No goodbyes for us

Marissa Ram

Posted on September 14, 2011

"Touching the Dream," watercolor on paper. (Courtesy of http://www.therefugeeartproject.com/)

“When you know people, you have to behave towards them like human beings.” – Oskar Schindler

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Politicians’ voices dominate the public discourse about forced migration, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. During my time in Sydney, I encountered very few citizens who had ever met an asylum seeker or refugee. This is not surprising, as asylum seekers comprise less than 2 percent of the country’s migration intake, and those individuals are detained upon arrival in mostly geographically isolated localities. It’s not easy to relate to invisible people whose voices aren’t heard on the nightly news.

The most powerful illustrations of the experiences of asylum seekers and refugees in Australian immigration detention centers can be found in the artwork created by the detainees themselves. Along with several colleagues, Dr. Safdar Ahmed, an artist and postdoctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, conducted art classes at Villawood Immigration Detention Center and several other detention centers around the country. Detainees from Villawood, Darwin and Christmas Island detention centers involved in the Refugee Art Project created artwork for an exhibition called “fear+hope,” which ran at Sydney’s Mori gallery from mid-June through early July of 2011. With support from the University of Sydney and Amnesty International, the show received praise from the general public, the arts community, refugee activists and even politicians.

In an interview, Dr. Ahmed told me, “We got a strong response because it was outsider art – it appealed to a broader cross-section of the community, including older-generation Jewish refugees who felt a shared connection to the [refugees’] experience. On one hand, these are powerful works of art, whilst on the other, they contribute to spreading awareness, and let the public know what’s really going on. People were in tears at the art exhibition. But the government calls everything [related to the detention centers] political. Just conveying human stories using asylum seekers’ own agency – that’s an indictment all in itself.”

The Immigration Process," pencil on paper (Courtesy of http://www.therefugeeartproject.com/)

Serco, the multinational privatized company that runs the detention centers, discourages both
employees and volunteers from talking to the media. “There was nothing in the contract [we had to sign] saying we couldn’t take out artwork created by the detainees; an officer informed us of this ‘rule’ late the game,” explained Dr. Ahmed. “This highlights the punitive and disorganized nature of detention center regulations. At the commencement of our classes, the first activities officer with whom we spoke had no problem with the idea of our taking canvases by detainees and putting them in an exhibition.”

During the last week of the show, a well-intentioned activist who attended the show gave a copy of the fear + hope catalog to Chris Bowen, Australian minister for immigration and citizenship. “We don’t know for sure that it was connected with Chris Bowen’s office,” said Dr. Ahmed, “but a few days after it was given to him, we started getting calls from Serco officers telling us that the art classes might be canceled because of the exhibition. Then we got an official letter from a Serco manager, saying our volunteer contracts had been canceled because we took artwork out of the center.” But when Dr. Ahmed called the manager, he was told something different: that the art classes were canceled because the organizers revealed information about participants.

After explaining that the organizers only used the names of detainees who had previously spoken to the media publicly, the Serco manager gave yet another explanation: “Well, you’ve been too political. As a volunteer, you’re not supposed to be involved [this way].” After confirming that they could meet in person, Dr. Ahmed’s attempts to reach the manager for three weeks were ignored. Another Serco official informed Dr. Ahmed that he and his colleagues would not be allowed back in the detention center as volunteers anymore.

The Refugee Art Project’s websitehas now been blocked from Villawood, ensuring that detainees cannot view their own artwork online.

Censorship at Villawood: Screen shot notifying Villawood detainee that http://www.therefugeeartproject.com/ is blocked for "suspicious" content (User's name has been removed)

Upon searching for the website, detainees receive a service provider notice, informing them that the content of the website has been blocked because it belongs to a “suspicious” category. (I’ve also received the same notice when trying to search for several well-known human rights websites using the computer at Villawood.)

When I inquire about the heavy-handed reaction, Dr. Ahmed informs me, “This is all about keeping stories under wraps, keeping the public ignorant and angry about ‘boat people’ and ‘illegals’ and [encouraging] that reactive prejudice. [The government is] taking the most helpless people in the world and detaining them for [years] when their families aren’t safe at home. If people knew what was going on, they would be outraged. The cancelation of the art classes indicates the paranoia the government and Serco officials feel about having the public know what’s really going on here.”

