April 07, 2004


Paul McGeough, the Sydney Morning Herald's superstar war correspondent, works very hard to portray the removal of Saddam Hussein as a horrible mistake. His efforts are truly impressive. More than a million Iraqis have returned to the country since the war; according to the Immigration Department, 34 Iraqis have voluntarily returned from Australia so far. McGeough, in Iraq, chose to visit the Kadems.

The Kadems are a very special family. The parents, Abdul and Bam, are of Iraqi ancestry but he was born in Kuwait and she moved there in infancy. After coming to Australia from Iran in 1999, the family spent four years in and out of detention. Thanks to fluent English and a flair for threats, violence and publicity, they made more headlines than any other asylum seekers save the Pakistani-pretending-to-be-Afghan Bakhtiaris.

During their eventful time in Australia:

Abdul served seven months in jail for aiding Indonesian people-smugglers. He confessed to being a middleman: meeting would-be boat people at the airport in Jakarta, organizing their accommodation, collecting their "fares" and passing them to organizers.

Mrs Kadem complained of psychological stress and she and her children were moved out of detention. She later asked to be returned to detention

Fellow detainees said Kadem and his eldest sons were involved in a plan to burn down parts of the Curtin detention centre

Abdul punched out a window and threatened to crash the plane if officials tried to fly him to Port Hedland detention centre

He later threatened to kill himself and to sue Philip Ruddock for "human rights abuses"

Mrs Kadem punched out a window and trashed a room

Abdul and his elder sons staged rooftop protests at Port Hedland; during that time immigration officials said the family took part in routine activities at the centre, including a shopping excursion

Sons Mohammed and Ali claimed to have sewn their lips together and gone on hunger strike. Immigration officials say they did neither

Ali reportedly slashed his throat. His brother Abdullah cut his wrists

Both had Australian girlfriends; Ali married his.

Refugee activists filmed the family over a three-year period for an upcoming documentary. Last year the Kadems volunteered to leave Australia. They received a $14,000 resettlement grant. They considered going to Iran and Syria but were refused visas. They then chose to go to Iraq.

In the first paragraph McGeough sets out his theme:

Abdul Kadem tells the story of his years in detention in Australia with such vehemence that, unwittingly, he does a better job as an ambassador for the harsh reality of John Howard's treatment of asylum seekers than might be done by any ANU-trained diplomat.

But McGeough has trouble making this story say what he wants it to. Abdul, an Iranian-trained Shi'ite preacher, reliably says detention in Australia was "hell." Life in Iraq is also "hell." The country is too dangerous to live in: "We could die in a bombing or a shootout at any time." Yet in this hellish, alien land, "a strange place with strange people," he claims to have great influence:

"You want to see a protest? I'll show you - closer to the coming Australian election we'll have a thousand people outside the embassy. I'll be lobbying [Shiite spiritual leader] Ali Al Sistani and [leading politician] Ibrahim al-Jaabari for the new Iraqi government to have no dealing with Australia. You'll see what happens ..."

Then along comes his son Ali and undercuts the whole effect. He "misses Australia." He wants to go back there with his Australian wife, who has moved to Iraq at risk of her life. He recalls "carefree days of sport and fruit-picking around Bunbury," WA. Now he "seems remarkably well adjusted." He works in a mobile phone shop, "at the cutting edge of the new Iraqi economy." Even more distressing, he "is enthusiastic about Baghdad."

Paul is getting awfully Fisky! Maybe next time he will introduce us to some of Abdul's million or so fellow returnees, and get them to explain themselves. Clearly, they must all be insane.

(By guest contributor Elizabeth F.)

Posted by Tim Blair at April 7, 2004 02:19 AM

This family sounds like a great inspiration for a very funny sit-com. Sort of a mix between "The Sopranos", "Married With Children", and Viz Comics' "The Bacons".

"This week on The Kadems: Episode: "G'Day, Mullah!" Dysfunctional fundamentalists return to an anarchic society: Hilarity, looting ensues."

Posted by: JDB at April 7, 2004 at 05:46 AM

Funny how for the SMH Iraq is only a "hellhole" when people are escaping from it.

When they're actually in Iraq, living under the Hussein regime, it was "stable".

Posted by: Quentin George at April 7, 2004 at 07:53 AM

'Then along comes his son Ali and undercuts the whole effect. He "misses Australia." He wants to go back there with his Australian wife, who has moved to Iraq at risk of her life.'

I can see the up-side - one less idiot "refugee" activist in Australia.

Posted by: Craig Mc at April 7, 2004 at 09:06 AM

I always read a Paul McGeough story right to the end. Not that I enjoy reading the labored prose but there's always a bit of reportage somewhere amongst the commentary.

Posted by: Softly at April 7, 2004 at 08:02 PM

These type of families and people like Mr Kadem where a dime a dozen in the detention centres. The bad news is, unlike the Kadems, most of them got through. Its gonna bite us on the ass in a few years time.

Posted by: max power at April 7, 2004 at 09:01 PM

The one million figure sounds dodgy - its isnt backed up by anything as far as I can tell.

The article linked to to "back up" the number merely says:

"No one quite knows how many Iraqis have returned home. But some estimates put the number at 1.2 million. In most cases, they simply walked back or hired buses to take them home, ignoring U.N.-imposed procedures."

"Some estimates"?

Posted by: Tom at April 8, 2004 at 02:01 AM

You're damn right! This proves without a doubt that all refugees are lying scum and should be sent back to face the music as soon as possible.

How can they afford to come in the first place if they aren't scheming trouble-makers hell-bent on fraying the tightly-knit straight-jacketed social fabric we have built for ourselves down under? If they dont like it, let them and their kids rot in an outback desert hell-hole or on some god-forsaken island, far from the prying eyes of the press.

For Chrissakes have they never heard of the White Australia Policy? I mean we didn't even let the Aborigines vote until 1967, after they started kicking up a fuss in international forums.

We got a cosy little thing going on down here, 20 million people in a continent the size of the states, 80 percent of "us" WASPS. No-one's gonna snatch that little democratic demographic from under our noses without a fight.

Posted by: Miranda Divide at April 10, 2004 at 10:04 AM