Tampa Boys rescued by Norwegian freighter become New Zealand citizens

News Stories, 8 April 2005

© Brett Phibbs/The New Zealand Herald
A perilous journey ends in New Zealand citizenship. The Tampa Boys, rescued from the Norwegian freighter off the Australian coast in 2001, at the ceremony in Manukau, NZ. Photo courtesty of and

MANUKAU CITY, New Zealand, April 8 (UNHCR) Azizullah Mussa was just 14 years old when urged by his family, he left Afghanistan to escape the Taliban conflict, beginning a perilous journey to find a safer home. Today, aged 17, he is one of 76 former refugees rescued at sea by the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa off the Australian coast in 2001, who have been granted New Zealand citizenship.

Azizullah was the youngest of 37 unaccompanied teenagers then aged between 14 and 18 among 433 asylum seekers rescued from a sinking fishing boat in the Indian Ocean by the MV Tampa.

"When our boat from Indonesia was sinking we had a hopeless feeling. We thought we were going to die. Then we got on to the Tampa. It was like we got a new life. God has given me a new life and I have to start life in a different way than I had in Afghanistan.... I realise I have to be different from where I was in Afghanistan and to take opportunities and try to be a good person," Azizullah said.

The teenagers were affectionately dubbed 'The Tampa Boys' by officials who cared for them when they were subsequently accepted as refugees by New Zealand.

Excited and happy to receive his citizenship at a ceremony in Manukau City attended by New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark, Azizullah in his second last year at high school, likens it to a graduation.

"I've been waiting three years for this day to come. I can call myself a Kiwi now," he said.

New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark said the Tampa refugees had demonstrated their commitment to the country since their arrival.

"Today, they can proudly proclaim themselves citizens of New Zealand," she said, praising the way the Tampa teenagers had adjusted to life in their new land.

"I have followed the progress of the Tampa Boys over the past three and half years, and have seen and heard how they have embraced the New Zealand way of life, by settling into school, further study, and jobs and also by forming their own very successful soccer team, and even switching codes to support the All Blacks!" The All Blacks are New Zealand's famous rugby union team.

"Today's ceremony is a milestone in the lives of these new young New Zealanders. They are already making a positive contribution to New Zealand life, and our lives have been enriched by having them here," Clark added.

New Zealand Internal Affairs Minister George Hawkins said becoming a citizen is a privilege which applicants earn by demonstrating their commitment to New Zealand.

"The Tampa Boys have done that, and they have also brought a unique perspective to New Zealand through their own culture and traditions," Hawkins said.

That sentiment was echoed by Azizullah. "At school, I have to do hard work and be a good person and communicate with other people. I want to experience different cultures and the heritage of other people and keep my own culture alive as well," he said.

In February 2004, Azizullah was reunited with his parents and seven siblings under New Zealand's annual refugee annual quota of 750 people. Most Tampa Boys have been reunited with their families.

UNHCR Regional Representative Neill Wright congratulated the Tampa Boys and families on achieving citizenship.

"This occasion marks the start of their future lives as productive citizens of New Zealand. By all accounts, they have embraced their new home with enthusiasm, and are keen to make the most of opportunities," Wright said.

"I also thank the New Zealand Government for allowing the refugees to make New Zealand their new home, for reuniting them with their families and for the excellent services they provided to help them adjust into their new country," he added.

Settling into New Zealand, life for Azizullah is 'getting better and better' and he is learning new things every day. It's the freedom he values the most and being reunited with his family.

"Freedom means having education and opportunities, but also driving cars, being independent, and just being ourselves," he said.

© Brett Phibbs/The New Zealand Herald
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark congratulates Nasrullah Alawi one of the 76 refugees from the Tampa to be given New Zealand citizenship at a ceremony held in Manukau, New Zealand.

In his second last year at high school, Azizullah would like to become a journalist or have a career in science. For the moment, however, he is keen to take every opportunity that comes his way. He is looking forward to getting a New Zealand passport, making it easier to travel around the world. In July, he will travel to the USA for a youth leadership conference with two other Afghan refugees from the Tampa.

Applicants for citizenship in New Zealand must be a permanent resident for at least three years and meet a good character and English-language requirement, amongst other things.

Overall, New Zealand has accepted 208 people from the Tampa as refugees, including 131 people straight from the Tampa and a further 77 who were resettled to New Zealand from Nauru after being found to be refugees. Today's group of 76 who received citizenship are the first of the former Tampa refugees to meet citizenship requirements.




