Afghan refugees seek practical help

Jewel Topsfield; 21/3/09;

Afghan refugees may have escaped the oppressive Taliban regime, survived dangerous journeys at sea and endured months in detention, but the last thing many want when they come to Australia is counselling. “Counselling doesn’t work for my community, they are reminded of what happened in their life. They are crying,” says social worker Gulghotai Wahidi. “Women need activities … something to forget about what happened in their past.”Ms Wahidi is one of 41 Afghans whose settlement experiences are told in a profile launched this week by the South Eastern Region Migrant Resource Centre, which helps services meet Afghans’ needs.

See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/afghan-refugees-seek-practical-help-20090320-94hx.html

Born in a North Korean labour camp
Daniel Flitton; 21/3/09
A life sentence hung over Shin Dong-hyuk, who was born in prison in 1982. Locked in a forced labour camp, hidden from the world inside North Korea, his father and mother were permitted to marry as a reward for hard work, he says. Together only a few days and then forced apart, his parents saw each other rarely as a perverse favour doled out by their tormenters. Their two sons grew up in No. 14 Political Prison Camp. Mr Shin stayed with his mother, though she worked from before dawn to night. A modern-day slave, he ate mostly dull corn soup and salted cabbage, tended pigs on a farm and made clothes in a factory. When he was 14, the guards hung his mother and shot his brother in front of the other prisoners, while he was burnt by hot coals and had the tip of his finger cut off — punishment for a suspected escape plan. Almost 10 years later, he finally did escape to a world without walls. Mr Shin’s story cannot be verified as North Korea remains largely isolated, but human rights activists point to his sorry tale to highlight the dire problems afflicting the country.
See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/born-in-a-north-korean-labour-camp-20090320-94hw.html

Tears flow after show of kindness
21/3/09
Hamed Bah, an African teenager in Dandenong, has been in The Age before. That was just after Christmas when he told his extraordinary story of how he lost everything in war and turmoil and was trying to build a new life in Melbourne. When Hamed was six, in 1996, his parents were killed by rebels in Sierra Leone. In front of him. With a brother and sister-in-law he fled and lived destitute in neighbouring Guinea, in a slum, until he was 15. Then he found himself in multicultural Dandenong as a refugee, living in a flat, going to school and supporting himself with a job in a fruit stall at the local market.When he spoke to us he wasn’t asking for charity.
See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/tears-flow-after-show-of-kindness-20090320-94hv.html

Call to respect migrant rights
Jewel Topsfield; 21/3/09
Australians need to guard against resentment and antipathy towards migrants and refugees as competition for jobs increases due to the weakening economy, the Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs has warned. On the eve of Harmony Day, Laurie Ferguson also attacked employers who discriminate against new migrants because they lack local work experience. “Some employers think that someone who worked in an Australian factory for five weeks five years ago is a better guarantee than someone who has worked for 15 years in another country,” Mr Ferguson said. “That’s just an incredible attitude and I hope it’s changing.”
See: http://www.theage.com.au/national/call-to-respect-migrant-rights-20090320-94hy.html

Nowhere to turn or hide
Connie Levett; 21/3/09
A Burmese Muslim minority is fleeing persecution and exploitation by the Burmese junta, but is being enslaved in Thailand and Malaysia. Safi slotted in under the fake kerosene cans in the back of a pick-up truck, packed in with 13 other men like sardines. For a day and half he lay there, without food or water, while the driver played hide and seek with police road blocks across southern Thailand. Desperately thirsty, his only water was wrung from his sweat-soaked T-shirt. The pick-up truck finally dumped him with 80 other men at a house ringed by high cement walls, barbed wire and armed guards in the jungle near Sungai Kolok on the Thai-Malaysian border. He says he could hear other Rohingya voices beyond the wall and believes others were being held there.
See: http://www.smh.com.au/world/nowhere-to-turn-or-hide-20090320-94ex.html

From Under a Leaky Roof –  Phil Sparrow; Fremantle Arts Centre Press; 2005, pp 92-95
Interviews with other Afghans, refugees and established members of the community confirm the content and intent of the above.
When interviewed, EL had his own interpretation of this meeting, stating that he spoke out in favour of two types of refugees — women and children who need assistance, and those who come ‘legally’ — meaning sponsored; but that he spoke against a third type of refugee — ‘those who are not who they claim to be’.
