Sunday, 30 December 2012

Reflections on 2012

2012 was a dramatic year that left so many impressions on me. The London Olympics were simply spectacular, Myanmar opened up to the world, we saw the human tragedy in Syria worsening, a change of Presidents in China, Obama being re-elected and the year ended with the death of a young Indian girl dying after being brutally gang raped.

This morning 30 December I went to my favorite web site and saw the headline article about an Asian visitor being rescued from the sea by two young New Zealand men at a beach in the North Island. I want to believe that good prevails over bad as a New Year is about to begin and while I am traveling in Thailand with my two sons and a nephew, I am observing the warm, hospitable and helpful people they encounter.

People are basically good and want to do good. It is ill-intentioned institutions and families that push children and gullible adults on the wrong path. I have seen over zealous right wing churches in the US doing this, Wahhabi funded Madrases in Pakistan spouting warped ideology and was on the spot in 2001 to see the sectarian violence between Hindu and Moslem in Gujarat India. I deplore what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians.

The link between State and religion is where so many problems occur and there is no simple answer to remedy this. My Father used to say regularly "charity begins at home." I have modified this to " charity , or acts of good, should be done where ever you are, to who ever needs it."

We all have a lot to learn from the parable of the Good Samaritan that giving or helping is not something you plan, but it should be instinctive.

A Happy New Year to all my friends, colleagues and family, and friends I have yet to meet.

Sunday, 16 December 2012


Having climbed quite a lot in Afghanistan between 1993-1996 I have taken a deep interest in recent groups attempting to resurrect mountaineering and trekking in Afghanistan, although it still must be classified as 'extreme adventure.' I am proud that New Zealanders are at the forefront of breaking new trails in the Hindu Kush and Karakoram. One Kiwi is reviving skiing in Afghanistan.

Mir Samir, which the British expedition attempted this year in winter and we tried in October 1994. Made famous by George Newby's A Short walk in the Hindu Kush. Photo: Bob McKerrow

I followed Patricia Deavoll and Christine Byrch, sisters from New Zealand,  on their expedition this year. A quote from Pat.

Christine and I summitted Koh-e-Baba-Tangi (6515m) in the Wakhan Corridor (Afgahnistan) on the 9th August  2012. Five days to the summit with some good steep ice, then 2 days to decend the West Ridge (line of the original 1963 ascent). Ours is only the second climb of the mountain, done via a new route up the N'NW 

This was a magnificent achievement by Pat and Christine and for more information, go to Pat's website

James Bingham in his article below on winter climbing in 2012 in Afghanistan,  mentions another New Zealander active in the Hindu Kush, one Steve Parker. He says:

"In the absence of chair lifts and gondolas a couple of hours were expended ‘skinning’ up the Koh-e 
Baba mountains to take advantage of the beautiful virgin powdered slopes. We met the enigmatic 
Steve Parker , a New Zealander, who had given up some his time to teach a couple of local 
shepherds and budding guides the dangers of avalanches in their back yards. "

Before launching into the most recent climb of Mir Samir, here is an article on our attempt in 1995.

From the American Alpine Club Journal 1995

Mir Samir and ascent of P500.
 After years when it was too dangerous to enter the mountains of Afghanistan, New Zealander Bob McKerrow and Englishmen Ian Clarke and Jon Tinker headed for Mir Samir in the Hindu Kush. McKerrow is head of the International Red Cross in Afghanistan and Clarke is a former Royal Marie, now head of the Halo Trust mine clearance organisation in Afghanistan. Tinker has worked in the country a number of times in the last seven years.The three climbers set out from Kabaul on September 23, 1994, acclimatizing near the Salang Pass before setting out for Parian in the upper Panjchir.
Ian Clarke left:
There four horses were hired to carry food and equipment up the Chamar valley to base camp at 3,400 m.Clarke's skills were put to the test when the saw air-dropped scatterable anti-personnel mines.They established a high camp at 4,300 m on September 29. Because of the deep snow, the two Englishmen made slow progress the next day to bivouac at 4,900 meters on an unclimbed snow route on the southwest face of Mir Samir. On October 1 they made a summit attempt.but unseasonable deep snow turned the back at 5200 meters, soime 600 meters from the summit. While Clarke and Tinker were climbing Mir Samir, McKerrow climbed an unclimbed peak at approximately 5000 metres, a prominent feature when viewed from the Chamar Valley. For further stories on climbing and trekking in Afghanistan, go to my weblog,
Now onto the article I found today of the attempt of Mir Samir. An excellent article for those wishing to do winter climbing in Afghanistan.

British Mountaineering Council Report

Mir Samir 19,878ft (6,059m), Afghanistan
10 January 2012 – 29 January 2012
James Bingham (author) 
Quentin Brooksbank (editor) 
Mark Wynne (editor)
Address: 42 Rivermeads Avenue, Twickenham, Middlesex TW2 5JQ 

 Mir Samir, Afghanistan 19,878ft (6,059m)
 The team will attempt the first winter ascent of the mountain 
 The team will also attempt a first ascent of the unclimbed North Face 
The team attempted the first winter ascent of Mir Samir, Afghanistan. The mountain, located in the 
remote upper section of the Panjshir Valley, was made famous by Eric Newby and Hugh Carless in 
the popular adventure book “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”. 
Our objective was the unclimbed North Face, although if conditions prevented this we planned to 
climb the  East Ridge, the same route Eric  Newby attempted in the summer of 1956. Eric and his 
climbing partner turned back 700ft from the summit after running short of time and becoming 
concerned about getting down in the dark. 
Unfortunately, a number of factors  led to our expedition being cut short. The theft of a kit bag 
containing essential equipment, coupled with very deep snow conditions and route finding difficulties, 
meant the team were unable to even reach the base-camp of the mountain. 
While the summit of Mir Samir escaped us, the expedition was a success in the sense that we 
travelled safely within Afghanistan, met some incredible people who welcomed us as their guests and 
had the adventure of our lifetimes. Climbing Mir Samir in the depths of an Afghan winter was always
an ambitious dream, but I feel we have come away wiser and hopefully with the knowledge to come 
back and try again.