The asylum seekers I worked with at Villawood were never “boat people” or “queue jumpers” to me. Then again, I’m not Australian, so those terms aren’t ones I’m accustomed to hearing. The men and women living within the walls of these compounds are clients, yes, but they’ve also become my friends. Most are about my age, and while I’ve never had to overcome the obstacles they have faced, we still have much in common.

"The Sri Lankan War," acrylic on canvas. (Courtesy of http://www.therefugeeartproject.com/)

Many readers have asked, “Why is the concept of ‘queue jumping’ such a hot-button issue for Australians?” In short, the concepts of “freedom and a fair go” are etched deep in the Australian national consciousness. Central to these values is the idea of the “queue,” operating under the principle of “first come, first served.” Ideally, the queue operates in an impartial manner, ensuring that each person has the same opportunity to receive the desired service, depending only on his or her place and preparedness to wait in line, as Katharine Gelber, human rights scholar and honorary professor at the University of New South Wales, has written.

Most of the arguments the anti-asylum crowd puts forth accuse asylum seekers of “jumping the queue,” even though these men, women and children are legally entitled to seek asylum this way under the U.N. Refugee Convention, which Australia signed and even helped write. Australia generously voluntarily resettles refugees from UNHCR camps. These two groups often get conflated, but the resettlement program does not preclude Australia’s responsibilities to process asylum seekers that are indeed arriving legally on their shores.

These arguments don’t change the reality: Fellow human beings have fled their homes and traveled to Australia’s shores. Fearing persecution, they are asking for help, but the government wants to deny them entry. Listening to the political debate about these “queue jumpers,” it seems that we’re afraid of asylum seekers because they are so different from us.

But maybe we’re actually afraid because they’re too similar. If you have to look someone in the face, converse with them, hear their stories, listen to them talk about their family, you have to acknowledge their humanity.

"Perception and Reality," digital image (Courtesy of http://www.therefugeeartproject.com/)

It makes it harder to ignore them, to harden yourself against this “other person,” much harder to demonize them for doing what they felt they had to do. Khalil Gibran wrote, “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.” Acknowledging people’s humanity and understanding their suffering doesn’t feel good. It hurts. It’s easier to convince yourself that it’s something people deserve and if you’d have been in their place, you would have handled things differently.

On my last two nights at Villawood, I remain at the compounds until the end of visiting hours. It’s still Ramadan and on both nights, I am invited to share in the iftar evening meal when Muslim detainees here will break their day’s fast. Visitors, most of them former Villawood detainees who were declared refugees and released, bring hot food to share with the asylum seekers still here, people who became their family while in detention. On both nights, I feel as though I’m witnessing a strangely perfect moment during these community dinners – a time at Villawood where I see these people, who have suffered so much, truly happy.

Painting I received from a Villawood asylum seeker, made with instant coffee powder on paper.

After dinner at the Stage 2&3 visitor center, one of my friends, a brilliant artist featured heavily in the fear+hope exhibition, hands me a going away present. It’s a beautiful portrait, painted with instant coffee powder. Lacking proper materials now that the classes have been canceled, he’s placed it in a plastic bread bag to keep it from being damaged. This is the same painting I’ll guard fanatically on my flight back to San Francisco, after bossily instructing the Sydney airport officials conducting my “random” security check “not to touch it.”

The next evening, at the Stage 1 maximum-security compound, I have iftar with a big group. One young man hands me a bag filled with containers of food – his dinner. I protest that I can’t take it. He insists, adamant. It’s my present, he explains. Later, on the train ride home, I’ll find a thank-you letter inside the bag, one that his friend helped him write in English.

The guards let us know that visiting hours are over. We don’t say goodbye, only that we hope we’ll meet again someday outside the walls of Villawood. As contradictory as it sounds, I have found inspiration and hope from my friends here, in this place where such injustice exists. Their resiliency and courage kept me going. No matter where life takes us, I’ll still be standing by their side as they seek justice and recognition.

“There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

 

Source

The Human Centipede – “John Harris” Exposed

What you’re about to read may be somewhat humorous and light-hearted, but at the root of it all are matters of the utmost grave seriousness. For a long time now, anti-racists have been attacked for expressing their freedom of speech – the freedom to oppose discrimination. Activists and their families have been threatened, property has been damaged, dead animals have been left in letterboxes and defamation has occurred at the hands of people behind fake profiles.