Certainly amongst the Afghan asylum seekers there have been some Pakistanis claiming to be Afghans — Tafghans’, as one DIMIA official has referred to them. It is not yet clear what percentage of those arriving in Australia by boat in the period 1998-2001 may have claimed to be of another nationality.
Determining ‘nationality’ is a complex process, exacerbated for several reasons.
– Firstly, asylum seekers often have been itinerant refugees over a long period of time, moving between several countries and regions.
– Secondly, birthplace is not the same as nationality.
– Thirdly, formal records are the absolute exception rather than the norm in Afghanistan and parts of Pakistan; and finally, asylum seekers may have genuine claims on refuge even if they have ‘lied’ or been confused about their nationality.
That is, their history of persecution may well be quite valid.
EL didn’t think so: EL, 21 November 2002 (Pashtun; English)
EL: But some of these group, which is not originally from Afghanistan, they coming by different name, even their name is different. Actually for us, it is very difficult to deal with them, because we don’t know about [them].
That is why our organisation have special consultation, not leave it [ignore the issue], as to be making increase our number. We want quality, not number, that is why [when] I don’t know about the person, their family, their personality, their background we not accept them …
PS: In your opinion, if there is, for example, a hundred refugees who come here, saying ‘I am Afghan, help me,’ how many of those do you think might really be from Afghanistan, and how many might be from Pakistan?
EL: The real Afghan, about twenty people.
PS: Really? That few? Only twenty per cent?
EL: Yes, and we have proof as well.
PS: So maybe many, many more are in fact Pakistanis?
EL: All is different country, they got courses in Pakistan, they got information, they learn the Dari language, that is why is good business for Immigration, for case managers, for translators — not one of them is telling the truth to the government … I wrote the letters [to the government about this], but I am sure they are not Afghani. No.
PS: So that is interesting, because in Western Australia there are about seven hundred people who have TPVs, and in your estimate, maybe eighty per cent of those people are not Afghans.
EL: Yes. And we [my organisation] also not accept the people who have criminal record and they did something wrong, they [those who] destroyed the country and they run away … they always mention Taliban problem, today is not Taliban there. Taliban government is finished.
What else they have some problem, they should talk about their problem.”
PS: EL took pains to tell me at length of the atrocities committed by Hazaras against Pashtun and Sunni peoples.
Though he did acknowledge there were some ‘nice Hazaras’, clearly he considered the attention being given to Hazara persecution excessive and biased.
As the interview drew to a close, he revealed that ‘I also have film evidence of Hazara people, what they did to Pashtun and Sunni people.’
This he was planning to translate and submit to DIMIA.

New Home, New Hope – Somalis in Australia
Drewe Warne-Smith; 21/3/09; The Australian, Weekend Magazine; No Internet Text
On a warm November evening in 2007, a police van on a routine patrol of Flemington, in Melbourne’s inner north, was hit by a rock as it passed a public housing estate on Racecourse Road. The estate, a series of high-rise blocks wedged between the M2 overpass and Flemington Hill, is home to a largely migrant community of about 5000, many of them African refugees. The police did a U-turn and entered the grounds, where they approached an 18-year-old Eritrean, Mubarek Mussa. But on a night when yet another grim chapter would be written in the story of African resettlement in Australia, what happened next depends on whom you ask.
Police say Mussa became “abusive” when questioned, so they arrested him. Another African teenager then “attacked” them, so they arrested him too. And when hordes of residents flooded out of the flats and surrounded police – a threatening crowd that swelled within minutes to more than 100, many trying to free the boys – the officers called for back-up.
Soon more than 15 units had arrived, sirens blaring. Capsicum spray hung thick in the air. Women cried and screamed. Two more arrests were made. One police officer was hospitalised with suspected broken ribs.
But if the police called it a riot, and much of the media too, the Africans who live on the estate – mostly from Somalia and other war-torn nations in the Horn of Africa, in the northeast of the continent – were left lamenting the most vivid example yet of the intolerance and misunderstanding they perceive in the country that shelters them.
The local Africans say Mussa, an apprentice chef, was wrongly accused of throwing the rock. He was then “harassed”, thrown to the ground, “kicked”. Mussa’s young relative protested, so he was “bashed” too. The crowd was nothing like a hundred, they say; most were women and children, but the police officers panicked and the reinforcements they called only inflamed the conflict.
