Australia’s loss, New Zealand’s gain.
By R McKenry
In October last yearI wrote about a Hazara Afghan man who became a family friend. This story is about another Hazara, Ali, who owes his life to Arne Rinnan, the captain of the Norwegian container ship MV Tampa. In August, 2001, Rinnan rescued 433 refugees, including Ali, from an Indonesian fishing vessel he found struggling in international waters. This happened about 140 kilometres north of Christmas Island. Many of the asylum seekers on board the ship were in poor health. Over 48 hours, Rinnan made repeated requests to Australian authorities for assistance. These requests were acknowledged but not acted on. The Australian Government of Australia refused permission for the Norwegian freighter to enter Australian waters. They advised Rinnan that he was in ‘flagrant breach’ of the law but despite this, he believed it was his duty to head towards Christmas Island.
Australian authorities 45 Special Air Service (SAS) troops were dispatched to board the ship and prevent it from sailing any closer. Ali and the others were taken to the island of Nauru in the Pacific.
I wonder if this captain knows that one of the men he rescued later became a Justice of the Peace in New Zealand.
Ali had fled Afghanistan to escape the Taliban, which targeted Hazara people. He left behind his wife and son, hoping to send for them once he’d reached safety.
In the Nauru detention camp, he became spokesperson for other detainees when Australian politicians visited the island. I corresponded with Ali while he was there.
When my husband and I were married in January 2004 Ali wrote to me.
Dear sister Rosie with kind husband. First, I am so happy to write to you after you are married and I hope and wish to you start your lovely life with each other, so I am praying for you all to be successful in your life together.
Thanks for your kind feelings that you have about our Hazara people. I pray that one day the world will practice the real teaching of Mohammad, Jesus and Buddha to love each other.
After being in detention for three years, during which time he was unable to contact his family back in Afghanistan, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) interviewed Ali and judged him to be a genuine refugee. New Zealand then agreed to take him. Red Cross helped him find his parents. They and Ali’s siblings moved to New Zealand several years later, under the Family Reunification Program. Ali thought his wife and son may have fled to one of the countries close to Afghanistan. As a NZ citizen, he was able to return to the Middle East so he flew to Iran and Pakistan but his search was in vain. He now thinks they are dead.
Ali studied at two universities in Wellington. He developed the necessary skills to work with the Red Cross Refugee Services which aimed to help communities develop economic independence. To expedite his work in assisting the community, Ali became a Justice of the Peace in Wellington.
We didn’t meet him face to face until we visited NZ a few years later, when we were welcomed by his family and treated to a delicious meal of rice with grated carrot and currants, salad, lamb, eggs, unleavened bread, fruit and more.
Ali eventually married again and has a delightful young daughter. His siblings all have jobs and are contributing to society. Wellington has gained energetic, honourable and skilled citizens.