Agha Mohammad Naqshbandi outside the Hardy St Backpackers which he manages. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Refugee relishing freedom to run

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Agha Mohammad Naqshbandi was sure never to run too far in his homeland out of fear of entering a war zone.

The Afghani refugee spent much of his younger years running for his life to escape the Taliban.

“You can’t run on the hillside or anywhere rural, people are not comfortable with that back in Afghanistan,” Agha says. “There is just too much risk, too much fighting.”

However, now based in Nelson, he enjoys the freedom to run throughout the region.

“Everywhere is peaceful and I am always comfortable to go anywhere, unlike in Afghanistan. Hopefully that will change, but it hasn’t for the past 40 years.”

Agha escaped his war-torn country at the turn of the century as a 17-year-old.

He was a member of the infamous Tampa Boys, a group of asylum seekers which caused international controversy in 2001 after being rescued at sea and denied entry to Australia.

After a diplomatic incident, New Zealand welcomed 208 of the Tampa refugees, including Agha.

His father was killed by the Taliban for refusing to appease the extremist group.

With his family left without support, Agha made it his mission to bring them to New Zealand.

Working a variety of jobs, he managed to save enough to sponsor his mother and seven siblings to seek asylum.

“I have worked at the freezing works, Sealord, King Salmon, KFC, on vineyards, a butchery, a vegetable store and Pak n Save.”

Having almost always worked at least two jobs, Agha recently landed a position managing the Bridge St Hostel.

The job has finally granted Agha some spare time on weekends which he has used to get back into running.

After joining the Waimea Harriers Club last year, Agha has become a popular figure in the running club, drawing attention for his running attire which was always pants and a sweatshirt.

Fellow Nelson runner Phil Barnes says when Agha arrived on the running scene, he was like a breath of fresh air with his unusual approach.

“He would run in his normal clothes, yet still do surprisingly well.”

Phil says since then he has steadily improved and has a very positive enthusiastic attitude.

Agha recently ran in the Dovedale Hill Race, finishing 12th overall in 55m 10s.