It was clear from the very beginning that attempting a winter ascent of a near 20,000 ft mountain in 
Afghanistan presented us with a formidable challenge. Three of the team (James, Mark and Quentin) 
had previously travelled to Afghanistan in the summer of 2010 and successfully climbed Mt. Noshaq, 
at 7,492m the highest mountain in the country. That expedition provided us with some vital insight into 
such a misunderstood country and undoubtedly laid foundations for our trip to Mir Samir. 
Having read Eric Newby’s book and keen to explore more of Afghanistan, we started to research the 
possibility of following in Newby’s footsteps. In November 2010 we  contacted David James of 
Mountain Unity and mentioned our plans for an attempt on Mir Samir. David had previously assisted 
during the planning  of our Noshaq expedition and had a wealth of contacts within Afghanistan. He 
discussed our plans with the American led Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) who were based in 
the Panjshir valley. David subsequently reported back that the PRT were very interested in developing 
tourism and felt that Mir Samir was a viable objective. This came with a risk warning that the mountain 
sat on the border with Nuristan which had become unstable, but  the advice was  if  we  approached
from the Panjshir side it should be safer.
There were many worries given the remote location and security concerns within the country. While 
our last trip had taken us to the relatively stable north east of Afghanistan, this time we would have to 
fly into Kabul. At that time we only had limited knowledge of the security situation in and around Kabul. 
While we understood the Panjshir valley to be relatively safe by Afghan standards, we would still have 
to travel out of Kabul on the open roads. There would be many concerns to address before the
expedition could become anything more than a pipedream.  Aside from the security we could also 
expect extreme weather conditions. Would the roads be passable in winter? Could we even reach the 
mountain at that time of year?4

Key people who supported us, provided advice and guidance are detailed below. Without their help 
the expedition would never have happened. 
Philip Abbey, Provincial Reconstruction Team. Philip worked at the Panjshir PRT. He provided us 
with information on the roads and travel, advice on weather, security and permits. His help was 
invaluable. Panjshir was one of the first provinces in Afghanistan to take control of its own security 
and when this transfer of  power took place the PRT closed. It had been disbanded by the time we 
travelled to the area.  
David James, Director, Mountain Unity. David set up  Mountain Unity in March 2009, as a social 
enterprise to provide marketing and capacity building support to economic development in north east 
Afghanistan. David mainly provided support for our earlier trip to Noshaq, but right at the start spoke 
to the PRT  to gauge whether they would  support our  Mir Samir  expedition. It was this initial 
encouragement that set the wheels in motion. 
Jerome Starkey is a war correspondent and investigative journalist, who at the time was based in 
Kabul, Afghanistan. He not only provided us with invaluable security information and guidance, but 
also put the whole team up at his house in Kabul. Jerome also introduced us to  various high ranking 
officials and politicians which greatly facilitated our transit through the numerous checkpoints.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah is an Afghan politician and a doctor of medicine. He was an adviser and friend 
to Ahmad Shah Massoud, legendary anti-Taliban leader and commander known as the "Lion of 
Panjshir". In 2009 Abdullah ran as an independent candidate in the Afghan presidential election and 
came in second place. Dr Abdullah approved our expedition and discussed the trip with the Governor 
of Panjshir. This high level support was very useful as we travelled to the Panjshir and had to pass 
through numerous military checkpoints. 
Ali Farhad, Dr Abdullah Abdullah’s “media guru”. Ali discussed our expedition with Dr Abdullah, who 
in turn spoke to the governor of Panjshir. All of these men fully supported our endeavour. Ali was 
concerned about security and said he couldn't entrust anyone with our safety. He therefore decided to 
drive us to the Panjshir himself. For a while, perhaps swept up in the whole adventure, I think Ali even 
contemplated joining us for the climb.
Peter Jouvenal, former freelance cameraman, who as the Taliban fled Kabul on 13 November 2001 
filmed the BBC’s World Affairs Editor, John Simpson, walking into the city. Peter now owns the 
Gandamack Lodge in Kabul. After a meal at his restaurant, Peter kindly offered the loan of his land 
rover to the expedition. This greatly assisted us when travelling over the high passes and snow 
covered roads in the Panjshir. Peter also introduced us to his former guide and fixer Rahman Beg, 
who had worked for him and John Simpson during the time of the Soviet invasion. 
Rahman Beg (“RB”), former guide and fixer for John Simpson and Peter Jouvenal. Following Peter’s 
recommendation we employed RB to accompany us as we drove to the Panjshir. Although RB now 
lived and worked in Kabul, he is from the upper Panjshir and his contacts within the remote mountain
village that we stayed were vitally important. 
Shannon Gaplin, Director, Mountain 2 Mountain. Shannon is the founder of Mountain 2 Mountain, a 
non profit organisation, dedicated to creating programs to empower and encourage women and 
children in the rural villages in Afghanistan. During her time in Afghanistan Shannon also cycled the 
length of the Panjshir valley and was able pass on the details of her experience and the reception she 
encountered. Her personal account of travelling within the Panjshir was very useful as we assessed 
the risks of travel up through the valley. 
James Wilcox, Director,  Untamed Borders. James’ company provides bespoke adventure travel 
holidays to remote countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and  North East India. James had 
arranged several small adventure travel tours to Kabul and had travelled into the lower Panjshir valley. 
He was therefore able to provide us with a good understanding of what to expect.

James Bingham (36): Expedition Leader
James grew up in North Wales and was introduced to the hills by his Dad. He climbed Tryfan when he 
was 7 and has kept going ever since! Over the last 10 years James has travelled the world following 
his dreams of high adventure in the mountains. Expeditions have included successful ascents of Mt 
Everest,  Lhakpa Ri, Noshaq, Ama Dablam, Island Peak, Lobuche peak, Aconcagua, a couple of 
attempts on Denali and a failed winter ascent of Elbrus. 
He started out on guided expeditions before building the experience and confidence to lead his own trips. Now James seeks out remote regions, climbing in small teams, travelling light and ideally with 
climbing friends. Last summer he led a team comprising two school friends and an Alaskan salmon farmer to the top of Afghanistan’s highest mountain, Mt Noshaq (7,492m). Against all odds the team 
accomplished the first British ascent of Mt Noshaq in 35 years. 

Edward Bingham (30): Climber 
Edward is a former British soldier lives on the doorstep of Snowdonia, 
where the hills became his playground. At the age of 21 Edward joined 
the Army and from there he further developed his  mountaineering 
skills following assignment to the Army Alpine Training Centre.
Edward  has  climbed extensively in Wales, Scotland and the European Alps, gaining significant 
experience on rock and ice routes. He has successfully climbed many alpine mountains including Mt 
Blanc and the Matterhorn. Beyond Europe he’s  trekked and climbed in North America, including an 
ascent of Mt. Denali.

Quentin Brooksbank (34): Climber and logistics 
Growing up in Snowdonia, Q made the most of conditions all year round, especially the great winters! Regular forays in to the dark winter depths of the Scottish Highlands and European snow and ice 
climbing trips to the Austrian, Bavarian and French Alps. He was an integral team member on the successful expedition to Mt Noshaq. 
Summer 2011 was spent climbing in the Cordillera Blanca, Peru.

Mark Wynne (36): Climber, team medic and photographer 
Four months after leaving school Mark  went looking for action by joining the Royal Marines. During his eight years in the Corps he served in jungle and desert terrains, as well as spending five winters 
in northern Norway, gaining his  military ski survival instructor qualification. 
On leaving the Corps Mark pursued his  love of the mountains in Europe nearly always with a snowboard on  his back searching for powder, of which he found plenty along with some close encounters with the odd avalanche!
Mark was called back to the Royal Marines for duty again in 2008 for his  first experience of Afghanistan  in Helmand Province for nearly seven months. He often looked to the distant mountains wondering 
how good it would be to explore them but from where he was sitting at the time it wasn’t very likely. That was until he was offered a place on the Mt. Noshaq expedition last year, which crazy as it sounded to 
most people, appealed to him as the best holiday idea he’d ever heard!

