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3The Independent Weekly
August 6 - 12, 2010
Hassim Rahmani took his first
hopeful step onto Australian
soil in 2001.
He left his village in Afghanistan
desperate to escape a country where
he was not safe.
Hassim didn t know he would
be incarcerated when he got to
Australia. He hoped only that when
he reached the end of the boat
trip his life would no longer be in
He didn t want to go on a boat.
He didn t want to leave his
parents and siblings, but he needed
"When you are in the war, it s
very, very hard," he said.
"You are always thinking: What
would happen to my future?
There s no human rights."
His parents escaped to Pakistan,
where they continue to live illegally.
Hassim made it to Australia, but
ended up in the Baxter Detention
Centre. When he was released three
years later, he was a changed man.
"I lost my mind," he said. "Now
when I m working around here,
sometimes when I pick up my
measure, my tools, I forget because I
lose my mind. It s hard."
Hassim spoke to The Independent
Weekly at a building site in Munno
Para. Nine years after he arrived in
Australia, he has become a citizen
and owns his own tiling business.
His vote counts this election and he
says he ll vote Labor because it is
"good for the worker".
Hassim said media reports
regarding asylum seekers were
"They are saying Afghanistan is
safe, but it s not safe not for Hazara
When skimming the news, Dutch
tourist Eline van der Vaart was
initially sympathetic to Australia s
Asylum seekers are an issue in the
Netherlands, where last year almost
15,000 people applied for asylum.
"I thought there were millions of
refugees coming to Australia," she
But just 6206 people applied for
asylum in Australia last year, and
3441 were given refuge -- 1 per cent
of the nation s total migration.
Only 0.5 per cent of the 631,000
asylum seekers recognised
internationally as refugees were
lodged in Australia last year.
More sought refuge in countries
such as Pakistan, Iran, Kenya and
Under Julia Gillard, Labor s
policy has swung to the right.
Voters will now choose between
her proposal to establish a regional
processing centre, possibly in East
Timor, and Tony Abbott s pledge to
"stop the boats".
"Anybody who says that there s a
quick fix here is simply not telling
the truth," Ms Gillard said. "What
I have said is I want strong border
protection, and we ve moved to
strengthen our border protection.
"I want to stop people smugglers
leaving shore and setting sail in the
Mr Abbott has taken a hard line,
claiming: "Only the Coalition can
stop the boats."
The Liberals will reintroduce
offshore processing in another
country for people arriving illegally
by boat. It will reintroduce a tempo-
rary protection visa, and presume
asylum seekers are not refugees if
it is believed they have disposed of
their identity documents. It would
also attempt to turn back boats.
spokesman Scott Morrison has said
that turning boatloads of asylum
seekers around would not be an
easy policy to implement, but is the
best way to tackle people smugglers.
"We re not just going to give into
the people smugglers and allow
them to just determine the terms by
which we allow boats to arrive and
people to arrive," Mr Morrison said.
The Refugee Council of Australia
(RCOA) said United Nations
statistics showed political scare-
mongering about asylum seekers
had little to do with facts.
"It s disappointing that
Australians natural scepticism of
political spin is not being applied
to politicians who are trying to
create fear and misunderstanding
about the number of people seeking
asylum in this country," RCOA
chief executive officer Paul Power
The council has always disagreed
with offshore processing of asylum
seekers, which it says is inhumane.
"Frankly, it s a waste of taxpay-
ers money to process refugees in a
way that costs much more money
and is less humane."
But the council said that
developing a regional development
plan, which would be implemented
under Labor, was essential. It
said Australia needed to focus
on international co-operation on
"This would help reduce the
numbers of asylum boats as we
assess claims for asylum and provide
protection earlier on in the chain of
asylum flows," Mr Power said.
"But Australia must not send
back asylum seekers that have
reached our shores; we have an
obligation to process them here."
The Australian Refugee
Association s SA director, Peter
Laintoll, said there was not enough
funding to resettle refugees for
whom English is a huge barrier.
They need help to access services
and become independent.
"We need to look at what the
options are for people settling in
Australia, particularly (those) from
a refugee background fleeing from
persecution or worse," he said.
"Everyone I ve spoken to feels so
lucky that they have a chance, and
any opportunity they are given they
Margaret McGregor won an
Order of Australia Medal this year
for her work with refugees in South
Australia. She started a branch of
the Circle of Friends, which help
asylum seekers settle into life in
Australia. At its peak in 2001, there
were 100 groups.
"We are very concerned about
both parties attitudes and policy.
We are pretty disappointed with the
way Labor has swung to the right,"
"I don t think anyone knows the
answers, but how can Tony Abbott
say we will beat the boats? Well,
come on: Are you just going to send
back a leaky boat that s sure to be
sunk. That s just nonsense talk."
Hassim was lucky.
The Circle of Friends helped
him get a job and learn English.
He s been able to build a life for
himself. Last year he married and
brought his wife to Australia from
Pakistan. Their son will grow up as
But most importantly to Hassim,
his son will grow up safe.
The lucky country
New life: Afghani refugee Hassim Rahmani now owns his own tiling business.
Photo: Kate Elmes
is the catchcry of
both major parties
election, but what
is the human
cost of their
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