Abbott wins tolerance lesson with refugee

Riz Wakil. Photo

It’s an unlikely scenario, but former refugee and now human rights advocate Riz Wakil says he’s even willing to take a surfing lesson from Tony Abbott if that means he has the chance to knock some sense into the Coalition leader’s head about his racist refugee policies.

On June 15, GetUp! won a charity auction prize — a surfing lesson with Abbott –— and donated it to Wakil, who arrived on Ashmore Reef in 1999 and was held in Curtin detention centre for nine months. Now a permanent resident, he runs a printery.

“The Coalition’s policy will strip people of their basic human rights”, Wakil told Green Left Weekly. He contrasted Australia’s generous policies towards refugees after World War II and the Vietnam War with the approach of both major parties today, which is not only inhumane, but wastes millions of dollars.

“There are real alternatives to detention”, Wakil said. “I know many people in the Afghan community who would support an Afghan asylum seeker each while their claims are being processed. We would be happy to take responsibility for them because we know they are not criminals, they will not break even minor laws.

“They just want a chance for a reasonable life.”

Wakil said he estimated around 320 Afghans seeking asylum have had their applications rejected over the past few months. This was a result of the Labor government’s decision to freeze applications from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka on the grounds that they are now safe countries.

Asked about the best way to influence government policy, Wakil said he believed that once people hear the reality from people seeking asylum, they change their views. He encouraged people to educate their work mates, families and communities. He also said refugee supporters should “use this election year to choose candidates that are passionate about assisting asylum seekers in a humane way”.

Wakil said both major parties’ refugee policies “have been disappointing” and “demonstrated a racist approach”.

“No Australian government has a mandate to brutalise asylum seekers and refugees”, he said.

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