Abdullah Rahimi has a good memory for dates.

August 6, 2000, was the day he said goodbye to his only son, Shakib, after organising the 8-year-old's escape from Afghanistan and the Taleban's oppressive rule.

March 26, 2004, was the day they were reunited, at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.


Abdullah, his wife, Hajera, and mother-in-law, Khadija, arrived in New Zealand six weeks ago as part of an intake this year of about 390 relatives of the Tampa boatpeople and other Afghan refugees.

Seeing Shakib for the first time in almost four years ended a separation that for Abdullah, 49, and Hajera, 44, felt like forever.

"Physically it was four years, but for us it felt like a million years," Abdullah said.

The couple endured two years of not knowing whether Shakib was dead or alive after he was spirited out of Afghanistan into Pakistan and then Malaysia with his uncle and the uncle's family.

When Abdullah, an architect, and Hajera, an engineer, finally received word that their son was on his way to New Zealand, they feared he was among the stranded refugees on the Norwegian vessel Tampa.

They were overjoyed when the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, gave them a video last year showing Shakib safe in Auckland.

They were even more overjoyed when they were told they would be joining him there.

Like other refugees, the Rahimi family have received a house and $1200 in start-up money, as well as help from the charity organisation Refugee and Migrant Service to resettle.

The service runs a six-month programme in which volunteers assist refugees with the basics of New Zealand life, such as schools, healthcare and community services.

The volunteers must do a weekend training course and commit to six months of working with a family.

Valerie Burgess, one of two volunteers helping the Rahimi family, said it was a rewarding job.

"You become part of the family."

The Rahimis spent their first night in their modest new home in Birkdale on Saturday.

Despite the sparse interior, Abdullah said the three-bedroom house was a vast improvement on the family's one-room mud hut in Afghanistan.

"It's not much better. It's 100 per cent better."

The family are now putting the past behind them and looking forward to a fresh start in New Zealand. Hajera wants to concentrate on bringing up her son, while Abdullah would like to find a job as soon as possible.

* The Refugee and Migrant Service is calling for a further 30 volunteers for its next weekend training course beginning on Friday. The phone number is (09) 638-9077.