But no matter which version of events you believe, the Remington “riot” – which occurred just six weeks after the Howard government’s decision to cut the intake of African refugees, and following a series of horrific crimes involving Somali and Sudanese youth – seemed to confirm the fear that this latest wave of new Australians might never settle in. More than a year later – after an African schoolboy allegedly stabbed another to death in broad daylight in central Adelaide – the fear lingers.
For more than half a century Australia has accommodated people who have fled from every riven corner . of the globe, and in time our country reflected them too. But is Africa a mission too far? Is the divide – in culture, religion and sheer, bloody, traumatising experience – top great to bridge? What hope is there of finding common ground?
It’s with those questions in mind that I stand on the steps of that same Flemington high-rise apartment block.
I have come to spend the next few days with the largest African community in this corner of Melbourne, the Somalis.
Ahmed Jama was upstairs the night of the so-called race riot, peering out the window of the apartment he shares with his sister and wondering what had caused the shouting and the sirens. There was a time when he would have raced downstairs and waded in too, unblinking and unafraid. But on this night, Jama chose to stay at home.
He shrugs when I ask why he didn’t join in. Standing in the misty rain, wearing a Converse hoodie and baggy jeans, the lanky 25-year-old says he’s learnt that “there’s another way”.
Jama came to Australia in 1996, aged 12, with his mother, four brothers and three sisters. Like so many Somalis, his family had fled the capital, Mogadishu, after the civil war erupted in 1991. He remembers sitting on the crowded roof of a truck as it drove south towards Kenya, dead bodies littering the side of the road.
They were five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, awaiting asylum; a camp where rape and theft were commonplace and school comprised 50 kids in a room with one adult. His father was killed by Kenyan soldiers near the Somali border in 1993. He doesn’t know how or why.
Landing in Australia, a place his friends at the camp had teased him was “the last place on Earth”, Jama felt disarmed. Literally. No one was holding a gun. And no one looked scared, either. People seemed free to do anything and say anything, not that he could understand them.
Less than a year later, after studying English for six months at a language centre, he was sent to high school in Brunswick, placed in Year 7 according to his age. He could barely understand the teacher, let alone learn or contribute. Embarrassed, resentful, he began wagging days.
Soon he was hanging out with other African kids doing the same. Ignoring his mother’s pleas, he dropped out altogether in Year 9, then returned to school but never got as far as Year 11. He didn’t attend the mosque either, nor say his prayers. And he began drinking alcohol, a taboo in Islamic culture.
Then came the nightclubs and the fights. Stealing. Run-ins with police. A 5cm scar over his right eyebrow tells of being glassed in a brawl at a club in Ringwood. But Jama wasn’t scared of what he’d seen in Africa. He had no father, no discipline, no moral compass, and not much hope either. He had cut loose from his own culture and he had little hope of embracing a new one. Within Melbourne’s Somali community, Ahmed Jama became known as one of the Lost Ones.
So the community leaders did the one thing they felt might bring him back into the fold – a tactic that has become increasingly common among Somali-Australians when young men lose their way, and increasingly controversial, too, given the fears that al-Qai’da might have a foothold in Somalia. In 2002, he was sent back home – to the same bloodied country he had fled only a few years before.
In 1991 – the year that Somali president Siad Barre was toppled by a collection of clan-based militias, triggering a civil war that has still not abated – there were 300 Somalis in Australia. Today, as a result of our humanitarian program, that number has swelled to about 16,000, according to community estimates. (The 2006 census recorded 10,700 people born in Somalia or with parents who were). But as I discover later that afternoon in a cluttered office in Clayton South, half an hour southeast of the CBD, this diaspora, mostly based around Melbourne, is no less divided along clan lines than Somalia itself.
The office belongs to Aden Ibrahim, who is secretary of the Somali-Australian Council of Victoria, the umbrella organisation representing all Somalis in Victoria. Short, a little squat and softly spoken, Ibrahim is an IT consultant who went to university in Italy and came to Australia in 1986.
As Ibrahim explains, while it is not often publicly acknowledged, Somali clans have claimed different corners of their adopted city.
From his desk he produces a hand-drawn diagram that details the four major tribes and the suburbs they are based in – the Daarood in Flemington, Hawiye in Heidelberg, his own Dir clan around Dandenong and Noble Park, and the Rahanwayn in Broadmeadows.
“A Somali is loyal to his clan before any court, before marriage, before any other loyalty,” Ibrahim, 48, says. “It’s like the military – the general gives the order and that’s it. That’s what you have to understand.”
