The detention of Australian resident Cornelia Rau, deportation of the other Australian Vivian Alvarez and unjustified detention of more than 200 Australian citizens or permanent residents have made me definitely both alert and alarmed.
I am now taking all precautions not to go out alone, I inform somebody of my whereabouts, and keep two mobile phones with me. I now carry at all times my driving licence, Medicare card, bank card, and my Australian passport... I am armed to the teeth with documents to prove that I am not “illegal”. I have also started to be very disciplined and take my place in the queue everywhere I am going to. I am even considering now getting married (or at least have a permanent girlfriend) just in order to not be alone at any time. After all, being in the wrong place at the wrong time could end up with me in the hands of DIMIA officials; then it will be difficult to locate me again for years!!
It seemed, just few years ago, that holding Australian citizenship would give a person some immunity and respect for his/her human rights, but it turned out that all these are myths from the past. Welcome to John Howard's era.
The Australians were told 8 years ago that the tightening of the detention system was designed to protect us, ensure our safety and maintain our life style, free from the barbaric uncivilized “queue jumpers” and “illegals” who will do anything to benefit from our relaxed life-style, sitting near the beach enjoying the sun while on social security benefits.
The Rau and Alvarez cases are only those that have come to the attention of the media and Parliament, and I am sure that there are more cases still hidden. Even so, they prove that this system did not protect anyone. On the contrary, it has caused great pain for citizens, endangered the lives of others, divided families and who knows what else was happening in these “camps”.
Howard's government won the last few elections on promises that it would make us secure, both physically and financially. They introduced many pieces of legislation to make Australia seems like a fortress, too hard to be penetrated.
They convinced us that Australia is under imminent danger of “Muslim” terrorists, who could even come by boats. They convinced us that there was a need to tighten “border protection” and give ASIO and other security agencies more powers to detain and terrorise people to extract information and then abort any attack on Australia.
After years of these policies what we have got?
Neither Vivian Alvarez nor Cornelia Rau are illegal. Neither condone Bin Laden's actions. Neither of them nor any of the 200 wrongly detained are illegal or “Muslim” terrorist. They are even not Muslim at all.
There are about 5,000,000 persons in Australia who speak English as a second language. All these have now discovered that they could be easily treated as Cornelia or Vivian on the basis of their English proficiency. English proficiency was always an indicator of marginalisation, but now it has became an indicator of criminality.
I must admit too that, even though I speak English very well, I now keep an English-Arabic and Arabic-English dictionary with me all times, in case I will need to show a police officer or DIMIA official that I am doing my best to learn how to speak English like them. I am a good citizen that is trying his best to get rid of the last of my criminal record by getting rid of my first language and trying my best to speak Aussie.
But what shall I do with my skin colour and dark hair? I do not want to go through what Michael Jackson went through to become more white, but should I consider this to escape persecution?!
After years of “border protection” and increasing “ASIO” powers, we discovered that we are more vulnerable and more unsafe than ever before. After years of mandatory detention of every “illegal” “queue-jumper”, we discovered that we not only not safe, but we may become “queue-jumpers” without jumping any queues and becoming “illegal” without violating any rules.
After years of dreaming of a safe prosperous life, we discover that we could end up in detention or in other country, because we are still not “Aussie”, and speak differently and look different.
What did you do to our lovely Australia, Mr Howard?
I remember when your government sent to every household the “be alert but not alarmed” kit, which cost tens of millions of dollars. You did tell us what to do if we saw suspicious things, like a person with a big beard or women with veils, but your kit did not tell us to be on high alert and alarm when dealing with DIMIA officers. The kit did not show us how to avoid deportation or detention, although we thought that we were “legal” in this beautiful country . The kit did not mention the contact numbers in case we are picked up by DIMIA officers and deported to other countries. The kit did not say that if we have a mental illness or speak little English, we must not wander in the streets alone.
How will you explain to Vivian's kids the reasons why ASIO and “border protection laws” could not protect their mum?
Perhaps it is time, after the failure of this model, to try to abolish these measures and try to protect Australia by love, humanity and respect, as we did before 1996?!!