Destination area: Afghanistan
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all travel to specific regions of Afghanistan and 
against all but essential travel to other specific regions of Afghanistan.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Bamiyan, Parwan and 
Panjshir. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advise against all but essential travel to Kabul. 
Research materials and information sources: 
Interesting links:
The source of our inspiration - Eric Newby’s book “A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush”
Eric Newby’s obituary
Hugh Carless’ obituary
Our previous expedition to Noshaq:
Training and equipment testing: 
The team met several times in  some the worst weather that the mountains of Snowdonia, North 
Wales, have to offer.
Permission and permits: 
The Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) of Panjshir Province initially  advised that the security 
situation should allow us to visit the region safely. The PRT stated  they would arrange a letter of 
introduction from the Director of Culture and Information, which will allow the team to travel in the 
area. The PRT subsequently closed their office in the Panjshir and by November 2011 they advised 
us that the security situation within the Panjshir had deteriorated. 
We thought we may need to take police / armed militia with us as we travelled through the Panjshir 
valley. We had to do this when we climbed Noshaq. In the end we decided it would be safer to travel 
under the radar without police or military escorts. 8
We applied for grants from the following organisations: 
1. British Mountaineering Council (BMC)
2. Mark Clifford Award
3. Mount Everest Foundation (MEF)
4. Nick Estcourt Award
5. Polartec Challenge
6. Sports Council for Wales
7. Wilderness Award
8. Berghaus
We won the Wilderness Award for 2011 (£650) and received grants from the BMC (£500) and Mount 
Everest Foundation (£2,000). We are very grateful for all of the support we received. 
The rest of the trip was self-financed.
The attached Appendix details the main costs of the expedition.
It is possible to obtain insurance coverage for travel and high altitude climbing in Afghanistan.  IHI 
Bupa provided over cover, although there is a 300% premium loading for Afghanistan. We paid £341 
each and arranged over through the following broker:
Coral Parfitt, Bellwood Prestbury Limited
4 Imperial Square, Cheltenham, GL50 1QB, United Kingdom
T: +44 (0)1242 588 678 F: +44 (0)1242 588 688
Travel, transport and freighting
We flew to Kabul with Gulf Air and took all of our equipment and supplied with us. Our return flight 
from London to Kabul cost £687.  Their customer service is  very  poor and they changed our flight 
schedule several times without any consultation or notification. Their customer service centre doesn’t 
respond to emails. But there was some good news - they didn’t charge a penny extra for the 160kg of 
luggage that we checked in! They are also the only carrier that offers a through service from London. 
We changed at Bahrain and the flight was without incident. 
We carried the bulk of our food and supplies with us as we didn’t want to spend a lot of time shopping 
in Kabul. There are a couple of Western supermarkets in Kabul and you can get hold of most food 
products. Western imported foods are expensive and these Western style supermarkets have been 
targeted by insurgents in the past. 
Given the difficulties of obtaining canisters of butane/propane we opted for liquid fuel. We purchased 
unleaded petrol in Kabul as we could not find any other suitable fuel. There was no obvious white gas 
or naphtha. We had the same issue when we travelled to the north of Afghanistan in 2010. This time 
we took our own jerry cans as the ones supplied on our last trip contaminated the fuel.    
Accommodation in Kabul
We stayed with Jerome Starkey and other journalists at their house in central Kabul. At the end of the 
trip we stayed at the Gandamack Lodge which comes recommended
You have a couple of choices with the accommodation. The high end hotels have the most security, 
blast walls, metal detectors, more men with guns etc, but they also tend to be subject to some of the 
most audacious insurgent attacks. The smaller, more discrete hotels and guest houses, hopefully fall 
under the radar. 

Kabul Airport 
No vehicles can get close to the arrivals or departure gate, so you have to walk several hundred 
meters to reach the taxis and buses. There are plenty of young men who will be eager to help carry 
your luggage so best have a few dollars loose change ready. It does get fraught and two baggage 
handlers came to blows over our luggage. 
There are lots of taxis at the airport, and it costs about $10 to get to the centre of Kabul. However, 
given we didn’t know where we were going, it was recommended that we get a pick-up from a minicab 
company called Zuhaak taxi: +93 777 409 030. They are one of about five companies geared up to 
serving the expat community. Their operators & drivers speak passable English. They normally 
charge $5 a trip, but it's probably about $20 from the airport. They have a fleet of newish red Corollas. 

Food and accommodation
For high altitude freeze dried meals we brought  it all  from the UK. It is possible to buy discounted 
American army ration packs in the local markets around Kabul. Kabul has several western style 
supermarkets which are well stocked. You could buy everything in Kabul if needed, but the prices are 
high and the supermarkets have been targeted by insurgents. 

Cash points 
These are very limited and we only located them inside a couple of the western supermarkets. They 
have a maximum withdrawal limit of 200USD per credit card per day. It is therefore advisable to bring 
your cash from home. US Dollars is the currency of choice and is accepted everywhere. It is easy to 
change into local currency if needed. There are limited opportunities to pay for goods and services, 
including hotels, by credit card. Bring plenty of cash. 

When travelling around Afghanistan we dressed in local clothing (Shalwar 
Kameez) and had grown  beards. It certainly made us feel more inconspicuous when walking  and travelling  around. We spent several days wandering the streets and markets of Kabul and had no bother from anyone. 
Some of the team visited a tailor on the first day and bought inexpensive tailored clothing. 

Bottled water is widely available in Kabul, we also melted snow and ice in the mountains. 

