geert lovink on Fri, 28 Jun 2002 17:08:29 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Caron Eliot: We don't come here to sell our blood

Subject: We don't come here to sell our blood
From: Caron Eliot <>
Sent: Thursday, June 27, 2002 1:35 PM

Summary: Last night approximately 200 people had the chance to meet with 
and hear some of the Afghani refugees who have been released from 
Woomera IRPC on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The occasion was the 
second in a series of traditional Afghani dinners hosted by the Otherway 
Centre, home of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. Since September 2001 
the Otherway Centre has grown to be a second home and strong community 
support base for most of the 200 Afhgani Hazara refugees.


Adelaide. Small seething city of lies and whispers. South Australia, a 
cut above those other states in its proud colonial history; no petty 
convicts here, only state-sanctioned rapists, murderers and thieves, 
thank you. The foundations of colony - Parliament House, Government 
House, Pilgrim Church - built with the bones of the ancestors, the great 
grey rocks blasted out from the right-angled bend in the river. This is 
the place of the kangaroo dreaming. Small moments of grace with the vote 
for women, gay rights, decriminalisation of marihuana. But she was 
always England's dour maidservant, once fair skin peckety pocked with 
the daughter radioisotopes of uranium, obsequious accepter of mother's 
little atomic bomb tests, uranium mines, theft of precious artesian 
waters, nuclear waste dumps. Come on down, you've destroyed the rest, 
now destroy the best!

Woomera, central-north South Australia. 1950's boys' own rocket town, 
far far away from what is generally considered as centre. Deemed the 
perfect place for the national repository project, a facility to dispose 
of low level radioactive waste. Watch this space. And recently another 
spectacular transformation. Notorious prison camp (sorry, Immigration 
Reception and Processing Centre) to house the inconvenient bastard 
children of globalisation. Some of the 20,000,000+ asylum seekers adrift 
in the world right now. Fleeing political persecution. Afghanistan. 
Iraq. Iran. Hey, wait a minute, they must be terrorists. Punish them 
all! Lock 'em up and throw way the key. They're "rejectees" according to 
Philip Ruddock, Australia's Immigration Minister, and we're gonna teach 
them a lesson they will never ever forget.

1,618 people in detention as of 12 April 2002. Mainly people, families, 
who arrived into Australia's territorial waters by boat. Claiming 
refugee status as defined under the 1951 Convention on the Status of 
Refugees and its 1967 Protocol (the Refugees Convention).

60,000 people unlawfully in Australia as of 30 June 2001. People having 
overstayed their tourist/work/student visas.

Do the sums. What's really going on here? Why is the Australian 
Government squandering millions of dollars of public money in a 
systematic and sadistic program of the denial of human rights? Are we 
compelled to endlessly repeat our brutal colonial history, adding new 
forms of dispersals, extirpations and massacres to our already bloody 

Every Indigenous South Australian - Mirning, Ngarindjeri, Kuarna, 
Narungga, Adynyamathanha, Arabunna, Kokatha, Yankuntjara - I have heard 
speak about the refugees has said more or less the same thing - "The 
refugees are welcome here. We know what it is to be dispossessed and 
locked up far from our families and we don't want anyone else to suffer 
that. Not on our land. We know how to welcome strangers in the right 
way. Let them free."

Last night approximately 200 people in Adelaide had the privilege to 
meet with and hear some of the Afghani refugees who have been released 
from Woomera IRPC on Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). The occasion was 
the second in a series of traditional Afghani dinners hosted by the 
Otherway Centre, home of the Aboriginal Catholic Ministry. Since October 
2001 the Otherway Centre has grown to be a second home and strong 
community support base for most of the 200 Afghani Hazara refugees. 
Ex-detainee Hussein Rezaiat is now the Centre's full-time Refugee 
Worker. In November 2001 the Otherway Council publicly declared:

"We stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are asylum 
seekers and refugees. We have no trouble putting ourselves in their 
shoes. We reject the harsh and cruel treatment being offered to 
desperate, persecuted and needy people who have come to Australia for 
help. We ask the Australian government and opposition to begin to act 
with humanity. We know what it is to be oppressed - we have experienced 
much of the past 200 years as oppression. We know what it is to be 
alienated and estranged in our own country. We know what it is to fear 
for the future of our families, our young people and our children. We 
know what detention centres are - our people were pushed onto reserves 
and had to have exemptions to leave them. Australian prisons have 
excessive numbers of our people. We know what it is to have no right of 
appeal - there was no appeal for our people either against protection 
and assimilation or against the taking of children. We know what it is 
to be called "illegal" - it was illegal for us to consort with 
non-Indigenous people, illegal to leave the reserve, illegal to drink 
alcohol. We know what it is to be powerless. We know what it is to be 
refugees in our own land. For more than 200 years we have watched boat 
people come to our land. They came to escape poverty, persecution and 
the effects of war. They came to make a better life for themselves and 
their families. Now that the descendants of the "first illegal boat 
people" are no longer poor and powerless, it seems ironic that they 
would deny the same chance and hope to present day asylum seekers and 

Shirley Peisley AM, Centre Executive Officer and Fr Tony Pearson, 
Chaplain welcomed us to the dinner with an Afghani saying - 'guests are 
a gift from God'. South Australia has a long colonial history with 
people from Afghanistan, as many Afghani camel workers came here in the 
19th century to open up the transport and communication lines through 
the central desert region. In the 1990s Afghanistan had the world's 
highest number of refugees living outside of its borders. Today there 
are an estimated 4-6 million Afghani refugees. Most of the asylum 
seekers in South Australia are Hazara people from the central part of 
Afghanistan (caslled Hazarajat or Hazaristan). They speak the Hazaragi 
dialect of Farsi and represent a mixture of Turkish, Mongol and other 
races. The Hazara have been discriminated and against for more than 200 
years in Afghanistan under a various regimes, with more than 60% of 
their people massacred in the 19th century.  The most recent massacres 
occured in August 1998 at Mazar-i-Sharif (more than 8,000 men, women and 
children slaughtered) and the Bamiyan Massacre, also in 1998.

