Brighton Tasmania Australia December 2005 In 1999 the Australian Government offered what they called "safe haven" to several thousand refugees from what was then war-torn Kosovo, part of the former Yugoslavia. These people had been tortured, raped, imprisoned, and deprived of all rights and ways to support themselves in their homeland. I worked in the former army camp turned Safe Haven for six months as an English teacher, mainly to the adults. So much trauma, so many horrible and sad stories. But there was laughter and even joy sometimes. And there were artists (as well as doctors, pro football players, scientists, academics, gifted children, troubled teens. Basically a cross section of any developed society). One of the men, Habib, and I became friends. At home he had made a good living as an artist, but was now with his family left with nothing. He loved Australia and the Australian people and told me he would never get over the generosity he experienced. But then it changed. Refusing to call these people refugees, and labelling them DPs (displaced persons) because refugees had automatic rights under the law, the Australian government started pressuring people to return to their homeland. Which I should note was in ruins and subject to random bombings, laced with mines (some made to look like fruit and hung from trees: best way to maim children). You see, the invitation had been politically motivated and now the mileage was running out. The right wing shock jocks were bleating about ingratitude and overstaying welcome. Of course none of them cared what these vulnerable and traumatised people would have to go back to. So, along with the others, Habib and his family were feeling the strain and pressured on all fronts and that "generosity" started to be withdrawn (a petty example: there was a policy of not refilling gas bottles to fuel heaters in a bitterly cold winter). It got to the point where Habib gave in and said he would go back. Well he didn't give in exactly. He said to me that he had come to hate Australia; he said he would rather live in a warzone than stay where he and his family weren't wanted. Before he left though, he painted this mural. I photographed it for my own memory a few years later before I left the island. And I have never forgotten Habib and the nasty cruel way he and thousands of others were treated. Once you have seen men women and children in tears, some screaming, being herded onto buses to fly back to danger and for many sure and certain death, you will never forget. Habib left us with a beautiful work of art, and we gave him hate in return. Shame on us all.
I am a Social Documentary and Street Photographer. Love, Compassion and Empathy are my guides.
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