Satellite phone: SO-2510 Thuraya Satellite Phone with GPS 
Spot trackers: Spot Connect and Spot Satellite GPS Messenger 
Email is available in the larger hotels and guest houses. 
Our mobiles had reception in Kabul and also on the road to Panjshir. 
Specialist equipment: 
Avalanche transceivers: We’d never bothered with them for climbing trips before, but given the winter 
conditions we decided to take them this time. Luckily we had no need to use them, but it provided 
some additional peace of mind. 10
The risks of travelling in Afghanistan cannot be downplayed. Most of our expedition planning 
concerned making sure we minimised the security risks as far as possible. However, in the months 
before departure the security situation in Afghanistan markedly deteriorated.
Towards the end of August 2011 we received news that two German climbers had been kidnapped 
close to the Salang Pass. The news later took a dreadful twist when we heard that the climbers had 
been murdered. Of course, at such a time we had to reflect on whether it was wise to continue with 
our own expedition. 
Over the next few months we made additional contacts on the ground in Afghanistan in order to try 
and gain further insight into the security situation. Looking at the news there appeared to be a 
constant stream of attacks and no obvious lull as the winter approached. 
In August 2011 Taliban gunman stormed the British Council in Kabul  killing 12 people. In mid 
September the Taliban launched coordinated attack across Kabul, in which Nato's headquarters and 
the US embassy are among those targeted. And then in mid October the Taliban carried out their first 
successful suicide attack in the Panjshir valley, targeting the PRT building.
This news unsettled us all and I think we all reflected as to whether we should continue. In November
our lead climber, decided the trip wasn’t for him  and dropped out. Although  his decision was 
understandable, having one of the team drop out made us all think seriously about whether we were 
taking the right decision. 
Following further consultation with foreign nationals who live, work and have travelled to the areas we 
were heading to, we decided to travel. We took it one step at a time and decided we would firstly 
travel to Kabul and then assess whether we should travel to the Panjshir. If we made it that far then 
we could assess whether or not to continue to the upper Panjshir as we had received specific 
intelligence that this could be an area of concern. And once in the upper Panjshir we would then 
assess whether the conditions allowed us to travel into the mountains. 
Whether or not to travel to Afghanistan is very much a personal decision. Of course there are 
significant risks and you have to take the risks onboard if you do travel. We tried to look beyond the 
newspaper headlines and reflected on the fact that Kabul is a city of 3.6m people. These people get 
up every day and go about their daily lives. As a westerner you are more vulnerable, but we spent 
nearly a week walking the streets and had no hassle from anyone. Those people who did notice us 
were welcoming and friendly. Perhaps we were lucky, but that was the chance we took.
There are private hire companies in Kabul who will pick you up from the airport in an armoured  land 
cruiser. We did think about this for a while, but having sought further advice, we opted for a more low 
key approach. No one knew we were coming or where we were staying. We changed into our local 
clothes in the arrivals lounge and called a recommended minicab company (Zuhaak taxi) when we 
arrived at the airport. 

The roads are in good condition and fully surfaced. It was January and the roads were clear until we 
were well into the Panshir valley. 

When approaching checkpoints at night, switch on your interior light and approach the checkpoint

Motor Insurance 
We drove a borrowed land rover to the Panjshir valley from Kabul. We were advised that there is no 
vehicle insurance so you have to take your chances on the road if you decide to drive. It is probably 
safer and more sensible to arrange a taxi to drive you. 

Transport to the Panjshir 
Originally we planned to travel with Afghan Logistics who were recommended as one of the best 
transport and logistics companies in Kabul. However, after contacting them from the UK for a quote, 
they refused to take us and advised us not to come to Afghanistan given the security situation. This 
was more unsettling news given they had a clear commercial interested to transport us. So when we 
finally arrived in Kabul we didn’t know how we would get to the Panjshir or whether it would be safe 
enough to travel. In the end we borrowed a land rover from Peter Jouvenal and Ali Farhad drove a 
second car. Zuhaak taxis would also have taken us and we did receive a reasonable quote. When we 
returned from the Panjshir we drove ourselves in the land rover  and hired a taxi for the second 
vehicle. Taxi fare around 100USD but expect to haggle hard. 

Snow chains
In winter these are essential for driving through the higher mountain passes where the roads are 
covered in snow and ice. We didn’t have them and this meant one car couldn’t get all the way and we 
had to hitch a ride with a local taxi with chains! We managed to get our land rover through but had to 
dig it out several times. Snow chains would have saved a lot of bother and the embarrassment of 
being overtaken by local buzkashi rider on the way to a game!

Winter conditions 
We came prepared for a winter ascent. Our equipment was what you would expect for a Denali  or 
even an 8,000m peak. Sleeping bags were good for -30c. 

Based on the large amount of snow that falls during an Afghan winter we were very concerned about 
the general avalanche risk. Each member of the team carried a transceiver, probe and shovel. Even 
on the roads there were risks. We travelled in two vehicles and at times switched on our transceivers. 

Medical arrangements: 
Mark Wynne was the team medic given the medical experience he gained serving with the Royal 
Marines. We had two full first aid kits which  also  contained high altitude medicines and antibiotics 
(amoxicillin and ciprofloxacin). 

The itinerary can be found in Appendix.

The expedition was always a long shot, not only attempting a first winter ascent, but over the past year 
in particular the security situation in Afghanistan had deteriorated to a point where I think we all 
questioned whether we should continue. We are all pleased we took the risks and traveled to this 
beautiful country. On reflection this trip wasn’t so much about mountains, it was the people we met 
and the places we stayed. It was a true adventure.

Expedition: A short story.
We arrived in Kabul on the evening of Thursday 11 January and spent three nights with Times 
journalist, Jerome Starkey and his housemates. These guys were fantastic and Jerome's subsequent 
introduction to Ali Farhad (Dr. Abdullah Abdullah's media guru) helped facilitate our passage through 
the Panjshir. Ali discussed our expedition with the Doctor, who in turn spoke to the governor of 
Panjshir. All these men fully supported our endeavour.  
Ali was concerned about security and said he couldn't entrust anyone with our safety. He therefore 
decided to drive us to the Panjshir himself. For a while, perhaps swept up in the whole adventure, I 
think Ali even contemplated joining us for the climb!
The night before we left for the Panjshir, we bumped into Peter Jouvenal, at his hotel The Gandamack Lodge, who was once the cameraman of John Simpson when they secretly trekked 
through the mountain passes of Pakistan in to Afghanistan during the days of the Taliban’s fall. Peter kindly offered to loan us his Land Rover for the duration of the trip. After a fantastic meal at his restaurant, and against all our safety briefings, we found ourselves driving back to Jerome’s house through the 
streets of Kabul, in Peter’s trusty Land Rover  – completely ignoring any local vehicle regulations and those that our own country would normally enforce upon us.  
Peter kindly introduced us to his former guide and fixer Rahman Beg ("RB"), who was from the upper 
Panjshir. After a few late night telephone calls to his boss persuading him to agree the time off work, 
RB agreed to come with us.

We left Kabul at 6am on Saturday 14 January. Having Ali and RB with us was fantastic and we 
passed through the military checkpoints without problem. Jerome had become interested in our 
journey and along with RB and Ali, decided to accompany us to Parian. 

The journey was without incident and we were treated to a beautiful sunrise over the plains outside 
Kabul.  As we progressed further up the Panjshir valley, the route became more challenging with the 
roads covered in snow and ice. Ali's car eventually became stuck and could not continue. Without 
snow-chains, even the Land Rover was struggling and we had to dig it out on a number of occasions. 
A local car with snow chains stopped to help and we managed to hire this vehicle in order to continue 
over the pass.  

