Many Afghan refugees to arrive with only the clothes on their back

An RNZAF C130 safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians from Kabul last week. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force
An RNZAF C130 safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians from Kabul last week. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force
Many Afghan refugees to arrive with only the clothes on their back.

Dozens of refugees have either arrived in New Zealand or are due to arrive in the coming days - many with only the clothes on their backs.

Following the fall of Kabul, the New Zealand Defence Force evacuated 370 people to the United Arab Emirates.

They included New Zealand citizens, visa holders and close family members of the Afghan interpreters who assisted the New Zealand Defence Force.

Red Cross general manager of migration Rachel O'Connor said many evacuees arrived without basic everyday items.

"It's happened so suddenly people haven't had time to plan, to prepare. It means that they're likely to be separated from family. They wouldn't have been able to bring anything practically with them.

"We know that some people will literally have just got on to the plane with what they're standing in and wouldn't have had other items.

"It's going to be an incredible shock and it's really going to require a lot of care and kindness and compassion from New Zealanders to look after this group. They are rebuilding their lives in New Zealand. There's going to be some need for essential items and household items and things like that."

And over the weekend, despite being in lockdown, Kiwis heeded the Red Cross's social media call asking for urgent donations of clothes and shoes for evacuees who had arrived 'with minimal clothing'.

"We are just incredibly grateful for the generosity of Kiwis, who within hours of us putting the call out overwhelmed us with how much donations we received of clothing and items and that. So we have enough for the moment, but if we need anything more, we will be putting that on our website.

"In the meantime, people can donate through our appeal and that money will be used directly to support families, both here in New Zealand and overseas," O'Connor said.

Abbas Nazari was 7 years old when he left Afghanistan.

He was one of 400 Tampa refugees rescued from a sinking boat off the Australian coast in 2001.

The Australian government refused to take them in, but New Zealand did.

Twenty years on, he's now a Fulbright scholar living in Christchurch.

But he said everyone arriving from Afghanistan has a long road ahead of them.

"That would feel so dazed, so confused about what's going to happen next, but the overwhelming feeling will be one of relief and one of victory, almost like they have won the lottery."

He said it will be hard for them to watch things continue to unfold in Afghanistan.

"When we were given resettlements in New Zealand, as relieved and happy and overjoyed as we were to be given a chance at a new life, there is a part of you that almost feels guilt because you know we survived and we had left so many others behind, family and friends, and they'll be feeling exactly the same, knowing that they've left their relatives behind, knowing that they've left their family and their community."

The Afghan Association of New Zealand Secretary Khairullah Azizi said they haven't been able to make contact with any of the evacuees yet but are preparing to provide as much support as possible.

"The fact that there is someone who knows how they think and how they feel, that is the sort of the first support that we can give them. We're from sort of the same background, we understand their needs.

"We can give them a home away from home potentially just to get them to relax a little bit and forget about what they've been through."

He said the last few weeks have been very intense and busy for the Afghan community in New Zealand.

"Your heart is pounding because you hear shots and you're thinking about the safety of these people and as well as the safety of those left behind.

"You're always thinking about the person that you didn't take through rather than the people you did take through, so there's a lot of people that are left behind, as a community we worry about how they're going to get here and when they're going to get here, our community is sort of standing on their toes right now, just waiting for answers."

With Auckland set to stay in level 4 for at least another fortnight, O'Connor said that presents challenges for refugees once they are released from MIQ.

"With the recent lockdown, we had some refugee families who had only just arrived in the community. If you can imagine how challenging it is for anybody to go to a grocery shop at the moment, if you've never even done a grocery shop in New Zealand before, that is quite a challenge.

"We have a team of staff and volunteers who are supporting families to do grocery shops and pick up medication or whatever it is."

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