heard the news about the hijacking around 8.30am this morning. as always, with incidents of this type, my first thoughts were "please God, don't let it be a muslim". sure enough, information came through a few hours later of a somalian woman being arrested, and it didn't take long for the usual suspects to come up with the nasty comments. i won't bother linking to them here.
the main media have been more reasonable in their coverage, with the focus on airline safety rather than on "muslim terrorists". although i did have to grit my teeth watching close-up this evening, when they did their bit on how there was absolutely no security on local flights. yes, there's an issue there, but i just felt that it was really blown out of proportion. kudos though to ethnic affairs minister chris carter for his meeting with the somalian community & his press release asking for the somali community not to be targetted (http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/HL0802/S00081.htm).
but back to asha ali abdille. in the coming days, there will no doubt be in depth press coverage of her background. having been named by hon winston peters in parliament leads one to instinctively have sympathy with her. we know that she's been in constant trouble with the law, and has failed to settle well in new zealand.
a friend in christchurch sent me a copy of an article from a hamilton community newspaper published on 19 august 1999. in it, asha talks about her past and her difficulty in settling in new zealand. she apparently came to this country in 1994, as an 18 year old. she had no direct family members here to support her. she talks of several experiences of rape and gang-rape during her life in a kenyan refugee camp. in one attack, her nose was broken.
even in 1999, she talked about shunning the muslim community and refusing to live with other somalis. strongest of all was her desire to have her immediate family with her.
questions will inevitably arise about the support asha has received. she was known widely to be a troubled person - known to agencies, to police, and to the public. she appeared to be isolated, without a community that she could belong to, given that she had rejected the one she would have been expected to fit into. i wonder if the host community took her in, to provide her the companionship she needed. the evidence appears to show that they did not.
i remember when the first somalian families came to hamilton in the early 90s. nz had just joined the security council, and one of the requirements for this was to take in a regular quota of refugees. at that time, there were virtually no support services. the christian community were the ones who provided the majority of support, while the muslim community got involved and helped where we could. our family took the responsibility of one refugee family - helped them with their weekly shopping and in other ways. this family was made up of one woman with 12 - yes, twelve - children. given the children's ages, it was impossible for them to all be biologically hers. it's likely that her closest relatives asked her to take their children with her. it was very difficult for her to look after them.
thinking back now, it angers me that the government of the day did so little for these people, knowing they came from difficult backgrounds and had gone through traumatic experiences. in the last few years, we have finally had a propert resettlement strategy put in place, with $60 million of funding over 4 years. at least now there is some initial counselling provided, though i suspect it's not nearly enough. there is a more concerted effort to help refugees gain qualifications, and i see some wonderful success stories here in hamilton.
but asha is not one of these. i expect the anger against her will rise, there will undoubtedly be some backlash against refugee communities. these people have already been through so much, i wish we could spare them from the negativity. the attitude of some new zealanders towards refugees amazes me. we take a miserably small number of refugees. try comparing this to the hundreds of thousands taken by kenya - a country that is much worse off than we are. think of all the iraqi refugees that jordan has accepted or the huge numbers of afghanis that have poured into pakistan. i remember a talk by iranian academic based in britain, dr haleh afshar. she talked of the refugees that came in droves from iraq during the war between those two countries. she said the iranian government never had any refugee quotas, never put any restrictions on the numbers. they took everyone that came, and provided for them as best they could.
are we really missing that kind of generosity here in new zealand? do we care so little for them and so much for our own precious high standard of living that we grudge the few that come any state assistance? i remember a conversation with a wellington cab-driver 3 years ago. he was complaining about the "huge handouts" that refugees received from the government. i told him that all they received was a benefit and an initial couple of thousand dollars to set up a house. he replied that they didn't even deserve that. i couldn't believe it. here was a healthy man, obviously well-fed, begruding these people the very food on their table.
i don't know how to go about creating empathy. i don't know how to get these people to see the humanity and the suffering of their fellow human beings. asha's actions will make the situation worse for all refugees. i wish our politicians had the sense not to add fuel to the fire. unfortunately it's election year, so i don't hold much hope.