Christchurch victims' stories must be heard

Many had overcome unimaginable odds and escaped suffering to start new lives

People pay their respects at a memorial site at the Botanical garden in Christchurch on March 18, 2019, three days after a shooting incident at two mosques in the city that claimed the lives of 50 Muslim worshippers. New Zealand will tighten gun laws in the wake of its worst modern-day massacre, the government said on March 18, as it emerged that the white supremacist accused of carrying out the killings at two mosques will represent himself in court. / AFP / Marty MELVILLE
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Khaled Mustafa had survived years of war and bloodshed in his native Syria. He and his family had endured the grim conditions of refugee camps in Jordan and finally found refuge in New Zealand last year. It was, said a family friend, supposed to be their "final safe haven". Instead, it is now the last resting place of Khaled and his 16-year-old son Hamza, who were both gunned down in the Christchurch massacre. What should have been a chance to rebuild their lives has become the scene of a family torn apart, with a mother and daughter left bereft, and another teenage son seriously injured. That heartrending story of hardship and suffering, ending at the hands of a hate-filled killer, was replicated dozens of times over on New Zealand's darkest day.

Many of the 50 victims of last Friday's murderous rampage had undertaken arduous journeys to create new lives in New Zealand, only for them to be cruelly cut short. Six of the dead were of Palestinian descent, among them Atta Elayyan, who had risen to the rank of goalkeeper for the New Zealand national futsal team. Daoud Nabi, a 71-year-old grandfather, had escaped violence in his native Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, an experience that led him to dedicate his time to helping refugees feel welcome in their new home, even turning up at the airport to greet them. A pillar of the community, he had also founded a mosque and ran an Afghan association. Then there was Amjad Hamid, a Palestinian cardiac specialist, who devoted his life to saving others. Among these many stories is a common thread of naturalised citizens who, nonetheless, lost their lives to a violent hatred based solely on their "otherness".

Even if it rarely ends in such atrocity, this kind of prejudice is often part of the migrant story. It is in no way unique to New Zealand and is, in fact, familiar to millions around the world. If one positive can be drawn from the heartache of Christchurch, it is that confronting such bigotry appears to have united communities. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern opened a condolence book yesterday with the words: “On behalf of all New Zealanders we grieve, together we are one, they are us”. Earlier she had said of the victims: “They have chosen to make New Zealand their home and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not.” Her words are a reminder that the narrative of “them” and “us” has to end, not just in New Zealand – a country that has flourished, thanks to the hard work of migrants from 120 nations – but around the world. Only then can we find the antidote to the poison of racism and religious hatred.