Quentin, RB and I were the first to arrive at Kawjan, a small hamlet of stone/mud houses, just beyond 
the Parian District Centre. RB recommended that we wait in the Land Rover while he spoke to the 
local men who had started to gather around. RB appeared to know most of the men in the village and 
once he had explained the situation, we were invited to meet the village elders. In spite of our 
reservations, we were warmly welcomed by everyone. Interestingly this was the area that had been 
specifically flagged to us as a potential security risk. In the event, the local Chief insisted that we 
stayed in his house and for the next two nights we were treated as their guests and offered shelter, 
delicious breads, thick winter stews and lots of hot tea.  
Unfortunately for us, it later transpired that a large kit bag had gone missing, probably between the 
contents of the Land Rover being unloaded and manhandled up to the Chief's house. The news came 
as a bitter blow to us all as the bag contained vital equipment for our expedition; after a year’s 
planning and to have come this far, it was now looking as if the trip was in jeopardy. For Quentin, the 
news was even more disappointing as he had lost his thermals, sleeping bag, insulated boots and 
snowshoes. As a team, we had lost a tent, one of our climbing ropes and an important cooking stove. 14
As guests in the Chief's house, we were put in a very difficult position. How could we bring up this 
apparent theft without offending our guests? I held a private meeting with RB and the village Chief. RB 
advised that the situation was getting “very dangerous” for us and we risked slighting the Chief’s 
honour. We decided to stay for another night in the village, in the hope that the situation would change 
and that perhaps the bag would reappear, but we were without luck.
“Tense times”, negotiating permissions, with the District Chief of the Upper Panjshir and a room full of curious villagers, to continue our expedition into the mountains. 
Permission granted – the team finally sets out from the Kawjanvillage into the mountains of the Hindu Kush.
We mustered what kit we had. Mark had some spare leather trekking boots and although only suitable 
for UK weather, Quentin decided to continue into the mountains and see how he found the conditions. 
To his credit, he managed to stay with us for two days and nights, sleeping in  -20°C with an old 
Russian army surplus sleeping bag, before making the tough decision to turn around and make his 
own way down the valley and back to Kabul
Although obviously sad at seeing Quentin leave the team, Eddie, Mark and I continued to work our 
way up the valley towards Mir Samir basecamp. Progress was incredibly slow. The snow was deep, 
the route not obvious and the sleds we relied upon to haul our gear were millstones around our necks. 
We constantly fell into deep snow and even with snow shoes it was up beyond our knees. The valley 
sides were too steep for the sleds which constantly slipped off the slope, threatening to pull us down 
towards the valley floor. 
After four days of this torment, we lowered ourselves down into the valley. We thought the Samir River 
would be frozen and that we could follow its course, which would offer better terrain for hauling our 
sleds. This worked for a time and we made some progress but later in the day, the ice thawed and we 
found ourselves breaking through the ice. The floor of the valley was a classic terrain trap with 
evidence of recent avalanches sweeping down. We proceeded with caution, switching on our 
avalanche transceivers and keeping a good distance between the next man.  16
The sleds, weighing nearly 20kgs, proved to be hazardous on the steep terrain.
Our progress was ultimately blocked as the valley led into a steep ravine with polished rock walls on 
either side. Ahead of us lay a frozen waterfall which at first appeared passable. I led out and managed 
to climb about half way up when suddenly the snow and ice broke away. The waterfall was covered 
only with a soft snow bridge which simply could not hold our weight. To have fallen through would 
have been a disaster.

The next day we tried to climb back up the valley side but the terrain was too steep with our large 
packs and sleds. We had been climbing for five days now and had only managed around 1,000m. We 
couldn’t believe how hard it had been and how little progress we had made. The weather forecast was 
heavy snow and possible storms. We were so behind our planned schedule now there simply wasn’t 
time to climb the mountain even if we managed to get to base camp. After considering our position, 
we made the difficult decision to turn back and head down.
Arriving back in the village later that day, it was clear how slow the uphill journey had been. We 
couldn’t believe how quickly we returned after all those days of hauling. There were some fine 
moments when we arrived back in the village and gave our sleds to the local kids; seeing their smiles 
as they played with their new toys, somehow made everything seem worthwhile.  
The expedition was always a long shot; not only attempting the first winter ascent but over the last 
year, the security situation in Afghanistan had continued to deteriorate to a point where I think we all 
questioned whether we should continue.
However, we are all extremely proud of ourselves for taking the risks and feel fortunate to have 
travelled to this amazing and beautiful country. This wasn’t so much about the mountain but the 
people we met and the places we stayed. It was a true adventure.
Upon returning to Kabul, and following a few beers behind the triple security doors of one of the few 
‘Western’ drinking holes and a number of days exploring the city’s streets, Mark and Quentin 
managed to organise flights to the ancient province of Bamiyan for some sightseeing and three days 
off-piste skiing.
In the absence of chair lifts and gondolas a couple of hours were expended ‘skinning’ up the Koh-e 
Baba mountains to take advantage of the beautiful virgin powdered slopes. We met the enigmatic 
Steve Parker , a New Zealander, who had given up some his time to teach a couple of local 
sheppard’s and budding guides the dangers of avalanches in their back yards. 
Steve Parker, left, and Mark Wynne , right, snowboarding down a beautiful powder filled couloirs.
However, these beautiful slopes hide a deadly force…the close call of a strong avalanche brought us 
quickly down to earth from the highs of incredible back country skiing. We all carried avalanche 
transceivers, probes and shovels as a precaution and fortunately Mark was shrewd enough to alter 
course and snowboard out of harms way. Quentin didn’t have much choice about which way the 
avalanche was heading, but his steady hand managed to take some great pictures
The final day was taken up by cross country skiing in the newly formed National Park of Band-e Amir 
and its beautiful frozen lakes. A super ending to an adventurous trip in a country that some perceive 
as dangerou
Day Date Where
Tuesday 10/01/2012 Depart London 
Wednesday 11/01/2012 Night 1 Kabul (Jerome's house)
Thursday 12/01/2012 Night 2 in Kabul (Jerome's house)
Friday 13/01/2012 Night 3 in Kabul (Jerome's house)
Saturday 14/01/2012 Night 1 in Kawjan (Local chief’s house)
Sunday 15/01/2012 Night 2 in Kawjan (Local chief’s house)
Monday 16/01/2012 Walk to Camp 1            3,010m 
Tuesday 17/01/2012 Walk to Camp 2            3,218m 
Wednesday 18/01/2012 Walk to Camp 3       3,430m 
Thursday 19/01/2012 Walk Camp 4               3,480m
Friday 20/01/2012 Attempt to reach Camp 5. Return to Camp 4. 3,480m
Saturday 21/01/2012 Return from Camp 4 to Kawjan.  Drive back to Kabul. 
(Jerome's house)
Sunday 22/01/2012 Back in Kabul (Gandamack)
Monday 23/01/2012 Back in Kabul (Gandamack)
Tuesday 24/01/2012 Back in Kabul. (Gandamack)
Wednesday 25/01/2012 James and Eddie flight back to London 
Mark and Q fly to Bamiyan
Thursday 26/01/2012 James and Eddie arrive at Heathrow
Friday 27/01/2012
Saturday 28/01/2012 Mark and Q leave Bamiyan
Sunday 29/01/2012 Mark and Q arrive at Heathrow

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Vision, a gift from God.

