'My Heart is in Darfur'


Abdelhadi Matar fled Sudan in 1997 following three months imprisonment by the Sudanese Government which, at the time, was persecuting people of education and influence.

The former high school English teacher escaped to Libya only to be imprisoned for a year for arriving without papers. Because there was no United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in the country, he was forced to borrow US$1,000 to buy a passport which would allow him to travel to Cairo, where his application for asylum was eventually rejected by UNHCR.

Upon his arrival in Australia, Abdelhadi worked two jobs on farms and in factories to support his wife and their three children, as well as his relatives back in Darfur who he continues to support despite being his own family’s sole income earner.

In August last year, Abdelhadi’s sister Aisha was murdered during an attack on the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp at Beida in Western Darfur. Her five children survived the attack; three fled to Chad and two remained at Beida. With help from aid agencies, the five children have now been reunited under the care of their aunts at Kalma, the largest IDP camp in Darfur where riots, assaults, murders and attempted lynchings are not uncommon.

‘It’s really very bad for Abdelhadi,’ says wife, Zahra, a former GP who managed to escape a militia attack while immunising children at a clinic in her local village in Darfur. ‘He heard the news here but he can not go back so most of the time now he’s thinking and he’s depressed. He didn’t see her for more than 12 years.’

The Republic of Sudan has been the top source country for Australia’s Humanitarian Program over the past five years, constituting more than 33 per cent of arrivals.

The genocide in Darfur is regarded as the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today. Yet earlier this month, the Howard Government slashed African migrant intake from 50 per cent to 30 per cent to allow for larger numbers from Asia and the Middle East, and said that no more African migrants would be approved until July next year.

Abdelhadi is the president of the Darfur Community Association of Australia and says the community strongly condemn recent claims by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews that African migrants, specifically Sudanese communities, were finding it difficult to integrate into the Australian way of life. Sudanese migrants, Andrews said, have a reputation for fighting each other in bars, forming gangs and congregating in parks to drink alcohol. The comments were made just prior to the racially motivated murder of Sudanese teenager Liep Gony and attack on 17-year-old Ajang Gor in Melbourne.

‘This is totally rubbish,’ says Abdelhadi. ‘It doesn’t represent all Africans, it doesn’t represent all Sudanese and it is really unfair to state that all Africans are not integrating and that they’re all criminals.’

‘It makes us feel very bad,’ he says. ‘How can we pay for things that we have not done?’

Abdelhadi believes the Australian Government’s refusal to recognise the Darfur community as a distinct group from other Sudanese communities is the biggest disadvantage that they face. It is discriminatory, he says, for the Government to generalise the situation in Sudan as having improved while the crisis in Darfur continues. Although he considers himself fortunate to be here, he says there is still a lot to be done and it starts by recognising the situation in Darfur as a crisis that can’t be ignored.

Over the past three years, the Darfur Community Association of Australia has been lobbying for the acceptance of 137 Darfuris currently stuck between Jordan and Iraq. The group fled Iraq when war broke out in the country, but were denied asylum in Jordan because of their non-Arabic culture.

‘For three years, they’ve had a lot of struggles,’ says Abdelhadi. ‘They lost, I think, three people there because the desert is very harsh.’

Abdelhadi says 137 refugee places in Australia is not asking much for the victims of two wars.

‘They need assistance and we are lobbying for this in Australia but unfortunately the response is so disappointing,’ he says.

‘We didn’t even have a [chance for a]meeting between us, as an organisation, and the Immigration Minister. He just sent his advisor.’

Abdelhadi says he still feels indebted to the community he has left behind.

‘This crisis in Darfur, I think, has changed my course. Although now I’m Australian, I feel I am indebted to my community over there because they need our assistance,’ he says. ‘I was the only one who was fortunate to come to Australia so my body is here but my heart is in Darfur.’


Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.