For a long time, we have argued the difference between what we do at our website, and what detractors do is in their response. When a person posts a racist comment on a publicly accessible webpage, we see no issue with re-posting it. After all, that person had no issues of attaching their name and photo to their hateful comments in a public forum in the first place, so it seems unusual that they would ever want us to remove our reference to them. But the next part is less clear to the haters:

Not one single antibogan author has ever attached a name to what is said here, and that’s not because what you see here is illegal. It is because discriminators have a history of taking the fight beyond the discussion grounds – to the anti-discriminator’s family, workplace and friends. Not one single antibogan author has ever attached their workplace to what is said here, and that’s not because there is anything here that would bring any company into disrepute. In fact, the overwhelming percentage of workplaces in Australia have anti-discrimination policies in place, and nearly always oppose racism. We don’t state our workplaces because they don’t deserve to be contacted and harrassed by psychotic neo-nazi white supremacists who take issue with race and culture equality being the norm in our country. Finally, at no point in time has a mirrored TAB website been opened, showcasing the discriminatory comments of those who come and visit here. That’s because people who oppose discrimination simply aren’t stupid enough to make potentially career-ending comments in a public forum. And THAT is the difference.

The evidence below will show that defamation has indeed occurred, at the hands of people who never believed they would be found out. The focus of this post is on the defamation of this website’s alleged creator – a school teacher with a history of activism in anti-discrimination.

If you’re an investigator, a journalist, a local member, a police officer or an interested party, the names you need to remember, the names of the people behind the hate pages and the names of the people who will be answerable are as follows:

Sandra Rogic aka Sandy Mitchell, Paul Toohey aka Alan Toohey, Scott Neale (APDM infamy) and Trilby Steinberger.

There are many more who have acted alongside these lowlifes, including Darryl Rock aka Shockadelic, Chris Merrett, Marina Chapman and Dave Allen to name just a few.

And now, on with the show…

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It’s Academy Award time again and we have a perfect plot for a film noir – depending on whether you prefer film noir or grindhouse that is.

So let’s unveil the plot.

Two bearded unprepossessing bums meet up with a glamorous vamp. Since neither vaudeville villain has the brains to find their own arses without considerable help, she persuades them to run an extortion racket online, targeting anti-racists by bullying and intimidation. They do this by a series of fake profiles armed with pictures stolen from people’s Facebook pages.

Movie Poster

Every dark melodrama queen needs to have an underlying motive. It could be revenge for love gone wrong, some imagined or real disadvantage, an imagined or real slight or nothing in particular at all. In fact watching the film noir bad girls of old as played by Bette Davis or Joan Crawford, today’s well-informed movie buff usually concludes quite correctly that the women they played were psychologically unhinged.

The  “theme” or “rationale”  if you can use such a word, is that racists and bigots have the right to spew their hatred on a public forum without any consequences for their action and that when action is taken then they are entitled to use illicit means to take revenge. The fact that vilification of minorities is illegal seems to have escaped this particular bunny boiler and her clown car conspirators because it is all about a profound sense of entitlement.

And where did the title come from? Well that should be obvious, though we have heard suggestion it should have been titled The Tripolar Hoop Snake – but unlike the grindhouse cult film of the same name no coercion is involved in the creation of this bottom-feeder – none whatsoever. The gleesome threesome happily hook up in a row for emotional chow time.

Stars love publicity, so let’s first take a peek at these stars in their brief mini-biographies.

SANDRA MITCHELL ROGIC

Sandy as she is popularly known lives in a coastal area of south-eastern Queensland where vicious predatory sharks are sometimes sighted. They are also sighted in the water.

Sandy loves walks on the beach, communicating with her fellow performers on Facebook and all things Serbian. Why Serbian? Whatever floats your boat Sandy…

It started with this

Personally we love Novak Djokovic, detest Slobodan Milosevic.

ма шта!

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 PAUL TOOHEY

Paul TooheyPaul Toohey, journeyman wall and floor tiler who apparently enjoys the ambience of the Newcastle area when not in featured parts in cinematic vehicles,  known to the police, is the old fart elder statesman of the Pathetic Party and close friend to failed Fascist ideologue Darrin Hodges and failed political candidate future Prime Minister Nicholas Folkes. Last seen in the film  The Alamo where he reprises the John Wayne role in an action adventure set at Villawood Detention Centre. That film premiered on Sunday and shows the veteran fighter trying to hold back millions of asylum seekers  while valiantly standing his ground against armed-to-the-teeth militant terrorists a score or so of amused uni students.

