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Tuesday, 16 July, 2002, 23:03 GMT 00:03 UK
NZ authors happy ending for refugees
Asylum seekers stranded on the Norwegian ship The Tampa last year
The fates of the Tampa refugees differed widely

On the tiny Pacific island of Nauru, more than 200 of the Afghan asylum seekers rescued by a Norwegian ship last August are still uncertain of their fate.


In contrast to Europe or... Australia, the asylum seeker issue is just not that controversial

Canberra, having refused to allow them onto Australia soil, arranged for them to be processed on Nauru, where most have since had their applications for refugee status rejected.

But 140 of the group rescued by the Tampa ship - mostly families and unaccompanied children - were accepted by New Zealand, where they have been granted refugee status.

They have now begun the slow task of building a new life in a new country, in stark contrast to their compatriots stranded on Nauru.

A new life

In his modest but comfortable Auckland home, Rajab Ali Merzaie puts aside his text book to play with his baby son Pyman Hussein.

Rajab Ali, his son, and his wife Tahereh are among the lucky ones. They come from the group of asylum seekers taken in by New Zealand under what has become known as the Pacific solution to the Tampa crisis.

Rajab Ali Merzaie
Rajab Ali Merzaie: "I love New Zealand"

The couple's son was born in New Zealand, and now they have been accepted as genuine refugees, they are slowly adjusting to a very different life from the one they left in Afghanistan.

"All the things are new for me. The culture, the people, all of the things are different. New Life, New Home!" says Rajab Ali, quoting the title of the popular soap opera the BBC World Service broadcasts into Afghanistan.

"I loved Afghanistan, but now I have come here and they have supported me and made a new life for me, now I love New Zealand. It is very good for me."

The family's life is very different to that of the countrymen they left behind in a detention camp on Nauru.

The New Zealand Government has provided public housing, education and training opportunities to the Tampa group it took in.

Opposition

This has angered some, like the leader of the anti-immigration New Zealand First party, Winston Peters.

He believes the New Zealand Government has allowed itself to be tricked.

Afghan refugees on Nauru
Conditions on Nauru are described as "hellish"

"Of the 292 Afghans who went to Nauru, only seven qualified [for refugee status]. Which means, I suppose, that of the 140 who we took, only about two qualify.

"And we've really been a soft touch for those who've jumped the queue on United Nations refugee programming."

But in contrast to Europe, or even New Zealand's near neighbour Australia, the asylum seeker issue is just not that controversial.

With a policy of accepting only 750 UN-approved refugees each year, perhaps that is not surprising.

But offering a refuge to asylum seekers is one thing. Helping them to settle is another thing altogether.

Learning to belong

New Zealand's Refugee and Migrant Service used a small army of volunteers to help the Tampa group adjust to life in New Zealand, but the Director of the Service, Peter Cotton, says the onus is on the community to accept new arrivals if the process is to work.

Afghan refugees in a class
NZ's refugees are given education and training

"Whilst you may view resettlement as some kind of process, in fact belonging is not a process but a feeling.

"And you need people to make you belong, and you can't belong unless you're accepted."

The volunteers who have worked with the Tampa group of asylum seekers say they have had nothing but support from the New Zealand public.

So as Rajab Ali Merzaie plays with his baby son, he and his family are at the beginning of a long journey, putting down roots in their new home - one that may take years.

But they are facing a far brighter future when compared to their companions still languishing on Nauru.

See also:

28 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
31 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
05 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
06 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
27 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
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