My Story

Hi, I'm Murdoch and I've been running the Doing Our Bit campaign to double New Zealand's refugee quota, with a little help from my friends, since 2013. Here's the story of what led me to become interested in our record on refugees:

In 2009 I stumbled upon an abandoned refugee detention centre in the middle of the Iranian desert. The centre had imprisoned Afghan people whose papers were not in order. From amidst the dust and ashes of other documents I recovered over one thousand photos of Afghan families.

Later in the same trip I lived in Aleppo in the north of Syria. I met many fantastic people there and lived in an apartment with a new Syrian friend. Today the neighbourhood is destroyed, my apartment a ruin and my new friends scattered around the world. 

Back in New Zealand I wondered what to do with the photos. I knew that their presence spoke of the hardships faced by Afghans heading into the thirty-fifth year of civil and international war. But I didn't know what they said to New Zealanders.

In 2013, I talked with two Afghan Kiwis - former refugees about my own age. From their enthusiasm I was inspired to share the photos with other New Zealanders. The first exhibition of the archive of Afghan refugee photos taken from Anjirak Afghan Prison was held at Pataka Art + Museum in Porirua, New Zealand from June to October in 2013 then at Waikato Museum in August/September 2014. The exhibition is no longer being shown publicly and is heading to Kabul to be a part of the permanent archives at the Afghan Centre at Kabul University.

“In their presentation the black and white photographs are shuffled together in no discernable pattern. Staples, violating the subjects' bodies like piercings, punctuate the scanned enlarged photographic prints as small pointed violent charges.

“And yet for all this, lit gently from behind on an elegant curving lightbox at Pataka, this magnetic group of black and white prints feels united, cared for - a patchwork blanket embodying the promise of warmth from humanity. The images are, as their collector Murdoch Stephens told the Dominion Post in June, beautiful.” The Dominion Post, September 2013.

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