He arrived in New Zealand aged 7 after being rescued from a sinking fishing vessel off the Australian coast 18 years ago.

There were 430 people on board with Abbas Nazari, along with his parents and siblings.

He has gone on to the battle the odds, after not knowing a word of English, to yesterday being granted a Fulbright New Zealand General Graduate Award to study at Columbia University in New York.

The awards are valued at up to US$40,000 ($61,550), plus $4000 travel funding, for up to one year of study or research in the US.


Nazari, originally from Afghanistan and who now lives in Christchurch, will complete a master of international affairs degree after graduating with a BA (Hons first class) in international relations and diplomacy from the University of Canterbury in 2016.

He is one of three from the University of Canterbury to receive the award, part of a group of 21 graduates from across Aotearoa to be heading overseas.

Nazari and his colleagues will receive their awards in a presentation ceremony at Parliament tonight, hosted by Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters.

Nazari's accomplishment has received high praise.

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark took the time to congratulate him, along with Auckland Mayor Phil Goff who was foreign minister at the time the Tampa refugees arrived and welcomed them into the country.

Graduate awards are for New Zealanders with an undergraduate degree to go to the US to undertake further study or research, including towards a masters or PhD.

The Herald spoke to Nazari in 2014, when he was in his third year of a political and history degree at the University of Canterbury and had the goal of joining an international aid agency.

Abbas Nazari is off to study at Columbia University in New York. Photo/Supplied
Abbas Nazari is off to study at Columbia University in New York. Photo/Supplied