In late 2001 I had a lasix operation on my eyes from one Vipin Bakshi a so-called eye specialist in New Delhi who had a certificate on his wall, boldly stating 'Optician to the President of India.' The certificate and his persuasive personality convinced me that what I required to get greater vision, was to have a minor lasix treatment.At that time, I could drive, and with glasses could do normal work But I craved to see more detail that I had just lost. The lasix specialist who did the operation on my eyes made a mistake and fried my eyes leaving them rippled like a corrugated iron sheeting. Normal contact lenses would not adhere to the surface of my eye and I could not get the definition with normal glasses. For years that followed I was living and working in a 'shadow land' where I could only read if I put my face up against the screen or page.

During this time I was living in New Delhi and got to know Ajeet Bhardwaj who I first visited in 2002 in a small downstairs shop in C Block market in Vasant Vihar. Little was I to realize later that he is the owner of a chain of optical shops under the name of Optique. A quietly spoken man, deliberate, kind and professional in all he does, impressed me in the determined way he set about to help me with very blurred and indistinct vision.

Ajeet Bhardwaj (right) the man who was determined to get me normal vision after earlier medical malpractice severely damaged  my cornea. This man's perseverance was instrumental in giving me back full sight.

Ajeet tried normal contact lenses, double contacts, lenses in my glasses that he regularly tweaked in his lab. But I could get no where near the sight I had before the damaging lasix operation. I can recall him saying in about 2003, "Bob, technology is improving all the time and I know some form of contact lenses will be developed that will solve your problem." He knew Scleral lenses were being developed so he spoke to Monica Chaudhry whose core areas of specialty are fitting contact lenses in irregular corneas and low vision aids for visually challenged. A team was formed: A tenacious Ajeet who wanted the best for his patient and highly skilled Monica, and a patient who would walk over broken glass to the South Pole to regain normal vision.

In September last year (2011) I met Monica together with Ajeet for the first examination, and she was quietly confident Scleral Lenses would be the answer. Once measured, an order for the new lenses were sent to the UK. A month later I returned to Delhi and as soon as I put the lenses on, I was amazed to be able to see fine writing of signs in the mall, wrinkles on people faces, and to be able to make out whether people were men or woman. I was out of the shadow lands that where so visually impaired people live. I walked outside the shop in Gurgaon and the joy of being able to see was overwhelming and incredibly emotions. Like a starving man at a sagging banquet table, I took in the feast of fine detail and devoured all before me.

Driving back in the car to my hotel I was seeing things I hadn't seen for ten years, a feeling of being reborn. I could feel my confidence rising and no longer being afraid of tripping over steps or into holes on roads and pavements. Back at the hotel, I was busting to try out my new vision. In the reception a young University student from Colombia was a playing a flute and it was such a joy from 30 metres away, to see her delicate fingers moving lithely on the keys. My eyes were clearly sharper than the camera lens I concluded after looking at the photo I took that night below.

For 9 years Ajeet had been planning such a day when I would get my vision back, and thanks to the help of Monica Chaudhry, it has happened . Below, I would like to present further information on Ajeet and Monica, two people who made such a remarkable transformation in my life. If you are visually impaired, I am sure they can help.

Ajeet Bhardwaj did a Masters in Optometry and alumnae of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi - the 1979 batch. He forms high performing teams with participative leadership by empowering yet creating interdependency by alignment on purpose. He encourages creativity and innovation. In his early days successfully worked with Indian and Multinational organizations in India and abroad and his Entrepreneur stint and International exposure drives his to establish Optique Eye Ear and Speech in 1987 with a brand “Optique”.  Having its company owned – company operated (COCO) retail stores with Pan India presence, equipped with state-of–the-art Digital Eye and Hearing Testing & Contact Lens Clinic managed by professional optometrists, audiologist and qualified counselors.
Ajeet is a person who provides the vital spark. He is an innovator and a shaper. He is imaginative and original and produces lots of ideas. He is independent, unorthodox, radical and forthright. Due to the above he was able to contribute and be associated with the biggest successes in 90s and 2000:
v  President of Asia Pacific Optometry Council in World Council of Optometry from 1999 to 2007.
v  Was Governing Board Member of World Council of Optometry
v  Was Board of Trustee of World Optometry Foundation.
Ajeet’s upbringing and family values inspire him to be active on Social front also and his education helped in working for under privilege persons of society. Working for Mentally challenged children as Clinical Director of Special Olympics Opening Eyes Program in India and Asia. Was President of Lions Club in Delhi & served as Chairman of Sight First Program of Lions International.

Moving forward his NGO “Opt Education Trust” involves education in Eye care and prevention of Blindness in rural areas of Haryana, a state of Northern India. Ajeet and his brand “Optique” is providing free Eye glasses and free Cataract surgery to the Villagers of Haryana for the last 8 years and thousands of people in rural and backward villages got benefited. Ajeet is having an aim of eradicating preventable blindness from districts of Haryana (India) where literacy rate is lower.

Aoraki Mount Cook our higest mountain in NZ with Lake Pukaki in the foreground. Photo: Bob McKerrow

The real test of the Scleral lenses was going back to New Zealand in December 2011 and January 2012 with my family  To see the fine detail of the mountains, sea, rivers, plains, lakes and people was a such a joy, and to be able to drive safely was in a sense, regaining those lost years in the ' shadow lands.' 

With Monica Chaudhry Prof and Head - Department of Optometry at Amity University Haryana

Monica Chaudhry B.Sc(H) Ophth Tech (AIIMS ) , M.Optom , FIACLE, 

With experience of more than two decades as a practicing optometrist and an academician at All India Institute of Medical Sciences Professor  Monica Chaudhry  is currently Head of Department of Optometry – Amity Medical School, Amity University. Besides this she is advisor and senior faculty for corporates like Johnson and Johnson, Transitions India , DTCL Menicon - Rose k lenses and key opinion leader for Abbott Medical optics and Bausch & Lomb India .  She is presently the Joint Secretary of Indian Optometry Association and the North region representative of Association of Schools and colleges of optometry.

Her core areas of specialty are fitting contact lenses in irregular corneas and low vision aids for visually challenged. She has presented several papers and chaired many scientific sessions and has also authored 3 books .She also holds a “ ShreshtShree” award and has been recently awarded the  “Australian Leadership award fellowship”

O, such detail. On top on Mount Iron with my son Mahdi, soaking up the view and feasting on the detail that had eluded me for a decade. Lake Wanaka in the background.

Friday, 7 December 2012

NZ Red Cross to Lead the Delivery of Refugee Services

Since the 19th century, when a few refugees arrived to escape political oppression in Europe, New Zealand has accepted refugees from many different parts of the world.

