Former refugee brothers building their future

The Andrews Property Services (APS) site in Auckland is buzzing with activity as staff ready themselves for the day. In the middle of it all are Areef and Omar Areef. The Palestinian brothers catch a couple of harnesses thrown their way and their colleagues cheer them on as they gear up for the task at hand.

Once they're properly fitted up, their supervisor, Graham Stockdale, directs them to the knuckle boom. It’s a rather imposing looking lift used on building sites to access hard to reach areas.

It doesn’t faze Omar and Areef though, they safely secure themselves in the basket while Graham watches. Soon they’re practicing lifting themselves in the air and maneuvering the basket to where they want to be.

"They've embraced everything thrown at them and learned a lot."
Graham Stockdale helps Areef Areef with his harness (photo: Gemma Snowdon/NZ Red Cross)

Omar and Areef have been working at APS for almost a year and have made a huge impression on their workmates. Even the grumpy looking Graham cracks a smile and laughs when they affectionately refer to him as uncle.

They came into the role through Pathways to Employment after Cate Creemers was watching news about the Syria crisis and then spoke to her partner, Rob, about ways they could help in New Zealand. As owners of APS they recognised that a valuable and tangible impact they could make would be to employ a former refugee and help them rebuild their life in New Zealand.

They got in touch with Red Cross who put Omar and Areef forward for an interview and they were each offered a position within APS. They've fitted in well at the multicultural workplace, knowing when to take things seriously but also joking around with colleagues in their down time.

"We’re the United Nations," grins Rob, talking about the makeup of his team. “I think it’s an accurate reflection of what Auckland is.”

"All the guys who work here are very good."
Omar and Areef Areef say their colleagues have been helpful and friendly, showing them the ropes (photo: Gemma Snowdon/NZ Red Cross)

Feedback from the rest of the team at APS has been positive. Marianna Brackenbury is the Contracts Administrator and has watched the boys grow into their role, working within the seven different trades they have.

"It took them a couple of weeks to settle into it because there was quite a bit of information overload," she says.

“They've embraced everything thrown at them though. There are a lot of different trades here so they’ve done waterproofing, engineering, roofing, painting, and building. They’ve been working with a lot of different people and cultures and learned a lot.”

"They've worked with a lot of different people and cultures and learned a lot."
Areef and Omar Areef have worked in waterpoofing, painting, building, and roofing since starting at APS (photo: Gemma Snowdon/NZ Red Cross)

The feeling is mutual with the brothers loving their roles. The opportunity to train in different areas has kept things fresh for both Omar, a former mechanic in Iraq, and Areef, who was still studying when they were forced to flee their home.

"I like this company, all the guys who work here are very good," says Areef. “I am happy and they always keep me busy.”

“I like roofing,” says Omar who is being encouraged by his peers and management to join the roofing team within APS. “It's hard but it’s a good job.”

The experience has been a positive one for the owner, Rob, who is looking to continue the relationship with Pathways to Employment.

“We’d like to do it on an annual basis and every year take on someone else or a family,” says Rob.

How to help

New Zealand Red Cross works with former refugees around the country who have skills to offer Kiwi businesses. If you'd like to know more about the programme or have an available position, get in touch with your local team.