While inter-clan violence is rare in Melbourne, Ibrahim admits tensions among them are not, especially between the Daarood – aligned with the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) – and the Hawiye, the core of the Sharia -law-supporting Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which overthrew the TFG in 2004, prompting the TFG to call in the Ethiopian military to reclaim the ascendency.
With expats following news from home on the Hiiraan Online website, Ibrahim says it leads to fadhi ku dirir – “fighting while seated” – a heated argument about clan politics, usually in a restaurant, between members of opposing clans who stay in their chairs.
But if the sit-down fighting can be cathartic, for Ibrahim this obsession with clans also reflects a retreat to culture among first-generation refugees that has made settling into Australia almost impossible.
It means new arrivals move into troubled neighbourhoods to be close to their clan, perpetuating a fractured community and the problems that plague them. It also divides families as the first generation cling to traditions that bear little relevance to the lives of their children who have grown up here. Ibrahim sees it all the time: the father who is resented by his children for never letting them watch TV or listen to pop music; the mother who serves anjeera (a plain pancake that’s a staple food in Somalia) three times a day for kids who’ve discovered Subway or Nando’s.
The parents who forbid their children from moving out of home before they marry, even though they are over 18.
After I leave, Ibrahim will visit a married couple at loggerheads over the wife’s desire to study. The husband expects her to remain a mother and cook, and to respect his primacy in the home, as is the Somali way; the wife sees the equality afforded women in Australia and wants the same.
“It is common here to have these troubles, especially with the role of the woman,” he says.
Even more concerning, though, are the claims that some parents persevere with the abhorrent practice of female circumcision, despite the intervention of community leaders.
The issue is considered a taboo and Ibrahim is loath to discuss it, but another local leader, whose task is to advise families against circumcising their daughters, tells me that it happens “continuously”.
The leader, who asks to remain anonymous, says that rather than break the law here in Australia, a daughter, as young as five years old, is sent back to Somalia for the procedure.
The family says the girl is going to Malaysia or Europe for a holiday with a relative, and she returns several months later.
But for all these cultural tensions, whether revealed in barbaric rituals or banal domestic disputes, Ibrahim believes the most significant hurdle for Somali refugees is a tragic consequence of the civil war: the number of mothers left to raise children on their own. Like Ahmed Jama’s mum.
About a quarter of all Somalis in Victoria – about 4000 – live in a family without a father, according to research by the Somali Australian Council of Victoria.
“The fathers are dead, or fighting, or they left Australia to return to Somalia, or they work overseas. And there is a tendency for teenagers in those families to become lost,” Ibrahim says.
“They’re bored, there’s no control in the home, they challenge authority and that’s where the trouble starts. And it’s happening across all the clans.”
It’s an issue close to Ibrahim’s heart. One of his brothers returned to Somalia, and soon his nephews were staying up late and skipping school. So Ibrahim, himself a father of four boys, took the boys away from their mother to live with him and another uncle.
“No one wanted them to become lost,” he says. “We couldn’t wait until it was too late.”
The heavens are opening as I am ushered inside a modest suburban home in Chadstone, the driving rain almost drowning out the polite hello offered by Abdulle Hussein, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Somali Army. Hussein, 63, is a powerful man now stooped with age, his beard dyed a bright orange by henna as is custom for older Somali men.
He directs me into the lounge room where an ornate blood-red and gold couch extends around three of the four walls, the only decoration a painting of Mecca. His wife, Shukri, remains in the kitchen, sending out one of their five children with a tray bearing fragrant Somali coffee and biscuits.
The story of their finding a life in Australia is for Abdulle to tell.
He and Shukri had three children under four years old when they fled the Baidoa region, northwest of Mogadishu, in 1991.
For three days and three nights they walked without stopping, until they reached Ethiopia about 140km away. Soon after, their youngest son died from illness in the suffocating heat. They buried him and kept walking.
Six months and 4000km later they wandered into a refugee camp in Kenya, where they waited two years until being accepted into Australia.
Hussein glances at his 15-year-old son Said, sitting quietly in the corner. “They have no idea what it took to come here,” he says, without any trace of sadness or bitterness. Such hardship is unremarkable among those who came here.
Another family, I’m told, lost two sons escaping Somalia. A militia group kidnapped the eldest – being old enough to carry a gun – and they never saw him again. A crocodile killed the second as they crossed a river by night. The father still draws pictures of his boys to stop the memory of what they looked like from slipping away.
