Syrian group aims to build relationship

Otago Syrian Association president Ghassan Idris holds up a plate of kibbeh at a potluck for refugees at Carisbrook School on Monday night. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Otago Syrian Association president Ghassan Idris holds up a plate of kibbeh at a potluck for refugees at Carisbrook School on Monday night. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Dunedin's Syrian refugees have formed an organisation in the hopes of sharing their culture and giving back to the city that has given them a fresh start.

The Otago Syrian Association was registered in October and involves 17 of the refugee families to arrive in Dunedin this year.

President Ghassan Idris said the group was run by the refugees themselves and aimed at building the relationship between refugees and Dunedin residents.

''The goal of this is to introduce Syrian culture to the community,'' Mr Idris said.

This included introducing Syrian cuisine and handicrafts, including furniture making and fashion, to Dunedin people and starting a website.

They also wanted to volunteer for community organisations as a way of expressing their gratitude to the city.

''We have been welcomed with love ... so we want to give something in return.''

Mr Idris, who had just submitted his PhD from the University of Otago's School of Dentistry, said it was an honour to be president of the association.

He was not one of the refugees to arrive in Dunedin since it was chosen as a resettlement location, but instead moved to New Zealand in 2013 and received asylum as the war back home in Syria tore the country apart.

He believed the refugees who arrived this year were integrating well.

This was shown at a potluck dinner for refugees on Monday night, where a group of the children performed Maori songs.

The formation of the group comes as the latest group of 34 refugees arrived in Dunedin on Saturday.

Red Cross southern humanitarian services manager Sue Price said the new arrivals brought the total number to 187.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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