Monday, December 04, 2006

Loneliest refugee finds a home

Keeping up his focus on refugee issues, Michael Gordon of The Age updates us on the 'saga' of Mohammed Sagar:

"MORE than five years of offshore detention, most of it on the tiny island of Nauru, is almost over for Mohammed Sagar, one of the world's loneliest refugees, after a Scandinavian country agreed to resettle him.

The last of about 1500 asylum seekers who tried to come to Australia by boat in 2001 to still be detained offshore, Mr Sagar is undaunted by the prospect of having to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture.

"I am just glad I will be able to get my life back," he told The Age yesterday. "I feel like it is an imaginary thing and cannot take it as reality." After four rejections by countries deterred by a disputed adverse security assessment by ASIO, the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, negotiated a new future for Mr Sagar, who has always maintained he is no threat to anyone."

At the start of my blog in April last year I wrote, "The more we shed light on our government’s treatment of asylum seekers, the better equipped we are to raise awareness of the violations perpetrated in our name. Of late, the mainstream media has been revisiting asylum seeker issues because of the wrongful detention on an Australian resident. This is encouraging as the majority of journalists appeared to swallow the government’s line in the wake of Howard’s ‘boat people’ election, despite the revelations on ‘children overboard’. Few commentators drilled down to unearth the human rights abuses underlying Australia’s detention of asylum seekers. I think this is changing."

To his credit Michael Gordon is a mainstream journalist who has stayed the course in terms of reporting this ongoing violation of human rights. Not only is the Pacific Solution a dark chapter in the management of refugee policy, but it is a clear indicator of the predilections of the government on governance, accountability and human rights. The score card is dreadful on all counts.

I also wrote back then that "When some of their (ie asylum seeker) stories come to be written in detail, Australians will be shocked at the brutal treatment meted out by a government with a manic determination to manage the boat people phenomenon as a political wedge issue.

What happened to that freedom loving social democracy built on universal human rights; a nation at ease with itself and welcoming to those who face persecution on political, religious or ethnicity grounds? Do Australians remember how we welcomed Vietnamese boat people in their many thousands?

Now we are looking more and more like a xenophobic client state of the US, an uncompassionate society ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times.

The history of propaganda reveals that you can package lies very successfully if they play to irrational fears – it is especially difficult to counter when cloaked in the garb of national security. Are Australians prepared to allow their government to continue to ignore human rights and refugee conventions – to sit by while basic rights are suspended, or as Noam Chomsky put it, ‘democracy is deterred”?"

The next election is also a referendum on what type of society we want for our children.

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