OPINION Tale of two refugee welcomes to Australia

Jo Wickham is a member of the Refugee Action Network Newcastle.

ANH Do is performing in Newcastle on Saturday night. The popular comedian is one of many boat people who’ve made valuable contributions to our community.

If Anh and his family set out on that perilous trip from Vietnam today, we would probably not benefit from his wonderful gifts.

It is worth comparing Anh’s journey with more recently arrived boat person, Ali Al Jenabi. Anh and Ali have a lot in common. Both were born in 1970, each left his homeland because their government had issues with his father; both fathers had problems with alcohol; both faced their most traumatic challenge at age 10; both have published award-winning biographies.

At age 10, Anh and his family fled South Vietnam and came on a boat to Australia in 1980. Our prime minister at the time was Liberal Malcolm Fraser.  On coming to power in November 1975, Mr Fraser declared that Australia would honour its commitment to the UN convention Australia had signed and accept the boat people who were fleeing South Vietnam after the end of the Vietnam War.  An estimated 137,000 Vietnamese were successfully assimilated into Australia between 1976 and 1981, 2000 of whom arrived by boat.

Anh’s story is one of success.  He and his brother, Khoa, graduated from a private boys’ school and have successful careers.

The story of Ali Al Jenabi, whose story has been told by Robin de Crespigny, is not so bright. 

Born in Iraq in 1970, under Saddam Hussein’s regime, at the age of 10 Ali took on the responsibility of supporting his mother and 10siblings after their father was sent to Abu Ghraib prison and was released a broken man. 

 Ali ended up in south-east Asia and said he realised the only way he could get his family out of Iraq was to make a deal with those who were moving people from Middle Eastern countries to Asia and then on to Australia. It was agreed that for every boatload of people Ali got to Ashmore Reef from Indonesia, one of his relatives would be ferried to Australia, and this plan eventually worked out. 

 Ali has been described as the Oskar Schindler of the boat people because his actions were nothing but ethical.

When Ali himself arrived in 2003, a different policy was in place than at the time of Anh Do’s arrival. In 1992, the Keating Labor government had introduced a policy of mandatory detention for asylum-seekers.

 After spending time in detention in Darwin and Villawood, Ali now lives with his family in Sydney under a Removal Pending Visa, meaning that he could be removed at any time and sent back to Iraq where he would probably be killed because of his involvement in the Iraqi resistance. 

Ali finds it almost impossible to find work. He does not know the date  of his ‘‘release’’.

Ali’s qualities would make him an excellent Australian citizen and he deserves to be welcomed.