Wednesday, August 14, 2002

THAT SINKING FEELING

Must be running rampant through the Refugee Liberation Army, right about now. Having staked their dwindling credibility to one Ali Bakhtiyari, and his claim to asylum because he is an Afghan, they are starting to realise they have been sold a pup.

In today’s Australian newspaper, this story goes to considerable expense to do what the Immigration Department can not reasonably be expected to do for unauthorised arrivals; travel to the boondocks of Afghanistan, and conduct definitive background checks.
The face in the photo is that of Ali Bakhtiyari, perhaps Australia's best-known refugee. But, after hours of questioning dozens of people in Chaper – his alleged birthplace – and in neighbouring Charkh, where he says he was a farmer, Mr Bakhtiyari's identity appears to be as mysterious to the Afghans as it is to immigration officials in Canberra.

Mouthpiece for the Refugee Action Collective, Cyrus Sarang, said the Australian reporters had picked the wrong village. The reporter, John Zubrzycki, told Sydney radio they used UN maps of the highest quality, second only to US military maps. Bakhtiyari himself described and co-operated in locating and identifying the village, and Zubrzycki says there is not another village called Charkh for 150 kilometeres.
Shahristan also is the heartland of the Hazaras, who trace their ancestry back to Ghengis Khan. Being Shia Muslims in a predominantly Sunni Muslim country, they suffered under the Taliban. Thousands were killed and scores of Hazara villages destroyed.
But the remoteness and poverty of Charkh and Chaper saved them from the violence and brutality that was the Taliban's trademark, says Akram, a local Hazara militiaman who uses only one name.
The information appears to contradict Mr Bakhtiyari's claims that he was arrested by the Taliban, detained for three months and forced to do hard labour.

What’s happened here is something the refugee lobby hoped would never come about: someone called the bluff. It is obvious to anyone with more than a toe dipped in reality that the family is a fraud, one of hundreds of people who yearly attempt to gain entry into Australia by deception. He is an economic refugee, using his wealth to travel into Afghanistan so he could learn about the oppressed locals, and then used their suffering to help his family.

They stole a place that could have been used for someone actually in danger. Somewhere there is a family who are not here, who are in genuine need. They are not here because Bakhtiyari took their place. He may as well have tossed them them back into the camps himself.

Having lashed themselves to the Bakhtiyari family, assuming that endless pictures of sloe-eyed children and dramatic embassy dashes would suffice where mere facts and proper law would not, the lobby now finds they are sinking. Quickly.

This story is staggering towards an ending that I will be ambivalent about. On one hand, the spectacle of all the king’s lawyers, and all the king’s lobbyists, trying to hold the line against the steadily rising tide is amusing in a Roman Games kind of way.

But the lobby will have squandered what little credibility they ever had, and there will be many less people prepared to even give them the time of day. Any good they might have been able to do in the future, will now diminished. They have no-one to blame but themselves, because they let their hatred of the Government blind them to facts, even when those facts became obvious to anyone outside the game. But that’s always the way, isn’t it?

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