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From asylum seeker to Fulbright scholar, young Kiwi shares success story for World Refugee Day

Abbas Nazari was taken into New Zealand as an asylum seeker, rescued from a fishing boat off the coast of Australia when he was just a child. But now he's a Fulbright scholar on his way to earning a masters degree at Columbia University.

He and his family were among 432 asylum seekers stranded off the coast of Australia on a Norwegian Freighter - the Tampa - after they were rescued from a 20-metre fishing boat in 2001.

Australia wouldn't take them, with former prime minister John Howard ruthless in his determination not to be swayed. Nauru became the destination for many of those asylum seekers as part of what was called Australia's "Pacific solution".

But more than 130 of the refugees were taken by then-New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark.

Almost two decades later, Mr Nazari has this week become a prestigious Fulbright scholar. He will attend Columbia University in New York to study a masters of international relations for two years.

"It's an awesome story and I can see why people are so interested in it," he told TVNZ1's Breakfast today, on World Refugee Day. "To look at where we came from and to where we are today, I think it's one of those only in New Zealand stories  - we were given a chance at a better time, at a better life, at a better education, and here we are now.

"It's both a huge blessing and huge responsibility because we've been given a chance now, we've got to make the most of it."

He said the Tampa "debacle" was a huge political move for the then-Aussie prime minister who went on to win an election.

"It's a time also for people to see that, when given a chance these people just want to contribute to society at every level, in every level of the spectrum from academia, to sports, to culture, to business, to whatever," Mr Nazari said.

He said he was "super proud" to call himself a Kiwi and give back to society, so for World Refugee Day, it is an important time to share his story. 

Guled Mire, who also arrived here as a child, from Somalia, also spoke to Breakfast about what it means to belong. 

"I think belonging means actually not having a particular mindset of what a Kiwi is, recognising that our faces are changing everyday and it's changing for the better as we enrich New Zealand society," he explained.

Mr Mire is about to represent New Zealand on the world stage at a UN conference in Geneva. 

He will attend the United Nations High Commission of Refugees annual consultation representing New Zealand NGO's. He's been asked to moderate the plenary session with the high commissioner.

"I'm looking forward to having quite a courageous conversation in terms of...the global refugee crisis," he told Breakfast.

"Top of the agenda for me is how we can have a much more inclusive, humane, welcoming refugee system. That includes raising the African and Middle Eastern family link requirement, which is quite discriminatory and has been called racist by the community, alongside other issues, of course."

The family link makes the bar much higher for refugees from Africa and the Middle East to get into New Zealand. Mr Mire said, "lets cut to the chase, and call it what it is and it's actually quite racist ... There's no viable justification."

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Abbas Nazari and Guled Mire talk to TVNZ1’s Breakfast on World Refugee Day. Source: Breakfast