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Opinion Piece

Ali Choudhry’s problems are far from over

Originally published on SBS News, 8 January, 2014. 

Ali Choudhry has been given a temporary halt on deportation as a tribunal hears his case. But it’s our entire immigration system that needs scrutiny, writes Simon Copland.

A reprieve. For now.

That is what Brisbane man Ali Choudhry was given yesterday, as his deportation to Pakistan was delayed whilst an appeal is heard. Ali, who has lived in Australia for four years, is being threatened with deportation despite the fact that he has never lived in Pakistan, he doesn’t speak the local language, is in a long-term relationship and faces the threat of a jail sentence when he arrives for being homosexual.

It’s a crazy situation.

And rightfully so the case has brought controversy. The news has made headlines around the country and a petition to stop the deportation has attracted over 140,000 signatures. And there’s good reason for the outrage. Ali’s case represents a complete failure of our immigration laws for sexual minorities; laws that are ripping partners apart and putting people’s lives in danger.

For me though, this case represents a lot more than this. It shows a failure of our entire immigration system.

Whilst Ali’s case has made headlines because of his long-term relationship, even if you took that element away it is impossible to see justification for deporting him. His homosexuality is a good place to start – we should never deport anyone to a place where they would face imprisonment for their sexuality – whether they’re in a long term relationship or not. But it goes further than that. From all accounts Ali seems to have made a life here and had a positive impact on the community – one that would clearly be lost if he were gone. Even if he didn’t do all these things though, the simple fact that Ali wants to live in Australia, that he wants to contribute positively should be enough. Actually, it’s not just that. If Ali, or someone like him, simply wanted to be in Australia because he needed help – that should be enough.

And this sets up an uncomfortable situation for all of us. Because even though we have a perception that Australians hate refugees and immigrants, when we think about it, I think most of us would agree it isn’t the case. Paul Toner, the guy who started the massive petition, says it like this:

“I have always believed in the concept of a fair go. For me, this means people have a right to be happy. Not necessarily rich or famous, just happy.”

They’re pretty basic values, and ones most of us would subscribe to. But they’re values our immigration system doesn’t subscribe to at all. Instead, we have a system that punishes people for seeking out those things, whether it be through deporting them, or locking them up in detention centres.

And with that I think it is about time we consider something more radical. Ali’s situation is ridiculous. It is shameful. It is not who we are. But it is a symptom of our failed approach to immigration. Ali, along with all other refugees and asylum seekers, has become a scapegoat – a political distraction from the fundamental issues facing our society. And it is time we stop it.

The answer lies in changing our focus. If we believe in the compassionate, caring, and open world that I am convinced most of us do believe in, then we have to consider making massive changes to our approach. And that doesn’t mean tinkering around the edges – moving processing onshore and changing our policies when it comes to sexual minorities. It’s time we started discussing opening our borders completely – saying that everyone is welcome to try and lead a life of happiness in Australia if they wish. It is the only way to avoid ridiculous situations such as these – the constant scapegoating of immigrants by politicians to cover up their real failures. The only way for us to give everyone a fair go – to act in connection with our true values. The only way to avoid these ridiculous cases – ones that we should all be ashamed of.

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About Simon Copland

Simon Copland is a freelance writer and climate campaigner. In his spare time he plays rugby union and is a David Bowie fanatic. He is a regular columnist for the Sydney Star Observer, blogs at The Moonbat and tweets at @SimonCopland.

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