Saturday, January 26, 2008

COMMENT: Ordinary Australians, extraordinary stories ...

One of the great things about Melbourne is its newspaper, The Age. And this Australia Day edition is no exception. Under the heading “Looking at the bigger picture”, a number of Age writers profile ordinary Australians with extraordinary stories.

They include a farmer, an AFL player, an activist for seniors and a surf lifesaver. But also rating a mention is my good pal Constable Maha Sukkar, whose name apparently means “very sweet” in Indonesian. I doubt some of those she arrests would agree.

Also profiled are a probationary constable Nadia Hammoud, youth worker Nadia Mohamed and SIEV-X survivor Faris Shohani.

About Faris, The Age writes ...

Mr Shohani’s life as a non-citizen began when, at the age of 13, his family was deported to Iran from Iraq. He is a survivor of the SIEV-X tragedy of October 2001, when 354 asylum seekers perished when their overcrowded boat sank en route to Australia. Among those who drowned were his wife, Leyla, and daughter, Zahra.

Other members of his family, including his mother, Fadilha, and son, Ali, had been on another boat and were in the Woomera detention centre when they were told of the tragedy.

While most of the 45 survivors were swiftly offered permanent protection in other countries, those such as Shohani with relatives in Australia had to wait almost nine months in Jakarta before he was reunited with his mother and son and afforded just temporary protection.

When The Age first met him in October 2002, his depression was palpable. Compounding the grief, and the conviction that the truth about the tragedy had not been told, was his temporary status.

"I have no hope, no future," he said. "I belong nowhere."
Well now, Mr Shohani, you belong to the big family of Australians. We’re sorry you had to go through that kind of suffering to reach this far And we as a nation are very fortunate to have you among us.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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