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Project SafeCom's Jack Smit

Forcing the Deportation Issue

Reflections on World Refugee Day 2004

A short introduction to the movie documentary at the Fremantle Film and TV Institute by Project SafeCom's Jack H Smit.

The western world has a choice. The choice is between sharing the globe with those who are "all of us" or retreat inside the narrow circle of nationalism, resulting in policies of exclusion and control. The trouble is, that the exquisite photograph of our planet has already made the choice. That photo doesn't lie.

Related pages

Another Country :::RAFFLE::: 21 June 2004: 2004 World Refugee Day Raffle: Another Country, Sydney PEN's Refugee Anthology - Sydney PEN's anthology of refugee writing, Another Country, was launched by Australian actor Claudia Karvan on May 16 2004 at Gleebooks. Just one hundred copies of the Special Edition, signed by Rosie Scott and Tom Keneally, were issued, and we have one of FOUR for you. Page is still worth looking at, even while it closed on 30 June 2004: it includes a Sydney Morning Herald editorial and a good article by Sharon Verghis about the book.

2 February 2005: Never again, they said: Remembering holocaust shadows - Remembering holocaust shadows from my childhood: "as I heard the promise of Never Again remembered on the television during the commemorations of Auschwitz last week, a voice goes off in my head, 'Once More Please' "...

30 January 2005: History and Identity: Moluccans in the Netherlands - Ben Allen & Aart Loubert write about the story of the Moluccan community in the Netherlands. It is a long and complicated one, and has its roots in commercial expansionism stretching back to the early days of Dutch independence.

Organised by Project SafeCom in collaboration with Oxfam and Amnesty International Perth19 June 2004: Three World Refugee Day 2004 events: a time of action for the entire family - For World Refugee Day 2004 we have combined forces with Amnesty International and Oxfam Community Aid Abroad for a great family day of local action in Fremantle. The day features the Daybreak in Detention project, The Field of Hearts, theatre at Deckchair (Something to Declare) and concludes with the screening of the movie The Deported. Review the program and come see us!!!

Forcing the Deportation Issue

Reflections on World Refugee Day 2004

by Jack H Smit

In an age of increasing globalisation with its free monetary exchange and free trade, the control, detention and forced deportation of asylum seekers contrasts starkly with the new freedoms of the global village - and it calls for a worldwide review and reconsideration: the global village needs to confront its deep-seated fear of the villagers...

When the incredible events unfolded off Christmas Island in 2001, the Tampa affair, as we now know it, I became a refugee advocate and activist and established Project SafeCom.

It became an intense period of my life, where for most of the time I worked up to 80 hours a week - and if that had to become one hundred hours - that was also fine to me.

Almost three years have gone by since Tampa happened. And as we approach the next election I have become a lot wiser about the directions and motives as well as the strategies employed by the Howard government, and I'm afraid I have not developed much more appreciation of our current government.

I am finally starting to calm down in the knowledge that a new element has entered into Australian politics, for a great deal also thanks to the refugee movement where thousands of people around Australia have worked like me.

People like Alexander Downer in the Federal Seat of Mayo, and also John Howard in his seat of Bennelong, are being challenged by ordinary but wise citizens on a platform of sound ethics, personal conviction and community supported conscience.

A new type of parliamentarian has been born.

For Downer the challenge comes from SA Magistrate Brian Deegan who lost his son in the Bali bombings, and for John Howard it is Andrew Wilkie, Australia's first intelligence whistleblower helping to take the facts back from the coalition's secret archives into the sphere of public accountability of elected governments.

And Mark Latham's scoop of Peter Garrett falls within the same category - we do not know what that will mean for the ALP, but we have good hope.

These developments give me a little more trust in our parliamentary system, also because it signifies that the to me infamous "party-line" is becoming less dominant than personal choice and integrity, conscience and unquestionable personal ethics. And yes, there will be a battle within Labor as well - bring it on so we can clean the muck from under the covers.

As I slowly dare to relax a little, there is more time for the question others may also be asking themselves: "What on earth drove me with such intensity, never stopping, never relenting and never walking away from Tampa and its ensuing drama?"

A total collection of my motives would not be very flattering, amongst them a generous splash of left-overs of a hyperactive and furious child in me, but some elements are worth sharing with you in the context of World Refugee Day 2004, starting with the moment that I first learnt about the label "refugee".

I'm standing in front of the boom gates of the only railway crossing in my hometown - at the hand of my mother, a little bit younger than 2 years of age. As the blue train thunders past with terrifying speed and noise, my mother yells at me "That's the train to Hamburg, the same train your brother Jan took when he went to Denmark when he was a refugee."

