Tampa refugee taken in by New Zealand wins Fulbright scholarship

Abbas Nazari

Afghan refugee Abbas Nazari, whose family was taken in by New Zealand after being rescued on board the Tampa in 2001, has won a Fulbright scholarship. Photograph: University of Canterbury

One of the asylum seekers the Norwegian cargo ship Tampa rescued in 2001 has won a prestigious Fulbright scholarship to undertake postgraduate studies in the US.

Abbas Nazari was seven years old when his family boarded a fishing boat from Indonesia to Australia. He was one of more than 430 people, predominantly of the ethnic minority Hazaras of Afghanistan, who were caught up in an international standoff when the boat foundered.

Some of the rescued asylum seekers on board the Tampa in 2001.
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 Some of the rescued asylum seekers on board the Tampa in 2001. Photograph: Wallenius Wilhelmsen

Australia was in the midst of an election and many analysts believe the Tampa affair helped John Howard retain government. Ultimately it was New Zealand which gave Nazari’s family a chance to start a new life.

“New Zealand put up its hand,” Nazari joked, in a TedX talk in Christchurch in 2012. “Who or what is a New Zealand? That’s what we were thinking, but we didn’t care that New Zealand was the end of our six-month journey from [a tiny village in Afghanistan].”

After only six years of speaking English, Nazari ranked third in New Zealand’s national spelling bee. In 2016 he graduated with a first-class honours degree in international relations and diplomacy from the University of Canterbury.

Now is Nazari bound for New York to complete a masters of international affairs at Columbia University.

Tampa refugees resettled in New Zealand are now small business owners, home owners, doctors, nurses, public servants, students and keen rugby players, Nazari wrote in a piece for the Spinoff.

“Given the chance at a new life, we have grabbed it with both hands,” he said.

“I’m proud to call myself a Kiwi. I have been back to Afghanistan twice in the years since we arrived in New Zealand, and I have seen what life would have been like had my family stayed in war-torn Afghanistan.”

Abbas Nazari (middle) with US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown (left) and NZ’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters.
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 Abbas Nazari (middle) with US ambassador to New Zealand Scott Brown (left) and NZ’s deputy prime minister Winston Peters. Photograph: University of Canterbury

The former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark and Phil Goff, who served as her foreign minister, who took the refugees to New Zealand have heaped praise on Nazari.

“Welcoming the Tampa refugees was one of my proudest moments as foreign minister,” Goff said on Twitter.

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Author: Hela