Red Cross nurse Mollie Baoumgren escorts a group of children (including Władysława Kubiak, left) from the USS General Randall in Wellington to a waiting train for the ride to Pahiatua on 1 November 1944. This was the final leg to safety after an almost five-year ordeal of war, misery and exile from Poland for the young mostly orphaned children. Many of them were stuck in places like Iran or Siberia en route. (Victoria University Library)

New Zealand Red Cross to Lead the Delivery of Refugee Services
On 10 December 2012, New Zealand’s world renowned refugee resettlement programme will enter a new chapter, as Refugee Services Aotearoa New Zealand become part of New Zealand Red Cross to further improve resettlement for refugees and their families throughout the country.
New Zealand Red Cross will become the lead agency responsible for the resettlement of quota refugees, with the expertise of the two reputable organisations combining to improve the support provided to newly arrived refugees and deliver greater efficiency.
New Zealand Red Cross President Jenny McMahon says working with and for refugees, asylum seekers and their families is one of the long-standing activities of the Red Cross Movement throughout the world.
“This is a very natural partnership,” says Ms McMahon. “Our national presence, global connections and experience will add opportunities to further strengthen an already world class programme, and bringing the operations of Refugee Services into New Zealand Red Cross will naturally deliver efficiency savings.”
“New Zealand Red Cross applauds the legacy that Refugee Services has achieved in the provision of settlement services, and we are committed to building on that legacy.”
Refugee Services Chief Executive Heather Hayden says the key focus of Refugee Services’ work has been on ensuring former refugees receive a supportive start to life through settling in and being connected to local communities.
“Joining with Red Cross will help us do that more effectively. Together we will provide a stronger foundation for former refugees who want the chance to settle into their new community, find work and contribute to New Zealand.”
Ms Hayden says Refugee Services approached Red Cross because they saw the value in being part of a larger, internationally recognised organisation.
“We are fully confident that as part of Red Cross we can carry on doing the great work we have done for nearly forty years through the work of local communities, volunteers and staff, many of whom came to New Zealand as refugees themselves.”
“All those who have been part of Refugee Services in the past can be confident that the contribution they made in giving people a fresh start in New Zealand will continue through Red Cross.”
Stephen Dunstan, General Manager of Immigration New Zealand, says that it is important that refugees are well supported in their initial settlement in New Zealand and that the agency has been very appreciative of the partnership it has had over many years with Refugee Services.
Mr Dunstan says, “I am confident that Red Cross will continue Refugee Services’ strong community-based approach, connecting new refugees with supportive Kiwis in local communities.”
He noted that Red Cross will also take opportunities to strengthen service delivery by leveraging their strong national and international base.
New Zealand is one of only small number of countries who accept an annual quota of refugees for resettlement. Each year 750 refugees come to New Zealand through the United Nations quota system. They are people who have an immediate and desperate need for protection, unable to go back to their home country or stay in the country to which they have fled.
Currently the majority of refugees coming to New Zealand are from Bhutan, Burma, Colombia, Iraq and Sri Lanka. There are also smaller numbers from Afghanistan, the African continent and the Middle East. Settlement support for their first year in New Zealand is provided through volunteers, caseworkers, social workers and employment advisors.

So what is our history in New Zealand in accepting and integrating refugees. Here is some background from Te Ara.
Unlike those migrants who make the choice to emigrate, refugees have to leave their homeland because they fear for their lives. They are the casualties of crises such as brutal regimes, civil war, anarchy and famine. Often, they are at risk because of their ethnicity, political beliefs or religion. They may have endured persecution, torture, rape or abduction, or have witnessed killings. Many arrive after perilous journeys and traumatic detention in refugee camps, having lost loved ones, homes, possessions and jobs.

‘The fear is in our bones’

After a year in Auckland, Teuta Fusha, a Kosovar Albanian who fled Serbian persecution, said, ‘To be safe and not to have to think about what might happen tomorrow or what might happen tonight is wonderful.’ Another family member commented, ‘The fear is in our bones. … We are still traumatised. For example today, when … a truck hit its horn, I was jumping. There is fear also when you hear anything that makes a strange noise or when the phone goes.’ 1
The United Nations 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country’.

New Zealand’s intakes

Since 1840 New Zealand has given refuge to people from Europe, South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Some were made more welcome than others – refugee intakes have been larger when there were clear economic benefits for New Zealand. When only humanitarian considerations were involved, intakes were smaller.
More than 20,000 refugees have arrived since 1944, when refugees were first distinguished from other immigrants in official statistics. While the total number is low compared to the many millions of refugees and displaced people in the world, it is high in terms of the country’s population of 4 million.
New Zealand admits refugees under various international agreements. Key agreements are the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. By signing these agreements, New Zealand committed itself to working with the international community to help resolve refugee problems
The first arrivals

Small groups of people who were in effect refugees settled in New Zealand in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Among them were:
*Danes fleeing suppression of their language and culture under German occupation in the 1870s
*Jews escaping persecution in Tsarist Russia from the 1880s
*French Huguenots in the 1890s, also in flight from religious persecution.
Refugees from Nazism, 1933–39
People fleeing Nazism in the 1930s were subject to New Zealand’s Immigration Restriction Act 1931, under which officials could decide who was suitable to enter. The act excluded aliens unless they had guaranteed employment, substantial capital, or particular knowledge or skills. The guidelines meant that most who applied were declined entry, usually on the grounds that they would not be readily absorbed into the population. Nevertheless, about 1,100 mainly Jewish refugees fleeing persecution in Nazi Europe were accepted for settlement in the years between the rise of Hitler and the start of the Second World War.
Polish refugees, 1944
New Zealand’s formal refugee resettlement programme is usually considered to have begun in 1944, when some 800 Polish people arrived for the duration of the war. Of this group, 734 were orphaned children. The remainder were their caregivers. Because of the political situation in Poland after 1945, they were accepted for permanent settlement in New Zealand.
Displaced persons from Europe, 1949–52
After the Second World War, the New Zealand government was initially reluctant to accept displaced persons from Europe. It finally agreed to admit a limited number. The New Zealand Selection Mission took particular care not to select criminals and collaborators. It also aimed to exclude groups ‘not at one with ourselves’ 1 and stated a preference for people from the Baltic states rather than Jews or Slavs. But displaced persons of many nationalities, including some Jews, were admitted. During this period, between 4,500 and 5,000 people arrived. They were brought to New Zealand on ships provided by the International Refugee Organisation.

Dressing down

A part-Jewish boy, born in Poland when it was under German occupation, came to New Zealand with his parents after the Second World War as a displaced person. He was embarrassed on the first day he went to school in small-town New Zealand:
‘I wore leather pantlets that German children [often] wear. They are very sensible gear as they are almost indestructible. You can even slide round rocks in them. They are ornately patterned. I wore those pantlets to school and all the children laughed at me. I couldn’t understand it. I felt humiliated and embarrassed. I think I got New Zealand pants pretty quickly.’ 

Hungarian refugees crossing into Austria-1956

Hungarian refugees, 1956–58

New Zealand reacted swiftly toto the refugee crisis after the 1956 Hungarian uprising against the Soviet-backed Communist regime. Around 1,100 refugees who had fled Hungary were accepted. The welcome given them was warmer because of Cold War politics between the Communist Soviet Union and the West. The fact that the refugees were white, and were expected to be an economic asset, contributed to the government’s positive response.

‘Handicapped’ refugees, 1959

‘Handicapped’ refugees were those regarded as hard to settle for such reasons as ill health, disability, advanced age, or having large numbers of dependent children. In 1959, New Zealand became one of the first countries in the world to accept refugee families with handicapped members. By 1963, New Zealand had resettled over 200 such families.