Really, who can imagine such grief, let along endure it?
These experiences beggar belief. Fleeing a civil war only to be eaten by a Crocodile. A stolen son, probably fighting for those who tried to kill his parents, most likely dead himself. Relatives already killed by bullets and knives. Burying a baby on a roadside.
I will also learn of Hussein Mumin, a Somali turned street kid, who saw his father and brother murdered, having already lost his mum. Rejected by a devout community unable to cope with how far he had strayed, he would be killed too – stabbed to death in a domestic argument. And as Barbara Chapman, his social worker and friend, tells me – when these refugees arrive, there are no government services to screen or treat them for their trauma.
Yet we act surprised when they drop out of school, or pull a knife, or clash with police, or retreat to their own culture. The surprise, she says, is that they function at all.
Abdulle Hussein is not complaining about government services, though. He is too proud for that. He has only one regret, and it’s a common one. He couldn’t find work.
Strong, smart, resourceful, independent, but no employer would take him on. Neither as a labourer nor in a factory. And the employment agency was not equipped to help a non-English-speaking migrant to retrain.
In effect he’s been a driver for his children, ferrying them to and from school and elsewhere, ensuring they stay on track but he remains a resource lost to the country. “If you have no experience, over 50, your English is not good, you can’t get a job.
That is my only problem here,” Hussein says.
It’s not hard to work out what most Somalis do for a job.
The car park at the public housing estate in Flemington could be a cab rank. Not that they drive taxis by choice. Somali qualifications and work experience count for little in Australia, so what else can they do?
Abdurahman Osman – nickname Raas – is showing me around the estate and the Somali cafes that line Racecourse Road. A former director of the ministry for housing in Somalia, Osman is the president of the Somali Community of Victoria and he’s introducing me to other local Africans as we go.
There’s his friend Said Shiinle, who holds a degree in agriculture. Now driving a taxi. Another walking by has flown an airbus. Drives a taxi. A man in a cafe drinking tea and reading a newspaper, who holds a finance degree. Taxi.
According to Osman, there are 30 Somalis in Flemington with university qualifications, bachelor degrees to PhDs, who have slid behind the wheel to earn their living.
“This is the best we can get,” he says.
At the Al Ramada cafe, Osman pulls two non-alcoholic beers from the fridge and beckons me to take a seat. It is here, in a room out the back, that he comes to chew khat and talk politics.
Khat is a shrub grown mostly in Ethiopia and Kenya that has mild amphetamine-like effects, and it’s widely used by first-generation Somali men.
Some campaigners maintain it’s an addictive drug that is destroying relationships and productivity, but khat can still be imported to Australia under certain restrictions.
Osman dismisses concerns about khat, both medical and social, with a wave of the hand. “It’s a leaf, you eat it, you feel good, you have a good conversation, nothing else. I’ve been chewing khat for 40 years, married the whole time. Do I look like someone who has a problem?”
He wants to talk about other things.
Like the cause of the Flemington “riot”
– the young and inexperienced police dealing with young, hot-headed African residents, and the failure to replace a popular multicultural liaison officer who’d left the post a few months earlier.
And the notorious Somali pirating in the Gulf of Aden – which he blames on the foreign fishing operations that illegally trawl in unguarded Somali waters, depriving local fishermen of their livelihood.
He also bemoans the fact the Somalis – Sunni Muslims all – are taking a more fundamentalist approach to Islam in Australia than they ever did back home. (The Somalis’ religious leader in Melbourne, Sheik Isse Musse, agrees – but sees it as a sign of a deeper understanding of Islam.)
Women now wearing the full hijab, when jeans used to be OK, as if trying to become Arabs, not Somalis.
It’s a concern shared by Aden Ibrahim too, who had told me of the mosques preaching an anti-West line – “A mule can graze with thoroughbreds everyday, that doesn’t make it a thoroughbred’; these are the things they say.”
And then there’s the spectre of terrorism, which has loomed again over Australian Somalis in the past year due to investigations into money being sent back to the homeland – which Somalis say they are culturally obliged to do – and the fact that young men who have lost their way, like Ahmed Jama, are also dispatched there.
Are they funding terrorists, or providing foot soldiers for them?
Osman insists not. But he has seen the police cars cruising past the mosque. And he understands the fears. He knows at least one Australian Somali who died fighting for a fundamentalist group. And he hates the extent to which Somalia is being carved up by Muslim zealots who even kill other Muslims.
