Refugee tells Chch teens of fleeing Afghanistan

ABBAS NAZARI: ''We were persecuted. My father decided the best thing for us was to leave the country.''
ABBAS NAZARI: ''We were persecuted. My father decided the best thing for us was to leave the country.''

Silence descended over hundreds of Christchurch teenagers as they heard how Abbas Nazari fled persecution in Afghanistan under the cover of night.

Nazari, now 17, is in his first year at the University of Canterbury studying law, classics and political science.

He spoke today to the Canterbury Model United Nations, which is debating the future of democracy.

In 2001, Nazari and his family ''voted with their feet'' and made for the border of Pakistan hidden in a cargo truck. They believed Australia would take refugees.

The Soviet occupation in 1980 and the rise of the Taliban throughout the 1990s had left Afghanistan under the grip of oppression, Nazari said.

''We were persecuted. My father decided the best thing for us was to leave the country.''

From Pakistan, he took his first plane ride to Indonesia, crammed with asylum seekers.

''I can't believe we made it there alive,'' he said.

Then one night they made their way to the coast.

''We were hustled into the belly of this ship,'' Nazari said.

''In the morning we realised we were on a fishing boat that would hold, at most, 40 people. There was 438 of us.''

The next day the engine failed and a storm hit. They were rescued by a Norwegian container ship, the MV Tampa, but the Australian government refused them entry to Australian waters.

The move caused an international diplomatic row, known as the Tampa affair.

''They didn't want boat people in their country. Australia was full, and fair enough; they had had enough,'' Nazari said.

Nazari's family were soon accepted into New Zealand and have lived in Christchurch for more than a decade.

He attended Burnside High School, where he got involved in the Canterbury Model UN and attended conferences in 2011 and last year.

Nazari told more than 160 pupils gathered for the conference how important democracy and all its trappings - education, healthcare, clean drinking water and the freedom of speech and expression - were to him.

He returned to Afghanistan for a visit last year that ''really opened my eyes''.

''All the things that I take for granted were necessities over there,'' he said.

''But in spite of abject poverty, there is a sense of hope in Afghanistan.''

Next year the country will hold a general election.

Rather than voting with their feet like Nazari and his family did more than a decade ago, Afghans will cast ballots.

The Model UN is based on the UN General Assembly, where members debate and amend a single statement until a consensus, or at least a majority decision, is reached.

Each pupil represents a country.

The Press