Ibrahim Omer, union organiser at E Tū and Chair of Change Makers Resettlement Forum,reflects on his journey in New Zealand as a refugee, and our response toislamophobia, hate, and racism following the 15 March 2019 terror attacksin Christchurch.As a teenager, I was forced to flee my home in Eritrea. I did so to escapethe repressive Eritrean regime, and the prospect, even as a teenager, ofspending the rest of my life as a soldier in a country where militaryservice is compulsory, and often endless.In my home country there was a shoot-to-kill policy on the border imposedby the Eritrean regime. I had very limited options. I would either be shotor get arrested and spend years in underground enclosures or metal shippingcontainers. Or, I would make it safely to Sudan.I chose to leave.The first step was crossing into Sudan. I was incredibly lucky to make itto Sudan, but my safety was never guaranteed, and I faced the very realprospect of being deported back to Eritrea until the UNHCR intervened andmy case was referred on to third countries for resettlement. Thankfully, in2008 I was accepted into New Zealand as a refugee, and my life changedforever.My knowledge of New Zealand was limited in those early days. My concernswere overwhelming as I prepared to leave my country for a new home, onethat until recently I hadn’t even heard of. These concerns were quickly putto ease as I learnt New Zealand – the country I would now call home - wasone of the most peaceful countries on earth.I moved to New Zealand and faced many new struggles. In those early days,low wages were a reality that filled me with new anxieties as I shaped anew life for myself and attended university. It was at university that Ifound my voice as an activist, and as a proud unionist. It was also aroundthis time that I started to notice the subtle forms of racism andislamophobia many New Zealanders seemed all-too-willing to ignore.The 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks on two Christchurch mosques, the Masjidal Noor and Linwood Masjid, have made it so that racism and islamophobiacan no longer be ignored by any of us, not least those who are otherwiseopen, welcoming and accepting, but who all too often look the other wayfrom the daily forms of bigotry many New Zealanders face.The 15 of March shocked me to the core. The peaceful image we had ofourselves, and that the international community had of us was shattered. Asthe days went by, we learned more about the victims, which only confirmedthe senselessness of the attacks.There was Haji Daoud Nabi, the 71-year-old man, who greeted the terrorist –the man who would take his life – with the simple words “welcome, brother”.There was Mohamad Moosid, a proud E Tū member. There was no collectiveagreement at Mohamad Moosid’s workplace. It was not unionised, but hejoined nonetheless because he believed in the importance of the unionmovement, in solidarity, and the role it plays in transforming lives.And there was Muccad Ibrahim, the 3-year-old, born in New Zealand to aSomali family who had fled fighting in their home country more than 20years ago, only to find it in their adopted home.The Christchurch terrorist attack proved one thing. Like our Prime Ministersaid, we might not be immune to this sort of thing, but we can be thecountry that meaningfully faces the challenge of hate and bigotry. We havealready proved that we can.The response to the attack was one of a kind. Often countries who arevictims of terror attacks look for security solutions, but we proved thatlove, empathy and kindness can go a long way. It can heal wounds, it bringspeople together, and more importantly it sends a strong message to theterrorists, those filled with hate and whose main aim is to divide us, thatthey never will.There is no question that the 15 March 2019 terror attacks changed the waywe think of ourselves as a nation. It was our darkest day, and one we willnever forget. But I like to think that it has changed us in some good waysas well. Perhaps now we are not afraid to have those much needed, toughdiscussions. Perhaps now we will not turn the other way when we seeinjustice.Change Makers Resettlement Forum is working with the Living Wage MovementAotearoa on a photo exhibition “My Life…To Live: The Lives of RefugeeBackground Workers” being launched June 20. This exhibition featuring thework of Ehsan Hazaveh opens at the Portrait Gallery in Wellington, but willtravel Aotearoa.