One Man's Web Politics
and Ethics Who cares?
Posted January 4 2004
A friend has this posted on his in-tray for all
to read: Refugees- The government is doing to them what it would like to do
Writing about the
expulsion of the Bakhtiari family from Australia after years of imprisonment,
Julian Burnside says:
[Link valid 4-1-2005]
From here on
the cruelty is pointless.
On the other hand, showing compassion to the family would have gone a small
way to restoring this country's name for decency and humanity.
Unfortunately, the Government seems concerned that mercy and compassion set
a bad precedent. Given that it has a discretion to allow the family to stay,
it is hard to understand why it insists on removing these people it has
damaged so badly, unless its purpose is to send a message - not to people
smugglers, but to us. Its message to us is this: we hold absolute power; we
do not have to acknowledge public sentiment; we can crush anyone who messes
One of the truisms we often hear is that you
can tell the true nature of a country by the way it treats its most powerless,
the prisoners, and the poor and dispossessed. Certainly the biblical prophets
constantly judge their rulers, and the nation, on the basis of the treatment of
widows and orphans- and of the stranger, or alien, to their country.
(e.g. Deuteronomy 24:21 When you gather the grapes
of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the
orphan, and the widow. Deuteronomy 27:19 "Cursed be anyone who deprives the
alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice." All the people shall say, "Amen!")
When I listen to government statements on the
expulsion of refugees and similar issues, there seems almost a tone of
satisfaction. The words may express regret, and mention the
difficulty of the choices to be made, but the tone is something else.
Compassion is lacking in the colour and tone of the statements. The
continued existence of the prison at Baxter, and the pettiness and nastiness of
the place bear out this impression. When Immigration came, the littlest
had a dirty nappy, and they would not even let it be changed. They arrived
early in the morning, so that the family was gone before its supporters even
knew. They flew the family out of the country in the middle of the night.
Always there are good reasons given.... but in novels and films, and in history,
we associate this behaviour and denial of basic decency with dictatorship and
comes from all sides of politics. In an
article where she takes Phillip Adams to task
Miranda Devine says:
[Link live at 4-1-2005]
Australia's record has been besmirched by issues such as the delay in
releasing children from detention when conditions in centres grew unsafe.
There is also a question about adequate care. I have met one young African
refugee (who asked to remain anonymous) who says his requests for medical
help at a detention centre were ignored until he collapsed. He now suffers
serious, long-term health problems.
The truth of such claims is well established.
There is something happening in Australia which I don't quite understand.
Miranda Devine's article is an illustration. She is aware of the shortcomings in
our system. She is blunt in her criticism. Yet she needs to show
that we are good with refugees, up there with the best... not that the best is
anything to boast about. And she makes much of the lie the
have allegedly told by claiming to be from Afghanistan. I've heard this from a
number of people; a kind of reluctant admission, or even disgust, about our
treatment of people followed by, "but they're breaking the law.... " or,
"but they are not really refugees....".
It's as though the undeniable facts of the evil of our treatment of children,
and their families, are beating against, but not breaking through, some
underlying, deep rooted prejudice which says these people have no right to be
here. I've had this conversation, sometimes barely civil, with a colleague
for over twelve months. Now even they raise the issue of ill-treatment!
They are disgusted by what they see. And yet sometimes they display a cold
outrage at these people who have come, and have the temerity not to slink away,
but to claim their human right to protection.
I have become
increasingly aware of the social divides in Australia. I live in a definite
non-A-List suburb. But I work with and for people who live in the A-List
suburbs. Many of these people have expectations about life and income that
I cannot aspire to, such as the yearly overseas holiday and the European-made
car. I feel a little like the long-serving family man-servant; privy to
much of what goes on, even invited to functions, but inferior. My
colleagues would be surprised and hurt by this, but it's true. As I say
sometimes: How do you spoil a good party conversation in Burnside?
Answer: Tell people you live in Elizabeth. The prejudice, and the
assumed personal superiority, is real. Perhaps they also feel a certain guilt at
their good fortune and lack of charity, and a fear of losing it all.
It is also a prejudice I suffer from, when noisy, ill-mannered, and truly
un-civilised people are on the train into the city, or louting loudly from their
car at the lights. I am rightly cautious for my safety. Beyond this sensible
fear, though, I am aware of something else. An underlying, deep rooted
prejudice against these people who are different, and who threaten my comfort
and way of life. I also feel a certain guilt at my good fortune and lack of
charity, and a fear of losing it all.