Paul has undergone a rejuvenation in the last couple of years thanks to some snazzy barbering and a natty line in T shirts. Does this have anything to do with his alleged visits to a dating site?

Paul clearly enjoys his stint as “John Harris” and has also explored other roles, especially playing the roles of what he and Rogic imagine the anti-racists are like. This has involved among other things pretending to be a Muslim woman, obviously with one of his obsessions passionate interests in mind.

For we have heard that Paul is of somewhat a religious bent and has lately taken a keen interest in Hunter Valley houses of worship, both old and new. We expect to be able to look at his new interest in more detail soon.

SCOTT NEALE

Scott NealeScott Neale , also from the arse end of Queensland, also well acquainted with the constabulary, likes the simple life and frequently moves from place to place. Scott was heavily featured in fellow Queenslander Darren Morris-Bailey’s last film APDM Streetfighter but seems to have cut ties with the martial arts star and launched a newer, more literary direction in his work. As “John Harris” Scott Neale brings his own unique variety of boofhead idiocy quiet strength to this role.

Now all good movies  need a series of trailers to titillate the audience. Sit back and relax as we run you through these entertainment gems from the theatrical release.

Debbie and John Harris

Here you can see the Centipede’s keen interest in Indigenous Australians unfold – an important plot device for later in this production. You also get to see some of the supporting players in this ensemble cast showcased such as former Eastern European erotic star Michelle Johnson in a cameo role.

Intimate moment

Think of this as an intimate  moment between Paul and Scott. Some film critics have already compared their on-screen chemistry to that between the  protagonists in Brokeback Mountain.

Fuck TAB group

Intimate moment

Harris & Rogic

We are not sure who is occupying the John Harris suit in this intimate exchange he/they is/are having with their dominatrix, where they seem to be obsessed with a man dressed in a bear suit for a school fete. Truly a Fellini moment. Or something.

Our Revenge group

Another appearance from the man in the bear suit. Does it symbolise something akin to the bear in Hotel New Hampshire? Or more likely is it the consequence of the John Harris duo having visited another kind of hotel? We believe the lads both enjoy that immensely.

Sandy the fake lesbian

Alongside alcohol, the driving force seems to be menthol cigarettes. It certainly is for Debbie O’ Donnell, The Centipede’s resident fake lesbian. Is this some sort of code? Or is it supposed to indicate eroticism? What happens if “John Harris” has a headache? Do they butt out?

Distortions with Michelle and Shonk

A guest appearance from Shockadelic, everyone’s favourite boulevardier, the Noel Coward of Chippendale, touching base with Porn Queen and adding some chain-store psychology to the mix. Told you when we talk about this being a psychological thriller that the psychological refers to the florid neuro-processes of the main protagonists.

Nutzis working together

We think they were discussing the sexuality of the bear. Furries were not exactly an area which was explored in great detail in the classic films noir of old. But if the John Harris trio boys want a bit of plush porno then who are we to stop them? It certainly gets them heated up – CAPITAL LETTERS and all.

Spoof page1

Here’s a segment showing the template for one of their gay fake profiles. We were surprised “John Harris” knew so much about what gay people are supposed to like. Then again perhaps we weren’t surprised.

Harris the picture stealer

In a rare burst of heterosexual interest the fellas then decided to put up a picture of a woman who happened to be Muslim. The sheer weight of lewd interest in this cleverly executed scene shows the strain it places on the mental resources of Ma Harris’s boys as they struggle to spell difficult English words like “liar” and “yes”. But such a poignant moment of vulnerability.

Meanwhile, in a cunning bit of product placement, the admin of this group decided to post up a disclaimer. You could almost call this a The Usual Suspects moment.

Denial from Trilby

And now, if you can stomach it, feel free to peruse the collected evidence of the attempts to paint a school teacher anti-discrimination activist as a gay, transsexual paedophile psychopath. The journey begins with the lowest of acts – ‘John Harris’ creating a fake profile of the teacher and adding all of the students from his school and communicating with them both publicly and privately in an incredibly inappropriate, grooming kinda way.

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More from elsewhere

The Vampire (Batty) Chronicles

Village of the Damned

Of all the stupid things

Extortion is an ugly word

Paul Toohey: Proud Australian; Hates Homosexuals; Abuses Police Officers

The Antibogan Is (still) Racist…

Should we name and shame online racists?