'One of the safest countries': Some fear and trauma, but Malaysians in Christchurch aren't going anywhere
Members of the community said the Kiwis' overwhelming support has brought them together in defiance of the brutal terrorist attack which claimed 50 lives.
CHRISTCHURCH: Malaysians living in Christchurch have insisted that New Zealand remains a safe place despite the mass shootings on Friday (Mar 14), stating that the outpouring of support has brought them together amid some lingering fear and trauma.
Three Malaysians were shot in the attack and remain in hospital, although the country's foreign ministry said on Tuesday they were making steady progress and responding positively to treatment.
But Ipoh native Sam Yau, who has lived in Christchurch for 35 years, said the attacks and the fact that there were Malaysian victims have not changed his perception of the peaceful nation.
"I still think that New Zealand is one of the safest countries in the world," he told Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday. "We can’t deny the fact that it happened here. But I have no problems going out."
Mr Yau, who is also president of the Canterbury Malaysian Society Inc. (CMSI) - the largest Malaysian association on the South Island - said none of the organisation's 100 members have gone to him to express concerns about safety.
They haven't changed their daily routine either. Ms Sabidah Abu Bakar, 65, was kept in her office till Friday evening because of the lockdown in the city in the aftermath of the attack.
"After getting notice we could leave, we just drove back as per normal," said Ms Sabidah, who has lived in New Zealand for more than 20 years. "The next day, we went out as per normal."
Ms Aida Baharuddin, a New Zealand resident for close to 20 years, said the incident has not changed what she thinks about the country and its people. At home, her windows are never closed and her door sometimes remains unlocked. "We still believe we are safe here," she said.
READ: Malaysian govt rebuts report on inaction in Christchurch, says 'doing its best' to assist terror attack victims and families
Still, the 48-year-old said she would be taking more precautions moving forward, like locking her door more often. "Because this thing has happened, I will tell my children to be more cautious," she added.
SOME STUDENTS CONCERNED
Among the Malaysian student population at Canterbury University, there were some concerns.
The president of the 250-strong Canterbury Malaysian Student Association (CMSA), who only wanted to be known as Jay, said about 10 students approached her regarding issues of safety. Some said they wanted to stay indoors more.
But the 23-year-old, who has been studying in New Zealand for five years, reassured them regarding the heightened police presence, and advised them to go out if they wanted to.
"I told them the guy wants people to be full of fear," she said. "We’re going against that, so just go out and live your best life because he can’t take that away from you."
Jay herself believes New Zealand is still a very safe country, although she said she would be looking inside cars more often just to be extra vigilant.
"You cannot avoid trauma, and to heal trauma it takes a long time," said another 22-year-old student who only wanted to be known as Rol. "I do believe that people will overcome that."
CMSI's Mr Yau said he has heard of a "few cases" who might need counselling because of the trauma. The group will work with the Malaysian High Commission in the coming weeks to provide them with the help they need.
CMSA has also been working with the university's student association to set up a free 24-hour helpline and on-site counselling.
LOCALS SHOW OVERWHELMING SUPPORT
Nevertheless, the Malaysians agreed that the support locals have shown has proved tremendous.
"One positive coming out of the incident is you can see the true Kiwis," Mr Yau said. "We see the love that local people give us," Ms Aida added.
During the university's memorial service on Monday, Rol said he was touched by how some staff and faculty were wearing the hijab in solidarity, while students were handing flowers to their Muslim peers.
"I don’t think one incident would change my perception of New Zealand," added Rol, who has been studying in the country for two years. "Because it doesn't portray New Zealand at all. I love the culture and the people."
Jay said her perception of the country has changed, but only for the better.
"New Zealand has always been supportive, but I didn’t realise to what extent," she explained. "Seeing everyone yesterday made me realise that they do care and want to support you in the best way they can."
Therefore one thing is clear: While the Malaysians said they were distraught that the attacks have wounded three of their own, they have pulled together to help the families as best as they could. And the community is here to stay.
CMSI will continue to host four events each year: Chinese New Year, Merdeka Day, Hari Raya and Deepavali. In fact, the Chinese New Year celebrations this year attracted 200 people, Mr Yau said.
CMSA will continue to organise the annual student production and inter-university games.
"Whether we like it or not, it will probably be tainted," Mr Yau said of New Zealand's image. "Regardless of what happens, we are not going to buy a ticket and fly back. This is our home."