better here than to live anywhere
Six of the families' 11 children attend Wakari Primary
School. And both families welcomed a new addition this year.
Although Mr Taha felt huge relief to have them safe in New
Zealand, he now feared for his brother, sister and eight
nieces and nephews who remained in the war-stricken capital.
He would do anything to get them to New Zealand.
''I am trying to get them here, because their children are
really at risk. You never know what is going to happen the
next day. You just fear when something bad happens. You're
always on edge.
''My brother's children, a few times they were shot at by
tanks while they were travelling in the car.
''I have a nephew that is 2 years old and the first word he
learnt were: `Bullets, bullets, hide' ...''
The Syrian conflict erupted in March 2011 as an uprising
against President Bashar al-Assad and transformed into a
civil war. Before the outbreak, Syria had a population of
about 23 million.
Two million Syrians have since fled to neighbouring countries
and five million have been displaced within the country,
according to the United Nations.
Mr Taha said he had contacted Immigration New Zealand seeking
advice about getting his family to New Zealand.
He enjoyed the friendly, peaceful and relaxed approach of New
''Dunedin is the best place I can dream for my family. It is
a family town, beautiful scenery, beautiful people.
''Dunedin, in particular, is a young city and will never get
old because of the university. It has vibrant characteristics
and it is safe.''
He and his family had previously been opposed to leaving
Syria as refugees, but the situation had become desperate and
that would now be an option.
''I don't care if they come as a refugee or whatever. I just
want them out of danger.''
US President's Barack Obama's latest announcement for US
involvement in Syria was too little too late, Mr Taha said.
''I think it has taken longer than it should have and they
should have intervened when it started in better ways. I
don't think we would be in this position if he [Assad] was