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Robert was born on 11 February 1953, together with his twin brother, Francis John, at the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Woolwich. His father, the Rev. Francis Patrick Bellesme Ashe, was Vicar of Blindley Heath, Surrey. His mother was Marion Islay Johnston, the daughter of the Right Rev. Frank Johnston, Bishop in Egypt, and later Assistant Bishop of Guildford.

Robert's parents moved to Otley, Yorkshire in 1956 with Lois Mary, his elder sister, and John. In 1961, he and John went as boarders to Dean Close Junior School, Cheltenham, until they won scholarships to Christ's Hospital (CH) at the age of thirteen. He left CH in 1970, and entered the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, after doing a one-year practical working experience on a farm in Warwickshire.

After gaining his agricultural diploma in the summer of 1973, he joined a small voluntary organization called Project Vietnam Orphans (PVO) in late 1973 and worked in their team in Saigon, South Vietnam amongst orphaned and abandoned children. Medically evacuated in 1974 after a severe attack of amoebic dysentery, he went back to farming in England. Just before the fall of Saigon in April 1975, Robert returned to Vietnam to help PVO.

After PVO was forced to leave Vietnam, Robert went to Bangkok, Thailand, in 1975, and started working amongst Cambodian refugees. He, with his sister Lois, opened a home in Bangkok, and looked after twelve refugee children until they were adopted.

Robert then started work on the Thai-Cambodian border in refugee camps, and continued his work under PVO, which became known as Christian Outreach, directing a team of volunteers sent out from England. From 1979 to 1980 he was seconded to the International Committee of the Red Cross. He was responsible for planning a cross-border operation, known as the "Landbridge", taking food and agricultural tools into Cambodia. In mid-1980, Robert was awarded the MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) for his work among refugees.

Shortly after news of Robert's award was announced, he was captured by Vietnamese troops who had invaded Cambodia. He was marched about 25 kms inside Cambodia through torrential rain and with no shelter at night. After three days he was freed, and allowed to walk over the Aranyaprathet border bridge back into Thailand.

While working on the border in 1979, Robert rescued a Cambodian lady, Var Hong and her two small daughters, Somaly and Panita. They were married in 1982 from the home of Dr. and Mrs. R. Merryweather in Paradise, Painswick. Robert helped Var write her story of life under the Khmer Rouge called "From Phnom Penh to Paradise".

In 1983 they returned to Thailand and Robert worked for Food for the Hungry International (FHI) as their Field Director covering Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh. While there, their son, Peter Patrick, was born on 17 April 1984. In 1984 Robert moved to Geneva, Switzerland, for FHI, and in 1986 he joined the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) as their Programme Officer in the Sudan. After two years in Khartoum, he became the Head of the UNHCR Sub-Office in Showak, East Sudan. In 1989, he moved back to Geneva for UNHCR and became the Chief of their Programme Coordination & Budget Section in 1991.

Robert's marriage broke down in 1991, and after two years of separation, the marriage was dissolved in 1993. Peter went to Aldro School, near Godalming, as a boarder, and spent most of his holidays with Robert in Geneva. In 1995, Robert moved with Peter to The Hague, Netherlands, as Head of the UNHCR Liaison Office. Peter attended the British School of the Netherlands. In 1996, Robert was recalled to the UNHCR Headquarters in Geneva to head up their change management programme.

In 1997, Robert became engaged to an Indonesian lady, Aam Zamila Dachlan, and they were married in 2002. Peter, and Aam's son, Joel, and daughter, Julia, attended the International School in Geneva. Joel graduated in 1999, and went on study at the University California Los Angeles from where he graduated in 2004. He is currently working for an environmental company in California. Peter graduated from the International School in 2002, and went on to University in Exeter, UK. After two years, he undertook a one year work experience with the bank, JP Morgan, in Geneva. He will graduate from university in 2006.

Following a four month mission to East Timor in early 2002, where he phased down UNHCR's operation, he was appointed in July 2002 as UNHCR's Regional Representative in Indonesia. Robert, Aam, and Julia moved to Jakarta, where Julia attended the Jakarta International School. She graduated from there in 2004, and currently attends Chester University in the UK.

Aam and Robert have built their retirement home on Lombok Island in Indonesia, and they visit there as often as they can from Jakarta.