Choice bro: Hamilton-bound Afghan refugees settle into Kiwi life

04:37, Apr 26 2013
Afghan refugees
HAPPY FAMILY: Interpreter Mohammad Habibi and wife Soghra Karimi with sons Noorullah, left, Farhad, back, and Farzod, front.

The helicopter that buzzes above the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre distracts Mohammad Habibi and Parwiz Hakimi.

"Every time I hear a helicopter it reminds me of Afghanistan," said Hakimi.

"It makes us think we are still in the military base," Habibi said.

But they are not. They are two of the 94 Afghan men, women and children who have been given new lives in New Zealand, most of who are Hamilton-bound.

Both men worked as interpreters for the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan.

"We were the eyes and ears of the PRT," Habibi said.

Advertisement

They are grateful for the work the soldiers have done in making Bamiyan a more developed place, but because of their role they say they were left without a home.

"We were attending high level meetings, between the PRT and the community who may have had links to the insurgents," said Habibi.

They had already received threats and their identities were well known. It was this vulnerability that led to the New Zealand Government offering them resettlement here.

The close friendships the interpreters made with the New Zealand troops have left them feeling "half Kiwi" already.

This understanding of New Zealand culture, forged on the military base, can have difficult collisions with the traditions of Afghanistan.

Curse words and "bro" have already made it into the vocabulary. When Hakimi lets slip with the "F word" he apologises profusely.

"Because we are all together we keep thinking we are at the Kiwi Base. Then we remember our wives are close by and we shouldn't be saying this and that," Hakimi said.

Their English is good.

Hakimi was a journalist and English teacher in Afghanistan before he took the interpreter role. He is proud of turning his once American accent into a Kiwi one.

He hopes to work in journalism again one day. But now the focus is on settling in New Zealand and preparing his three daughters, aged five, three and three months for the opportunities of New Zealand.

"We are going to do anything it takes to educate our kids so they can help New Zealand," Hakimi said.

His eldest daughter understands the huge shift that has happened in their lives. The youngest two continue to ask to go home to see their grandfather and uncles.

Leaving his father and mother was the hardest decision Hakimi had to make.

"They knew that we were not going back to Afghanistan and it may be a long time before we see them again. Because they are old and they might not see us again in this life," he said.

He also had to leave behind his sister and her son, whom he had been charged with caring for after her husband was killed by the Taliban while working with journalists on the front line. Hakimi hopes they too can one day move to New Zealand.

"I am trying to get them here because they were under my responsibility in Afghanistan and they have no one else to look after them," he said.

Habibi left no direct family in Afghanistan but leaving his home and culture still comes with sadness.

"We will miss our community and our culture. The main thing I want to hold is my Dari language. I want my kids to keep speaking Dari in our house," said Habibi.

The new residents take the afternoons to stroll the streets of South Auckland and the difference with Afghanistan could not be greater.

"These areas are developed; there is fresh air; everywhere is green," Habibi said.

"There are no traffic rules in Afghanistan; you have to have four eyes. Here it is paved roads. You are not worried about people running in front of you or a bicycle smashing into you," Hakimi agreed.

"When you are walking around Kabul and you see a vehicle driving fast you think it is a suicide bomber. In Afghanistan every time you went out there was a 50 per cent chance you would never see your family again," said Hakimi.

In New Zealand they have been greeted with handshakes. They are both desperate to get into the ocean, a sight they saw for the first time as they flew into New Zealand.

"I have been told a lot by Kiwi friends that the first thing you have to learn is swimming because everywhere is beaches and water," Hakimi said.

But sometimes they forget they are in their new home and the fear creeps back.

"When I heard a vehicle with really loud music, I had a thought it was going to be an explosion then I remembered I am not in Afghanistan anymore I am in New Zealand," said Hakimi.

It was Hakimi who first focused attention on the fate of the interpreters with his plea that he would rather be shot by the Kiwi troops than left behind to the Taliban after the PRT pulls out.

"They do terrible things in order to kill you. Seeing your family getting tortured by Taliban, probably raped then killing them, it is better to be killed by friends," he said.

In New Zealand the fate of these families appears to have changed.

"The biggest surprise is the safety here. We can go outside and be safe. That is the most important thing for our lives here," said Habibi.

The Afghans will arrive at their new Hamilton homes in June.

Waikato