As it turned out, my eldest brother had been interned for 6 months with a generous family in Denmark as part of a European program of post-war social restoration for Dutch children who had suffered from malnutrition.

My family, like millions of other European families, experienced in the Second World War the situation that creates refugees firsthand. As I grew up, even before I was four years old, I had seen the broken grave stones of the Jewish people in their cemetery, overgrown by weeds, I had peeked into the hiding places in chicken coops and haystacks where they had been hidden by the Dutch farmers in the surrounding countryside; I had sensed the ambivalence yet respect for those of that strange and different religion, and had an impression of the importance of Jewish families in the social network of my city.

And when I was about seven years old I already had visited the International Court of Justice in The Hague - but I had also befriended a girl from the Romany troupe that lived in the wagons at the edge of my small city, and I shared my school bench with one of the sons of a displaced family of South Molucca [1], of those who had come to Holland after a lost war against Indonesia in the hope of relief and a future return to their homeland.

Refugees were part of life, my family identified them - and us kids pointed at them - and the national response in the Netherlands to refugees, wherever they had come from, was part of our core values, and it had been gained from our own experience of the deportations and the invasion and occupation of a foreign dictatorship.

The universality of how the world should respond to refugees was therefore readily recognised by the UN Convention, and my dad and mum were proud post-war citizens. They were proud of the UN, NATO, the Americans and Canadians, and it seemed to me that the world was just one planet with a lot of sunshine pouring over it.

But that idyllic childhood memory, no matter how fond of it I am, is not where the world remained. We've moved into a jet age, and then into the space age. We now take a new look at the globe.

The notion of taking a photograph of planet Earth is new, and only since we embarked on space travel we have such images available to us. One of them in particular is of immense beauty, the one taken by the crew of Apollo 17 in December 1972. You'll find this image on every page of the Project SafeCom website, as part of our logo. The image is also available as a large size poster.

I think most of you would have seen that remarkable photo of the planet. I want you to consider this image for a second.

Don't think of anything else; just imagine this image in front of you. The blue planet. Not a painting but a photograph, a real photo.

If we enlarge it again and again, and if the resolution would be endless, you would eventually distinguish the people walking though the streets, the cars driving on the highways, children playing in the street.

Now focus out again, let the millions of little figures recede back to pin pricks, to pixels and granules of the picture.

What you're looking at is a photograph of "ALL OF US".

On the image you see all of who we are, all the people, all of us.

And - there is "NO THEM" - just "US"

And - I'm gonna take this further: what this means is, that from our new perspective, the perspective we developed as a result of learning to look at our beautiful blue planet from outer space, we also developed the notion of considering the human race as a collective of one mind, assisted by the notion that this blue planet of great beauty was worth our most precious care and concern. It helped out global concerns.

Travel to outer space made us look at ourselves, it made us realise that there is just one group of inhabitants, and although it frightens the wits out of us, borders don't really exist on that blue planet.

That is the job ahead if us. The job of finishing that world view, a worldview, where the THEM of this world have molten away because of a much greater priority: to look after the planet, the village that is the home of all of us.

In that world everyone has the right, not just to seek asylum, but also to have security from environmental disasters. Everyone in that world has a right to be a shareholder of what the world economy has produced in food and medical care, shelter and social participation.

All decent governments acknowledge that. Yet, when someone comes to London or Amsterdam or Sydney these days, seeking work, we conveniently forget that reality.

When that person finds the menial work nobody wants to do, he sends 98% back to his African family every week in the documentary you're about to watch.

In doing this he feeds more than 40 people in his village, week in, week out.

But we, who should know better, do not nominate that person with a International Community Outreach Medal or a human rights distinction - we deport him forcibly back to his country.

Seen in this light, it seems that a new job is at hand while we also deal with those who seek to dominate the globalisation agenda for financial gain - the recreation of the notion of borders as a permeable and gentle screen, quite opposite to the notion of a fortress, as we have seen in the last period in Australia. There is only one planet, there is only us, the "them" of earlier times doesn't exist and we don't own our own country - we merely are born to it and die within it.

The western world has a choice. The choice is between sharing the globe with those who are "all of us" or retreat inside the narrow circle of nationalism, resulting in policies of exclusion and control. The trouble is, that the exquisite photograph of our planet has already made the choice. That photo doesn't lie.


[1] See The BBC's Crossing Continents: 'Dutch Moluccans appeal for solidarity'