Qader Fedayee (real name used with his permission) is 18 years of age 
and living in Adelaide on a Bridging Visa after some months spent at 
Glenside Hospital recovering from severe depression and six suicide 
attempts. He spent nearly two years incarcerated in Woomera as an 
Unaccompanied Minor, and shared a little of his story with us. He is 
from Mazar-i-Sharif, where his whole family were killed by the Taliban 
in the massacre of 1998. He escaped to Charkein and lived for 8 months 
with not enough food, water or shelter. Many died during this period due 
to the extreme cold. He travelled to Orezgan where the Taliban killed 
his uncle and his friend. His extended family gave him money to pay a 
smuggler and he travelled to overland to Pakistan, and then by boat to 
Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia and finally Australia. The 
boat voyage was frightening and an Australian plane helped to rescue 
people. He was brought straight to Woomera from Ashmore Reef.

"In Woomera I wished that the boat had sunk and that I had died."

He is now studying English five days a week. Qader Fedayee still has to 
prove to the Australian Government that he is a refugee!

O lucky country!

Hassan (sorry but i couldn't find him to ask his full name) was released 
3 months ago from Woomera. As a community leader, he began by 
acknowledging the people at Woomera who are currently on a hunger 
strike. Hassan's applications for refugee status have been rejected at 
the primary stage and also before the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). He 
explained why "the process is not fair" to asylum seekers. A refugee's 
first interview is with a Case Officer, the second with Immigration 
officials. A third interview and then the language of the refugee is 
analysed. The fourth interview is with a Migration Agent who acts as a 
legal witness (rather than as a legal advocate for the refugees), and 
then a fifth interview with the Case Manager and the Migration Agent. 
This process takes about 25 days, with asylum seekers then waiting 
around 9 months for a decision.

They generally face rejection because of a language objection, and 
subsequently spend another 12 to 30 months in detention during the 
appeals process. According to Hassan most of the language objections are 
baseless, with the people entrusted to analysing the language having 
left Afghanistan 30 years ago. I think he was referring to the fact that 
these 'experts' are out of touch with the living language, and social 
conditions which effect language and necessity to learn a second 
language of the dominant power group.

Now Australia has signed an agreement worth $59,000,000 with the newly 
installed Afghani Government to send the asylum seekers back.

"We came to Australia as refugees. We don't come here to sell our blood. 
It's a matter of life. We would like to work in  Australia. We would 
like to pay tax. About 90% of Afghani refugees are working now and 
paying tax. We would like the opportunity to live in the middle of 
liberty, which we never had in Afghanistan. We are tired. We paid a lot 
of cost. We paid genocide and massacre for over 100 years. We don't like 
to be targeted anymore. We would like to ask the people of Australia to 
help us, to live in the world of humanity. We are not harmful to the 
country. We would like to have a real liberalism and liberty. Please ask 
the people in Australia to contact the media and talk on behalf of 
powerless people in Detention Centres. We need your support."

Hassan's powerful and eloquent words were followed by those of Hussein 
Rezaiat. He began by saying that he wanted to speak about happy news.

"But how can I when my friends are on a hunger strike in the Detention 
Centre? How can we talk happy story when our people are suffering in 
Afghanistan, in refugee camps in Pakistan, in camps here?"

Hussein then told the story of Mustafa, an 8 year old boy who lost all 
of his family in 1998, and ended up in Woomera. This is another big 
story and rather than try to retell it here I will ask Hussein if he 
would like to tell it himself.

Speaking of his fellow asylum seekers he asked, "Why are they sewing 
their lips? Why are they hanging themselves, crushing their bodies? It 
is because they are hopeless. They came to Australia and found another 
jail. Unkind government, unkind guards, treated them like shit, and they 
became hopeless.

They tried to speak. They wanted the media and Human Rights groups to 
come in to the Detention Centres. They didn't allow us. When we tried to 
speak with them they didn't listen. They tried to speak with you with a 
hunger strike. We will be hungry and thirsty until we die."

Aunty Shirley Peisley ended this very moving and strangely joyous 
evening (those beautiful babies and children bounding and abounding 
helped) by saying to the refugees, "You are welcome in our 
country...Your presence enriches us and we love you very much."

The Otherway Centre is considering hosting similar evenings and I can 
totally recommend the experience. They are also looking for volunteers 
to help with English classes, computer training, and other forms of 
social and skills-based projects. So is a really 
practical way to help make a difference.

Otherway Centre, 185 Pirie Street, Adelaide, 5000
Phone:  (08)8232 1001

Hunger Strike Update, 12.15pm, Thursday 27 June 2002

I have just spoken with Ali Hader (name used with his permission, sorry 
about the spelling) at Woomera. He said that 190 people including women 
and very small children are continuing the hunger strike. He said that 
many of them have been in Woomera for 18 and 19 months. They are very 
tired. They came here for freedom. Not to be put in detention centres.

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