Do migrants feel safe after Christchurch mosque shootings?

From Voices, 7:00 am on 25 March 2019

Safina Kudus is still struggling to understand the actions of a gunman who killed 50 people at two mosques in New Zealand on 15 March 2019.

The names of his victims, many of whom were praying or getting ready to worship, revealed so many beautiful people of different ages, ethnicities, cultures and countries of origin.

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Since that unprovoked attack on two sacred spaces of worship, candlelight vigils have been held nationwide.

Safina, who was born in Fiji,  made time with her family after a busy work day to attend and offer evening prayers at her neighbourhood vigil in South Auckland last week.

“We are here for the people of Christchurch and New Zealand as a whole. Since this incident there’s been so much love poured into us. Race and creed together. We are united as a nation," she says.

It's a small gesture, aimed at bringing people in the community of all faiths and cultures together to garner support for one another.

Messages of support

Messages of support Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Many, like Safina, are still shocked and saddened by the horrendous actions of the alleged killer, who has been described as a white supremacist.

But after living here for three decades and working as an optometrist,  she's not angry.

Instead, Safina is heartbroken because she is thinking about her friend Linda Armstrong ,who died and others who lost loved ones. Aged 65, Linda had converted to Islam and lived in Auckland before moving to Christchurch.

“She was known to us as Sister Linda and was known for her compassion. She used to come for her eye tests with us when she lived in Auckland. The last time she visited, she told us about her pilgrimage to Mecca and how happy she was about that.”

The day after the shooting, Safina and her husband had tried desperately to contact Linda by phone.

“We’d tried to get in touch with her, just to see if any of family or friends had been affected and then we saw her name come up on the list of people who had died," said Safina, crying.

Flowers outside the Masjid e Umar the day after the Christchurch mosque shootings

Flowers outside the Masjid e Umar the day after the Christchurch mosque shootings Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Linda Armstrong was among the victims laid to rest in Christchurch last week.

At least 3000 people turned out to attend the last-minute outdoor vigil near the Mangere town centre.

Since 15 March the security and safety of ordinary community events has been ramped up amidst the cancellation of  Pasifika , the Wellington Pride Festival, Polyfest. and the third cricket Test between Bangladesh and New Zealand.

Also since that day, police have been highly visible on duty, wearing brightly-coloured yellow vests and carrying weapons. Officers are also guarding many mosques nationwide.

Qais Azimi is from Afghanistan. He has lived in New Zealand since 2000 and Auckland is home.

He says understandably the police have been at the Mt Roskill Masjid e Umar mosque regularly since the attacks.

While Qais still finds what happened in Christchurch unbelievable, he will continue to worship at his mosque.

"Yeah, shocked. You wouldn't think it would happen in New Zealand and geographically you are so far away from the real trouble that is happening in the world," he says.

"And so you feel safe and come to New Zealand. But obviously they can come to New Zealand and bring that terrorist ideology here."

Qais Azimi outside one of the biggest masjid in New Zealand -  Masjid e Umar.

Qais Azimi outside one of the biggest masjid in New Zealand - Masjid e Umar. Photo: RNZ / Sara Vui-Talitu

Despite everything that has occurred, Qais looks around at all the flowers and messages of support for Muslims and still believes New Zealand is a safe place and a good country.

"People have been showing a lot of support and compassion and I really appreciate it and Islam is a religion of peace."

Safina agrees and she is adamant that New Zealand will always be home.

"Since this incident there's been so much love pouring from every race, every creed and colour," she says.

"We have everyone together and this is the best thing, " she says. "In tragedy we have united as a nation and I think that is the most important thing at the moment. It's going to heal everyone."