He was only seven years old – sailing on a fishing boat carrying Afghans away from the suppressive regime of the Taliban.
On the fretful day of 26 August in 2001, the boat began to sink. Abbas Nazari, now 17, was one of the 430 people, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, rescued by a Norwegian freight carrier – Tampa.
New Zealand accepted 131 of these people, including Abbas, as refugees, and gave them an opportunity to start all over again.
Ten years later on, Abbas is in his final year at Burnside High School in Christchurch, plays rugby for the school team, and plans to take on study in law and political science at university next year, reports the Office of Ethnic Affairs in its latest newsletter.
He also received the prestigious Russell McVeagh Scholarship for School Leavers and has also been awarded the University of Canterbury Emerging Leaders Scholarship for General Excellence.
Abbas exemplifies what is possible if opportunities are provided to refugees.
He says his life changed forever when the Tampa skipper Arne Rinnan picked them up from the sinking boat.
He credits his parents’ courage, determination and support as the foundation on which his academic achievements are based.
One award he is particularly proud of is coming third in the New Zealand National Spelling bee at the age of 12, after being in the country only five years.
During his visit to the Office of Ethnic Affairs ministry, Abbas spoke about the different Afghan ethnicities and how his own, Hazāra face additional hardships.
The Hazāra face particular discrimination by the Taliban for their ethnicity and for their religion – most are Shi’a Muslim.