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In search of Australian values

By Irfan Yusuf - posted Monday, 8 October 2007

A young Sudanese man is bashed senseless near his home in the Melbourne suburb of Noble Park. Eighteen-year-old Liep Gony suffers severe head injuries, and is discovered by local residents on a nature strip. He is rushed to hospital where, within a few hours, he succumbs to his injuries.

Heaven only knows how Martha Ojulo, Gony's mother, must have felt upon receiving the news that her son had had his life snatched from him at such a young age. No doubt she'd have heard of other mothers experiencing such trauma in war-torn Sudan.

In a sensitively written report, Holly Lloyd-McDonald of the Melbourne Herald-Sun wrote of the civil war-torn Sudan this refugee family left behind: men are slaughtered in front of their children, babies are ripped from their mothers' arms and those who dodge the violence walk for days seeking sanctuary, shelter and ultimately peace.


Young Liep was studying at TAFE, pursuing the Australian dream like so many other eager immigrants. His family's response was summed up by his uncle Eanak Joshua as reported in The Age: "We hope the police are able to find out who is behind this and deliver justice."

A young man pursuing further study in an environment of freedom. A mother grieving upon his death. A family refusing to take the law into their own hands. Yet the response from the Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews is to accuse Sudanese and other African refugee families like this one of not integrating into Australian society.

In an interview with Melbourne talkback host Neil Mitchell, Andrews referred to information and media reports that suggested there were problems with Sudanese and other African refugees. He claimed that settlement wasn't occurring at the rate that occurred with other refugee and other migrant groups in Australia.

Hardly 18 months ago, the Prime Minister, John Howard, made similar claims about Muslim migrants. He claimed that Muslims posed greater challenges to Australia's social cohesion than any other migrant group. Not surprisingly, Howard is supporting Andrews and is claiming that the decision not to allow any further African refugees is not about racism.

Yet all the reasons used by Andrews echo those used by Howard in 1988 when he called for a reduction in immigration from Indo-China. Refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and other countries have suffered similar experiences to Sudanese and other African refugees. Howard's lack of compassion toward these Australians, many of whom have settled in his electorate, could cost him dearly at the next election. Howard has rarely shown much sophistication in his understanding of Australia's non-Western cultures.

One of his former staffers, conservative columnist Gerard Henderson, commented on this in The Age on May 25, 2004. Henderson wrote of the "one significant blot on [Howard's] record in public life a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom he does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the late 1980s and asylum seekers in the early 21st century."


It is true. Refugees, by definition, are chronic non-integrators. They have fled their homes, jobs, family and friends. They seek asylum from oppressive regimes to whom they refuse to surrender. Refugees risk their lives to avoid integrating into societies that tolerate (albeit reluctantly) dictatorship, xenophobia and persecution on the basis of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Now, it seems, Andrews is refusing to allow further refugees from Africa due to the very reasons proscribed under the Refugee Convention.

To make matters worse, Andrews seems to lack any empirical evidence to show that Sudanese and other refugees integrate any worse than other migrant groups.

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First published in The Canberra Times on October 5, 2007.

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About the Author

Irfan Yusuf is a New South Wales-based lawyer with a practice focusing on workplace relations and commercial dispute resolution. Irfan is also a regular media commentator on a variety of social, political, human rights, media and cultural issues. Irfan Yusuf's book, Once Were Radicals: My Years As A Teenage Islamo-Fascist, was published in May 2009 by Allen & Unwin.

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