Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Decades ago, at Refugee and Migrant Services in Auckland, I glanced at a map showing that vast territory between Greece and India, lands unfamiliar to most New Zealanders but from which refugees and migrants would increasingly arrive: Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria.
Someone observed that when these people told their stories, our culture and view of the world would change irrevocably.
True, and many of these people have escaped privation, repression, brutality and war zones of the kind we cannot imagine, even though we witness it nightly, usually with a caution that it “may be upsetting to some viewers”.
Yet these are our fellow citizens: engineers, doctors, cleaners, research scientists, nurses, shopkeepers, civil servants, Uber drivers, architects, teachers.\
And every one has a story.
That of Abbas Nazari is perhaps more remarkable than most.
Today, he’s a graduate of the University of Canterbury and a Fulbright Scholar who received a Master’s in Security Studies from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C.
A long way from being a barely literate child in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, where his family had lived for generations. When the Taliban moved toward their village in 2001, they — being the ethnically different Hazara and Shi’a, both targets for the Sunni fundamentalist militants — fled.
He remembers the uncertain journey to Pakistan, waiting fearfully for months in Quetta, then Karachi before a flight to Jakarta, then the terrifying journey on a barely afloat boat carrying 433 asylum seekers heading for the Australian territory of Christmas Island. With the boat leaking to the point of sinking, they were rescued by the Norwegian container vessel Tampa.
That, however, was far from the end of their troubles. With hindsight and recourse to reports from the time, he tells of how the refugees — starving, ill and terrified — were made to wait a week in appalling and unsanitary conditions, in limbo because the Australian government refused to allow the Tampa to land them on Christmas Island.
Rescue for his family and many others subsequently came with the promise of a home in New Zealand.
“Who is New Zealand?” one man asked . . .
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