Chinese refugees, 1962–71

Civil war and the establishment of a Communist government in China created large waves of Chinese refugees from the 1940s. New Zealand’s response was slow, probably due to a reluctance to resettle refugees who were not white.
Eventually, small numbers were accepted. In 1962, 50 Chinese orphans from Hong Kong were admitted for adoption by New Zealand families. For a few years in the late 1960s there was a quota of six families a year. Twelve Chinese families from Indonesia were admitted in 1967.

Russian Christians from China, 1965

In 1965, New Zealand accepted 80 members of a community of Russian fundamentalist Christians known as the Old Believers. They had fled to China to escape persecution, and were regarded by the international community as hard to resettle because they insisted on being accepted in large groups.

Czechoslovak refugees, 1968–71

A refugee crisis was created by the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. New Zealand was keen to accept a small number of Czechoslovak refugees as a further gesture against Communism in the Cold War. Like the Hungarians, the Czechoslovaks were white and had work skills that New Zealand needed. Around 125 people from Czechoslovakia arrived between 1968 and 1971.

Asians from Uganda, 1972–73

New Zealand responded to international appeals to help Asians expelled from Uganda as part of President Idi Amin’s ‘Africanisation’ policy. In 1972–73, 244 Ugandan Asians arrived.

Chilean refugees, 1974–81
New Zealand accepted 354 of the thousands of Chileans who fled their country after the army’s overthrow of the Allende government in 1973. They were the first refugees assisted by New Zealand’s Interchurch Commission on Immigration and Refugee Resettlement. The commission was founded in 1976 to work with the government on refugee resettlement.

Soviet Jews and Eastern Europeans, 1974–91

Small numbers of refugees from the Soviet Union and other European countries under Soviet domination settled in New Zealand from the 1970s until the downfall of the Communist governments of Eastern Europe. They included:
  • 335 Soviet Jews
  • 507 refugees under the Eastern European quota
  • 292 Poles who fled Poland when it was under martial law, 1981–83.

Refugees from the Middle East, 1970s–90s

People fleeing persecution and wars, including the Iran–Iraq war, began arriving from the Middle East in the 1970s. A group of Baha’i refugees from Iran arrived in 1979. Between 1987 and 1989, a further 142 Iranian Baha’is settled in New Zealand.
Assyrian Christians who had escaped from Iraq to refugee camps in Greece started arriving in the mid-1980s – around 140 refugees came between 1985 and 1989. Others from the Middle East included Iraqi soldiers who deserted after the 1991 Gulf war.

South-East Asian (Indochinese) refugees, 1975–94

The Vietnam War and its aftermath led to thousands of Vietnamese risking voyages on overcrowded, scarcely seaworthy vessels to escape from Vietnam. Some of these Vietnamese boat people came to New Zealand. Cambodians and Laotians also fled invasion, repression and persecution. Between 1977 and 1993, 5,200 Cambodians, 4,500 Vietnamese and 1,200 Laotians were accepted for settlement in New Zealand.

Diverse arrivals, 1992–2003

Small groups of refugees entered New Zealand in the late 1990s and early 2000s. They included 94 Somalis who had fled civil war, drought and famine between 1992 and 1994. These were the first people to come to New Zealand from Africa in significant numbers. By 2006 there were 1,857 Somalis in New Zealand. Some had arrived as refugees, and others had emigrated under the family reunification scheme. From 2000 to 2003, around 1,800 Zimbabweans fleeing government persecution were granted permanent residence.

Boat boys

Among the Afghan refugees rescued by the Norwegian freighter Tampa were several teenage boys, who had made their escape without their parents or siblings. They were eventually admitted to New Zealand. ‘I want to stay here,’ said one. ‘I want to be here forever. But I want to be in Afghanistan too, but only if there is going to be peace.’ He had had no contact with his family. ‘I am worried. … It’s difficult to be without family.’ 1
Bosnian refugees arrived in New Zealand between 1992 and 1995, after conflict in the former Yugoslavia resulted in the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since the Second World War. In 1998–99 the government agreed to accept about 600 displaced people from Kosovo.
In the late 1990s small groups were accepted from a range of countries including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Iran and the Sudan. About 130 refugees from Afghanistan who had been on board the ship Tampa were accepted for settlement in 2001, after Australia made it difficult for them to stay in that country.

The refugee quota programme, 1987–2003

In 1987 the government agreed to accept (subject to community sponsorship) an annual quota of 800 people who were classified as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This formalised New Zealand’s previously ad hoc response to refugee situations.
Over the years the quota programme has included a number of categories, such as specific ethnic or national groups, and people with special needs (such as ‘handicapped’ refugees). Other categories in the quota have been ‘protection’, ‘women at risk’, ‘medical’, ‘emergency’ and ‘humanitarian’. There are provisions to admit close family members of refugees already living in New Zealand. In 1997, the government reduced the quota to 750 but agreed to pay travel costs.
By 2003, the quota was being applied to refugees considered in greatest need of resettlement. In addition to UNHCR recognition, selected refugees now have to meet criteria that include being able to be assimilated well in New Zealand.

Safe in their beds

Svea Hurd arrived with her three young children from strife-torn Zimbabwe under the refugee quota programme. On her first night she was hugely relieved to put her children to bed without fearing they might be gone in the morning. ‘People are sleeping with shotguns under their beds. I was too scared to leave the children on the farm so I took them to work with me. Farmers in our town are being beaten, hit and abused. … It was a hard decision to leave, but the children come first and they have to be safe.’ 1

Asylum seekers

In addition to New Zealand’s intake under the quota, small numbers of asylum seekers entered from the early 1980s. Asylum seekers endeavour to establish their UNHCR refugee status after arriving. Their claims are assessed under the 1951 United Nations Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Refugee Status Branch of the New Zealand Immigration Service grants or declines applications for refugee status. The Refugee Status Appeal Authority hears and determines appeals against decisions of the Refugee Status Branch.
In response to the increasing numbers of asylum seekers since the late 1980s, the government introduced regulations and new laws designed to:
  • hasten the determination of refugee status
  • allow for the faster removal of people who are unlawfully in New Zealand
  • allow for the detention of asylum seekers while their cases are assessed.

The wider picture

New Zealand’s practices regarding refugees are linked with the country’s changing foreign relations, and its economic, labour market, and immigration policies. They have also evolved in response to the numerous refugee crises since the Second World War.
Under the refugee quota, the admission of selected UNHCR-mandated refugees from increasingly diverse backgrounds has become an ongoing humanitarian priority in New Zealand’s immigration policy.

Safe in their beds

Svea Hurd arrived with her three young children from strife-torn Zimbabwe under the refugee quota programme. On her first night she was hugely relieved to put her children to bed without fearing they might be gone in the morning. ‘People are sleeping with shotguns under their beds. I was too scared to leave the children on the farm so I took them to work with me. Farmers in our town are being beaten, hit and abused. … It was a hard decision to leave, but the children come first and they have to be safe.’ 1