“I believe the Arabs spend millions of dollars to divide Somalia into a hundred different countries,” he says. “It’s Al-Shabaab, Al-Jihad, Al-Ittihad, Al, Al, Al. They are destroying our people.”
Ultimately, though, the suspicion that these people are linked to al-Qai’da somehow makes him seem … weary.
Not that he gives it much credence. It’s just another burden to bear.
As if the trauma of being forced out of their homeland was not enough, as if the cultural and economic challenges here were somehow not great enough, as if the demands of practising Islam in effectively a lapsed Christian society were not sufficient, Somalis must be branded as terrorists, too.
While we are talking in the cafe, a tall man with glasses, elegantly dressed in a striped white shirt and slacks, lopes inside. I will learn later he was once the first secretary of the Somali Embassy in Cairo, now working as a security guard.
After a brief conversation with Osman in their native tongue, the man turns to me, shakes my hand, and says: “We are the great unwanted society. We have qualifications but they don’t count. So we put out the rubbish. We survive. That’s all we are allowed to do.” With that he smiles and walks out the door.
As it happened, Ahmed Jama, The Lost One who was sent back to Africa, got no further than Kenya.
En route to Somalia an aunt told him the fighting had become too intense, so he spent the year living with another uncle and aunt in Nairobi. And there, without the same freedoms and temptations in Australia, he came to see how far he had drifted off course.
Jama started going to the local mosque with his relatives; he met and married a Somali girl, Farhia, who would bear him a son.
It also dawned on him the opportunities he had squandered. People would ask him, `What did you get from Australia? Do you have money, or do you have an education?’ He was ashamed to answer that he had neither.
After returning to Melbourne he revisited his homeland again in 2005 when the fighting had abated, this time to his own clan in Galkaio, in Puntland State of Somalia, the northeast of the country. It was a “beautiful feeling”, he says, but an even starker reminder of how lucky he had been.
Now working as a forklift driver, Jama (who prefers not to have his picture taken) plans to study at TAFE, and by the time his wife and five-year- old son, Abdir, arrive from Malaysia, where they’re awaiting visas, he will have moved to another flat away from Flemington, and more to the point, the stigma of being an African in Flemington.
“Those trips, they changed my life,” he says of returning to Africa. “I wasn’t listening to anyone. I thought I was a tough man. And when you start trouble, then it starts looking for you, especially around here. Going back doesn’t work for all the Lost Ones, but it worked for me.”
If there’s hope in the relentlessly bleak story of the Somalis in Australia, I find it over lunch with three Somali schoolboys in a restaurant in Heidelberg. Only to call them Somalis, or Africans, is not right. Abdullahi came to Australia aged five, and he has few memories of his homeland. Farah and Libaan were born here. For these three teenage cousins, quick to tease and laugh and blush, Australia is the only home they know.
Of course, they know about the Lost Ones. Among their friends they joke about it, too. You’re crazy, man. Don’t do that. You’ll get sent straight back. They see the “fresh” ones, the new arrivals, and they joke about them, too – the religious ones who so earnestly try to do everything right, and the wild ones who’d do anything, who fear no one.
And they’ve heard, many times over, about that balmy November night when the simmering tension between the cops and the Africans in Flemington finally boiled over. (Police, who refute the claims they overreacted that night, withdrew all charges against the African youths in October last year.)
But the boys reckon the so-called “riot” hasn’t coloured their view of Australia, or their future here. While most first-generation refugees readily concede it’s a struggle in Australia and they dream of one day returning to Somalia, for these kids this is where the dream is found.
Jobs, money, marriage, friends, opportunity. And in that sense, in the optimism of youth, the African mission might have already paid off.
Having almost finished the school year when we meet (Abdullahi is now in year 12, and Farah and Libaan have finished final year), they’re thinking about the holidays, about playing basketball and computer games and watching Premier League soccer, about possible careers in biomedicine and engineering.
Not clans and khat and social dysfunction.
Is it a coincidence all three have their father at home?
“Some kids in Flemington think they’re unfairly targeted, and maybe they are. But there are some good cops, too, like there are good Somalis. You can’t generalise,” Abdullahi says between mouthfuls of halal chicken and rice with banana.
“It’s still a good lace, compared to other countries.”
“I feel Aussie. African-Aussie; but Aussie,” Farah chimes in. “I don’t see the difference between me or any other Aussie. I just want to get on with life, you know?”