A Convenient Compassion  

One Man's Web > Politics and Ethics > Australia and the refugees > A Convenient Compassion
Posted 9-11-2003

On compassionate grounds the Australian government has allowed refugee Ebrahim Sammaki to stay in Australia, and his two children to come and join him in Australia.  They have been granted permanent residency status.

New Immigration Minister Senator Vanstone said "she had intervened on compassionate grounds because the Sammaki children were "unwitting victims" of the Bali tragedy. "It is in the national interest to demonstrate that Australia is a compassionate country, that we do have a humanitarian (refugee) intake," she said.

Sammaki's children were left orphaned in Bali when their mother was killed in the Sari Club bombing.  The government has steadfastly refused to allow the children to come and see their father who was in detention in Australia, after coming here seeking refugee status.
The Age reported the government's refusal in June this year:

Mr Deegan, whose son Joshua was also killed in last year's Bali attack, wants to bring the children to Australia for two weeks to visit their Iranian father, who is being detained in the Baxter immigration detention centre in South Australia. 

Mr Deegan has guaranteed the Immigration Department that three-year-old Sarah Sammaki and seven-year-old Sabda Sammaki would stay no more than two weeks and he would pay for their airfares and travel expenses. 

The children have not seen their father in more than two years. 

Mr Deegan said he could not understand how the Immigration Department could issue a permanent visa to corporate Filipino fugitive Dante Tan and deny two stranded, motherless children the chance to see their father. 

Mr Tan, wanted in the Philippines over the largest insider trading case in the country's history, has been at the centre of controversy surrounding Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock, who reinstated Mr Tan's visa after he donated $10,000 to Mr Ruddock's electoral campaign. (The Age June 9 2003)

On one of Mr Ruddock's last days in the ministry, Mr Sammaki's lawyer received word the Minister would not consider specially intervening in the case. (7.30 Report) One might hope that this sudden compassion which allows permanent residency on the basis of compassion, has a source in the new minister.  However, there is no recognition of Sammaki's claim for refugee status.  This has been specifically ruled out by Senator Vanstone.  The real source seems to be that a month ago Mr Howard was photographed holding the hands of the Sammaki children at the memorial service for the Bali bombing. He did not know who they were.

As the 7.30 Report put it:

MARY GEARIN: The fate of 8-year-old Safdar and 4-year-old Sara has been in limbo for more than a year until this afternoon, just weeks after they posed for this irresistible picture opportunity with PM John Howard in Bali anniversary commemorations.
DANIEL HYAMS, LAWYER: I think it comes down to a photograph, really.
The PM unwittingly has held the hands of these children and the Government's been embarrassed into changing its position.
It's quite simple really.
That's how it appears to me.

The issue here is whether we have a convenient charade of compassion to get Mr Howard of the hook, or whether the government has actually been challenged to change its mind and become actually compassionate. One cannot help but notice that in the same week the navy has towed away a refugee boat which landed on Melville Island. They are reported to be back in Indonesia. This week the federal government excised Melville Island from Australia's migration zone to stop asylum seekers applying for refugee status. The notion that Melville Island is somehow too far out to constitute being part of Australia beggars belief!

Some press reports have the government trumpeting its compassion to the world.  I'd talk about spin, convenience and still... a total lack of compassion on present evidence.

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