Plain human decency dictates to me that whatever lies the parents of the
Bakhtiari family may have told, this should not be held against innocent
children. It has been held against them by Australia, which has punished
them severely. It would be decent to have confessed our sin against the
children, and let them stay. (Sometimes I wonder why Vanstone, pragmatic
as she is, does not simply draw a line in the sand, and let the Baxter people
out, and get them into jobs, as a simply far economically cheaper way of dealing
There are more important reasons to honour the Bakhtiari family, and those like
them. Compassion is also the conscious and determined act of turning full
in the face of our class prejudice, and all the greed that goes with it, and our
atavistic fear of that which is different. Compassion is a civilising act
in the face of consumerism and social uncertainty and breakdown. It is one
hope for overcoming the fear I feel along with the outrage. If we will not be
compassionate, we will lose our society.
supporters remain adamant they are Afghan refugees. But unless Vanstone and her
department really are liars or incompetent, and the Refugee Review Tribunal and
several courts are all wrong, the evidence says the Bakhtiaris are not refugees,
as defined by the United Nations convention, but a plumber and his family from
Pakistan hoping to make a better life in Australia.
Whether the family comes from
Afghanistan or from Quetta in Pakistan is a matter of debate, and the rival
claims will never be resolved. However, it is worth noting that the Bakhtiaris
are Hazaras, from an ethnic group whose territory runs diagonally across
Afghanistan and into Pakistan, near Quetta. The Hazaras have been persecuted in
both countries for centuries. Debating which side of the border they come from
is as arid as debating in 1939 whether a Jew came from Poland or Germany.
Also Burnside: To determine whether they get a visa, a single member of the
Refugee Review Tribunal receives all manner of evidence - reliable and
unreliable, direct and hearsay, speculation and rumour. If that person gets the
facts wrong, the courts can do almost nothing to correct the mistakes.
From an SA Council of Churches email Dec
Ausnews@yahoogroups.com, "Nick Poynder" <npoynder@f...
I rarely get involved in online discussions with large groups
of unidentified people, but the situation with the Bakhtiyaris isbecoming
desperate and information doesn't seem to be getting out.
In about December 2003/January 2004 Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother, Mazhar Ali,
was deported to Pakistan. He and his Australian escorts were initially refused
entry into Pakistan, but after some discussion he was allowed to enter Pakistan,
from where (surprise surprise) he returned to his home in Afghanistan.
Mr Ali collected a number of letters and documents to prove that the Bakhtiyari
family was from that village. These included:
Confirmation from the District Governor that Mrs Bakhtiyari and her
family are Afghan citizens.
Confirmation of the Governor of the Province in relation to Mr Bakhtiyari's
Confirmation from the residence of a local mosque that Mr and Mrs
Bakhtiyari are from the district.
Document from the Transitional Islamic Government of
Afghanistan containing confirmation from a representative of the
village confirming the residency of the relatives of Mazar Ali. The document
also contains confirmation from the local high school that Mazar Ali is from the
Confirmation from an Acting District Governor that Mr and Mrs Bakhtiyari
are Afghan citizens.
These documents were provided to the Minister's office on 8 June 2004. No
substantive response has yet been received.
Then in July/August 2004 Mazar Ali travelled to Kabul and met a guy called
Simon Russell, who has been working in Afghanistan with the Norwegian Refugee
Council since December 2002. On 17 September 2004 Mr Russell provided a
statement confirming that Mazar Ali is without doubt is a Hazara from the
central region of Afghanistan. This was apparently provided to the Minister
only a few weeks ago; again no response.
From what I understand of Afghanistan, it is not surprising that there has
been confusion over the identification of the village. However the fact remains
that Mrs Bakhtiyari's brother is from Afghanistan, ergo Mrs Bakhtiyari is
from Afghanistan, ergo Mr Bakhtiyari is from Afghanistan. Ergo they have all
been wrongly denied protection visas and have spent years in detention for
I was interviewed by a journalist about the above material only a few days
ago, yet there is still nothing in the media about this. I don't propose to
involve myself further in these discussions, as there are plenty of others who
can do this. But I am surprised that the above information does not yet appear
to have been made public.
Frederick Jordan Chambers
53 Martin Place
New South Wales
Tel: +61 2 9229 7352
Fax: +61 2 9221 6944
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