July 22, 2013
AFGHAN exile Ali Ahmadi wonders if the word humanitarian still applies to Australia’s stance on refugees.
He came by boat to seek asylum here in 2009 and spent 75 days on Christmas Island before securing a protection visa.
“Those days things were much simpler,” Mr Ahmadi said.
“Now, years later things are much harder. People are not coming just to be in a better place, they are fleeing persecution.”
He spoke as Geelong’s refugee community absorbed the implications of a Federal Government policy shift closing the door on asylum seekers.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has announced that people who arrive in Australia by boat and without a visa will be transferred to Papua New Guinea for processing.
If found to be refugees they will be resettled in Papua New Guinea or a third country.
Geelong Diversitat chief Michael Martinez questioned the long-term implications of the shift.
“I can understand it in terms of trying to stop the deaths at sea,” Mr Martinez said. “But if they really want a regional solution it should be all of the countries coming together – Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Papua New Guinea, Sri Lanka. All of them should come together and, I guess, even others.
“Though it might appeal to some voters, what are we doing … we’re exporting our problem.”
Geelong is one of Victoria’s major refugee settlement centres.
Mr Ahmadi, 23, treasures the sanctuary he has found in Australia and hopes his five siblings can join him.
“They are looking for a safe place,” he said.
“I feel very helpless here, I can’t do anything for them.”
He believes the policy shift will alarm Afghans in Australia and Pakistan, where many now live after fleeing the war torn nation, and wonders how Australia will be perceived.
“They call it humanitarian. I don’t think this will be a suitable word, it won’t be humanitarian anymore,” he said. “If we can save someone’s life then why not?”
Mr Ahmadi helps settle new refugees in Geelong through Diversitat and opened his own grocery store in Corio last month.
“Australia is good, the people are very supportive,” he said.
“The law is good, everyone feels safe.”