Thursday, February 19, 2009

Homeland at last!

At last, Nasser Mubarak got citizenship after 60 years of statelessness. He became Australian citizen this week. As if the good news comes together for purpose. This week also saw him retiring on disability pension. At last he can put all his sufferings behind his back and start sleeping with eyes closed fully.

Nasser, who is widely known by friends and relatives as Abu Khaled, is a clear example of the cruelty of the Australian immigration system. Abu Khaled did not get citizenship so easy. To get to this week’s celebration, he needed to go through the whole inhumane immigration system of this beautiful country.

He was detained immediately after his arrival to Sydney airport. He spent more than 3 years behind razor wires in Villawood detention centre. The same detention that gave him the access to early pension this week. I will explain this later on.

He arrived to this “Five Star Detention” (as he would humorously call Villawood, after a Daily Telegraph article on Feb 2003), with no illnesses. After few years there, he started to suffer from hypertension, diabetes and mental-related illnesses including deep depression and anxiety.

The notorious former immigration minister, Phillip Ruddock, insisted that he is not a refugee. But at the same time, the department could not find any country on this planet to deport him to. Regardless, he was required to wait in detention until solution could be found. It was not clear what the minister was waiting for: change of international order or simply death of this “unwanted queue jumper”.

I started to know him since 2001, when I started to regularly visit Villawood. It was not until Akram Almasry successfully challenged the legality of this indefinite detention system, before his release. But even his release was meant by the department to be very cruel and most inhumane.

He was released with no rights at all. No right to work, no right to study, no right for Medicare, and no right even for photo ID. All what he was given was a plain piece of paper stating that he is “unlawful citizen”, no picture attached. It was meant to keep him and his suffering anonymous. Ruddock was master in committing crimes, and master in hiding them.

He lived with this piece of picture-free letter of “status notification” on hope that the new minister/s will look at his long-suffering with more humane way. Until he received a letter from the new minister, Kevin Andrews, stating that “Australia has no obligation to find him a solution”. This meant for him that he will be imprisoned at-large in Australia, until he will die. This also meant that he will never see his wife and 10 sons and daughters living overseas.

I remembered when he came to see me to show me the minister’s letter and ask for our help. He was so depressed and devastated that he told me “I am finished now. Please help me to at least get out from this country”.

Indeed he was stuck in this country. As stateless, when he left Kuwait, he lost his right to go back to live in that country again. And without valid passport, no other country will grant him visa to travel to. He was really stuck in Australia, indefinitely.

It was just before the last election, 2007. The minister was just too arrogant, or maybe naïve. Or maybe it is mixture of both: naivety because of arrogance.

The Social Justice Network needed to campaign for less than a month, before the minister gave up and offered “olive branch”. The minister was so desperate to stop our campaign, that he did not know what kind of visa to grant Abu Khaled. After going to Centrelink, Abu Khaled was told that he was granted carer visa, and he needed to name the person in his care. And nobody knows how old person with so many disabilities, can care for any. He needed someone to care for him. The minister was in so much hurry, that he granted him the very wrong visa type.

The system was very cruel, that Abu Khaled was retired, at the same time he was accepted as Australians. We are very sure that without this cruel inhumane system, Abu Khaled could work for Australia, at least for a decade. The criminal immigration system did not only cost us (as tax-payers) hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep this poor man detained. But it also costs us now hundreds of thousands of dollars caring (and treating) this disabled (because-of-the-system).

Abu Khaled is very happy now. He is citizen now. He has certificate to prove this now. And soon, he will have passport. He will travel to see his family members. We are happy too. We defeated the system, again. We defeated the minister and his department of mainly bureaucrats without heart or feelings. And we will celebrate this victory this coming Sunday. And we will keep our fight for better Australia. Also, we gained other member in our group. Abu Khaled whispered today in my ears: “I am with you in your fight against the system. You have my vote and support”

Abu Khaled: welcome to Australia.

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