Saturday, 9 February 2008

hostage crisis

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 (

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.


Ex-expat said...

Thank you for your prespective. You get some linky love for that.

David Zwartz said...

Anjum, i think your anxiety and concern has led you to make some unfair statements about New Zealand and refugees. in the first place, the refugee programme was in place with a fixed quota in 1987 (see below) so wasn't linked to NZ being on the un security council which was in 1993-94.
this is what says:
"In 1987 the government agreed to accept (subject to community sponsorship) an annual quota of 800 people who were classified as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This formalised New Zealand’s previously ad hoc response to refugee situations.
Over the years the quota programme has included a number of categories, such as specific ethnic or national groups, and people with special needs (such as ‘handicapped’ refugees). Other categories in the quota have been ‘protection’, ‘women at risk’, ‘medical’, ‘emergency’ and ‘humanitarian’. There are provisions to admit close family members of refugees already living in New Zealand. In 1997, the government reduced the quota to 750 but agreed to pay travel costs.
By 2003, the quota was being applied to refugees considered in greatest need of resettlement. In addition to UNHCR recognition, selected refugees now have to meet criteria that include being able to be assimilated well in New Zealand."
I think it is unfair to compare Kenya (a neighbour of Somalia) and Iran (a neighbour of Iraq) with NZ which is isolated and far away from Africa and Asia, so that refugees coming here are of necessity being culturally dislocated - a difficulty for them as well as for NZ as the hosting country. you say: "we grudge the few that come any state assistance" but then also "we have finally had a proper resettlement strategy put in place, with $60 million of funding over 4 years." that's not insignificant.
i agree that more should be done and only rednecks, racists, bigots and your taxi driver wouldn't agree, and we can all lobby the government and support RMS to get more done - i just don't think belabouring the government (pun not intended) or decrying NZ generosity (remember the donations for tsunami relief?) is helpful.

stargazer said...

kia ora david
thanx for your comments. i appreciate the information you've given on the refugee quota, and am always happy to be corrected on the facts.

however, i think my point still stands regarding the lack of preparation and settlement support services for these people when they arrived. it wasn't til 2002 (or perhaps 2003) that we got some decent funding into these kinds of services. i just wonder if asha might have done better if these services had been in place at the time she arrived here.

the reason i bring up iran & kenya is to show that we really do take a small amount of refugees. it's important to acknowledge the countries that are taking such large numbers, and their attitudes towards taking those numbers. any of these countries could have sealed their borders and said that they do not have the resources to deal with more refugees. remember that iran also has had to cope with significant numbers of afghani refugees as a result of the invasion in 2001.

i'm not advocating an increase in our quota, but i am saying that we should provide proper support for the ones who come here. i certainly don't think i "belaboured the government" as you put it, rather i talked about the attitudes of wider society - at least i meant to. i can't remember where i read it so can't find the source (hence i didn't put in my main post), but i do recall a poll within the last couple of years showing that around 80% of new zealanders did not support government funding going towards settlement. that would suggest a much wider problem than rednecks, racists etc.

finally on generosity - yes, nzers were generous re the tsunami appeal and various other causes. there are degrees of generosity though. going back to my religious roots, the quran tells us that we are only truly generous when we give away that which we most love. nzers have a high standard of living, so parting with cash is not such a burden as it would be on others. yes, it's very commendable (and vastly better than doing nothing) but doesn't really involve too much effort on our part. better still was the project phoenix team organised by ewan wilson in hamilton. these guys - mostly builders & tradespeople - went over to sri lanka and built houses for victims of the tsunami. now that is really gettin up there, because they also gave their time and effort. but even in that case, they were able to come home after a few weeks and not have to deal with the problem anymore. highest on the list of generosity is the process of taking in some of these people and make a long-term commitment to making their lives better. or like mother teresa and many others, to commit your whole life towards the improvement of others, in their home countries. now i know where i fall on that scale - i'd say that i fare pretty poorly. the point is that real generosity comes from accepting the refugees we take with a welcoming heart, and ensuring they get the support they need to rebuild their lives.

while there are some wonderful exceptions in this country, i think many nzers have a long way to go in that regard.


Chris Abdul-Wahhab said...

Namaskar Anjum,

You say that when you heard of New Zealand’s first attempted airline hijack, “as always, with incidents of this type, my first thoughts were "please God, don't let it be a muslim"”. Is there any particular reason that you are inclined to associate acts of terror with Muslims? I thought your statement is a terrible indictment on your own faith community. When news breaks out of an aggravated home invasion, for example, I wonder how many Anglicans would plead with God Almighty not to make the suspect a fellow Anglican.

You also mention that the Koran tells you that you “are only truly generous when we give away that which we most love”. Please forgive my ignorance, but would you kindly let me know where the Koran says so? A surah and ayah reference would suffice, please.

stargazer said...

kia ora chris

i don't associate acts of terror with muslims. it's others who tend to do that and take out their anger at innocent muslims. my intial reaction was a result of my concern for the muslim community, who often face a backlash of retaliation if an attack like this has been committed by a muslim.

perhaps anglicans don't react in the same way because the headlines never say "anglican commits xxx". it's very rare for a perpetrator of a crime to be labelled christian, unless they are a from a fringe group. there is no extrapolation to condemn all anglicans for an action by one anglican. nor are anglican churches vandalised in retaliation. i could go on but i won't. let me make it clear that i've used "anglicans" because that's the group you mentioned in your email.

regarding the verse in the quran: "You shall not attain righteousness until you spend out of what you love (in the way of Allah). Allah knows whatever you spend." (3:92). a very simple google search helped me to find it. see also 2:261-274.

Will de Cleene said...

Gudday Anjum. Ta for your thoughts. First off, please put your mind at rest on the "please don't let it be a Muslim" thing. It is evident that the primary aspect is that fact that this woman is completely lost.

Race, creed, whatever. All things being equal. After three years in Blenheim, I would probably want to Oz too. Just wouldn't hijack a hang-glider to go to the moon.

Similarly, the immigrant community in general had better not be besmirked by this singularity. I've heard some good things about ZimCare up in Auckland, a support service for Zimbabwean immigrants. My old boss told me how invaluable the community was when Mugabe forced his hand and he moved his family here. The immigrant communities seem to work just fine.

At the end of the day, NZ will give anyone a fair go. Crazies will be tolerated, but mindless violence is another matter.