UNHCR country pages

Asylum and Migration

Asylum and Migration

All in the same boat: The challenges of mixed migration around the world.

The 1951 Refugee Convention

The Geneva Refugee Convention has been instrumental in helping an estimated 50 million people restart their lives.


Almost half the people of concern to UNHCR are children. They need special care.

Prominent Refugees

An A-Z of refugee achievers around the world.

Refworld – Children

Refworld – Children

This Special Feature on Child Protection is a comprehensive source of relevant legal and policy documents, practical tools and links to related websites.

Rescue at Sea

A guide to principles and practice as applied to migrants and refugees.

1951 Geneva Convention 50th Anniversary

Refugees Magazine Issue 123: 1951 Geneva Convention 50th Anniversary (complete magazine, 1.2Mb pdf)

Refugees Magazine Issue 148

Refugee or Migrant? Why it Matters.

The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On

Refugees Magazine Issue 144: Where Are They Now? The Hungarian Refugees, 50 Years On (complete magazine, hi-res, 2.6 Mb, pdf)

Refugee or Migrant - Why It Matters

Refugees Magazine Issue 148 ("Refugee or Migrant - Why It Matters") - Refugee or migrant?

Who, Where and Why?

Related news stories to Unit plan for ages 9-11 in Geography: Refugees - Who, Where and Why?


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

The 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol

The most frequently asked questions about the treaty and its protocol.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Since the Syrian crisis began in March 2011, more than 2 million people have fled the violence. Many have made their way to European Union countries, finding sanctuary in places like Germany and Sweden. Others are venturing into Europe by way of Bulgaria, where the authorities struggle to accommodate and care for some 8,000 asylum-seekers, many of whom are Syrian. More than 1,000 of these desperate people, including 300 children, languish in an overcrowded camp in the town of Harmanli, 50 kilometres from the Turkish-Bulgarian border. These people crossed the border in the hope of starting a new life in Europe. Some have travelled in family groups; many have come alone with dreams of reuniting in Europe with loved ones; and still others are unaccompanied children. The sheer number of people in Harmanli is taxing the ability of officials to process them, let alone shelter and feed them. This photo essay explores the daily challenges of life in Harmanli.

The Children of Harmanli Face a Bleak Winter

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Some of the most vulnerable Syrian refugees are children who have sought shelter in urban areas with their families. Unlike those in camps, refugees living in towns and cities in countries like Iraq, Turkey and Jordan often find it difficult to gain access to aid and protection. In a refugee camp, it is easier for humanitarian aid organizations such as UNHCR to provide shelter and regular assistance, including food, health care and education. Finding refugees in urban areas, let alone helping them, is no easy task.

In Iraq, about 100,000 of the 143,000 Syrian refugees are believed to be living in urban areas - some 40 per cent of them are children aged under 18 years. The following photographs, taken in the northern city of Erbil by Brian Sokol, give a glimpse into the lives of some of these young urban refugees. They show the harshness of daily life as well as the resilience, adaptability and spirit of young people whose lives have been overturned in the past two years.

Life is difficult in Erbil, capital of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. The cost of living is high and it is difficult to find work. The refugees must also spend a large part of their limited resources on rent. UNHCR and its partners, including the Kurdish Regional Government, struggle to help the needy.

Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni
Play video

Greece: The Refugees' Grandmother in Idomeni

From her small house in Idomeni, Greek grandmother Panagiota Vasileiadou, 82, saw first-hand the bare need of refugees desperate for food to feed their children or clean water to shower and wash their clothes. As a daughter of ethnic Greek refugees herself - who left Turkey in a population exchange after the 1919-1922 Greco-Turkish war - she is now doing all she can to help the latest wave of refugees by giving out food and clothes.
Greece: Health risk to refugee children in IdomeniPlay video

Greece: Health risk to refugee children in Idomeni

Some 10,000 refugees and migrants remain camped out at an informal site at Greece's northern border with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. The makeshift home is also home to an estimated 4,000 children, the majority of whom are under the age of five. Doctors warn conditions in the camp are becoming dangerous for children.
Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotelPlay video

Syria: Homs war children find home in abandoned hotel

After five years of conflict that destroyed their spacious children's home in Wa'ar, dozens of orphaned and abandoned children had to relocate to a small former hotel in nearby Homs. The abandoned hotel has limited dormitories, no playgrounds or classroom.