The following letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of Saturday, 11 March 2006. It’s worth reproducing in full. A few words for non-Australians: Centrelink is the government welfare agency, and Peter Costello, Treasurer, is the politician who contributed significantly to current ‘debate’ by telling migrants to get with the Australian way or get out.
I am a refugee who escaped the slaughter of my people in Afghanistan. I have been told by politicians on television and by labourers at work that I must live my life the Australian way, and adopt Australian values or return to my homeland.
Because of my ethnic background, going home would mean a death sentence for me without any crime having been committed. I am surprised that people who don't know me would give me this advice. Do they think that unless you're Australian, you don't behave correctly?
When people meet me and ask where I'm from, before knowing anything about me they tell me, "be like us or go home". Do they assume I am ignorant and worthless just because I was raised in another culture?
I try to live a good life - to be friendly to everyone whatever their colour or nationality or religion. I try to do no harm to anyone and to work hard as part of this country that has taken me in. I have some wonderful Australian friends. I know there is lots of kindness and love in the hearts of many Australians but I am confused about Australian values.
It was horrifying to hear about the elderly Aboriginal woman in Brisbane who lay suffering for many hours at a bus stop after suffering a stroke, without help or mercy. I've heard these stories many times since I came to Australia. Neighbours die and nobody cares enough to check on them. But 1 see on TV that if a pet gets sick it will be quickly taken for help or the RSPCA can prosecute. People spend thousands of dollars on their animals while other people's children starve.
There are countless stories of Muslim women in Australia becoming very isolated, being too afraid to walk down the street alone for fear of being spat on and abused. One very well-educated woman had a can of soft drink and insults thrown at her and her tiny child from a passing car, just because they are Muslim.
I hear Australians boasting about stealing money from Centrelink by working and not telling anybody. I've heard others talk about things they've stolen from shops. I hear people saying terrible things about Aborigines and everyone laughs.
Are these the values I have to live by now to be accepted here? If I did, I would die slowly from the inside - from my soul. Perhaps Peter Costello is right. Maybe it would be better to send me back to a quick death in my homeland.
I do not believe that worthwhile values start and stop at a country's borders. I believe they live in the hearts of good people of all countries and cultures wherever they may travel and live.
I. Saydi, Brisbane