Meriam’s courage: facing death by hanging


Woman stands at a window, silhouetted against curtain.

Meriam Ibrahim. Photo: Amnesty international


Hala Al-Kareb

Meriam Ibrahim Yahya is incarcerated and shackled in Sudan’s Omdurman Women’s Prison. Her twenty month old child and her new born baby are with her. Charged with apostasy earlier this month, she faces flogging and then death by hanging.

Meriam’s courage’ is the title of a story that was told in Sudan primary school reading books during the 1970s. It’s about the little girl Meriam who saw the floods coming from a distance towards her village, she ran fast and alerted her people and eventually saved them. I remember that Meriam’s story of courage was an inspiration for girls at a time in Sudan when heroic acts were not boys-branded, and girls could also be heroines and rescuers.

Fast forward to May 15th, 2014 when Meriam Ibrahim Yahya, a 27 year old Sudanese woman from Gadarif in Eastern Sudan, stood in front of Haj Yousif court in Northern Khartoum and rejected, with great bravery, the miserable attempts by the court judge to force her to repent (ÇÓÊÊÇÈÉ – calling the apostate to repent before he is executed).  With audacity Meriam told the court “I am a Christian, I did not convert from Islam”.

Meriam’s solid stance brought back the memory of the execution of the Sudanese Islamic thinker and reformer, Mahmud Taha, who was executed in 1985 in Sudan under the same apostasy charges.

The story began back in 1983 when the miserable dictator of Sudan at the time,Gaafar al-Nimeiry, in his desperate attempt to save his failing regime created an alliance between his regime and the Muslim Brotherhood political organization. Both were engaged in designing what was called at the time, ‘The September Laws or/ Islamic Sharia Laws’ – a combination of the most militant interpretations of religion jurisprudence (Figah), and the accumulative heritage of Dark Ages political repression. The whole purpose was to hunt political opponents and terrorize communities through a blind theological regime with absolute power, assumed to be delegated from above. The core base of the political Islamic state; the criminalization of personal behaviour, control of human interaction, and most importantly, the persecution of women as a source of sin and evil. The punishments in September Laws were mostly corporal penalties – ranging from flogging to death by stoning, amputation, imprisonment, and execution. For a short period following the collapse of Nimeiry’s regime, the September Criminal Laws were suspended, only to be revived again in the same exact format following the 1989 military coup by the Sudanese Muslim Brotherhood, and were reproduced again under the Sudan 1991 Criminal Act.

Meriam Ibrahim Yahya’s troubles began in 2013 after she was arrested by Sudanese authorities, when an unknown family member allegedly claimed that Meriam was committing adultery (zina,) in violation of Article 146 of the 1991 Criminal Act. Sudanese officials viewed Meriam as a Muslim cohabitating with her Christian husband, despite Meriam’s insistence that she was in fact a practicing Christian and married to a man of the same faith. But the relationship between Meriam and her husband was nevertheless judged to be adulterous and in violation of Article 146, which forbids the recognition of marriage between Muslim women and Christian men in Sudan. Meriam faces public lashing if convicted of this baseless charge.

In February 2014, an additional charge of apostasy, based on Article 126 of the 1991 Criminal Act, was brought against Meriam. Defined in Article 126 as ‘renunciation of the creed of Islam or public declaration of renunciation,’ Sudanese officials incorrectly claimed that the Muslim [sic] Meriam had, by marrying a Christian man, renounced Islam publicly, and was therefore guilty of apostasy in addition to the initial charge of adultery.  Under the 1991 Criminal Act, a conviction of apostasy carries the death penalty. Once again, the charge is based on the Sudanese official position that Meriam is a Muslim woman. Non-Muslims cannot be charged with apostasy.

Even if Meriam had converted to Christianity, the question of the terrorizing nature of Sudan legal system, and policies that openly oppress the freedom of religion and beliefs to the point of legitimizing execution, remains an immediate and vital concern.

The Sudan regime has been implicated for years in the killing of massive numbers of civilians in South Sudan. Currently civilians in the Nuba mountains, the Blue Nile areas, and in Darfur, are being subjected to mass killing by aerial bombardment and militia hostility, and the official discourse continues to  justify these war crimes against civilians as being against infidels (kofar- someone who rejects Allah and Islam as a religion). However, it’s extremely important to observe here that the Darfur population is Muslim and a considerable percentage of the populations in the Blue Nile areas and Nuba mountains are also Muslims, yet they are not following the Muslim Brotherhood’s version of Islam which breeds on militancy, the repression of freedoms, and the abolition of other religions.

Sudanese civilians across Sudan have been living in this terror for nearly 30 years, consistently intimidated and apprehended by the burden of the oppressive theological regime. The discourse and praxis consistently revolve around forcibly applying the regime’s version of Islam, as they see it, and as it works for them – hence, by default, you become the enemy.

It’s about time the persecution of civilians in Sudan was looked at through the current regime’s ideology which openly justifies serious forms of violation of human rights. Most importantly, it must be understood that the domination of this ideology and praxis will hold back any opportunity for the country’s transformation towards peace, and block any democratic prospects. The conversation about the current legal situation in Sudan must be prioritized, and given the same amount of attention as that given to the issues of war and peace which continue to dominate the conversation in and around Sudan.

In the meantime, Meriam will remain incarcerated and shackled at Omdurman Women’s Prison, along with her 20-month-old child, and the baby girl she gave birth to on May 27th.

While in Sudanese custody, Meriam has been denied regular contact with legal assistance providers, as well as refused medical care, and has suffered torture, beatings, denial of food, and aggressive interrogations. The Sudanese Criminal Code (1991) mandates that Meriam be permitted, while incarcerated, to breast feed the newborn child for a period of two years. After two years have passed, the flogging and execution will occur. Thus, Meriam is facing another two years of prison with the same treatment she has received up to this point, a reality that is faced as well by her innocent 20-month-old child, forced by Sudanese officials to remain incarcerated with Meriam due to the fact that Meriam’s husband is non-Muslim, and therefore not ‘suitable’ to be given custody of his own child.

Meriam must be released immediately and compensated for the humiliation and torture incurred. But is this possible?

Meriam’s case is a test for all who consider themselves to be moderate and enlightened Muslims in Sudan and around the world. It’s an opportunity to raise their voices against this Dark Age dogma and reclaim Islam by condemning these horrific acts.

This case also sends a strong message to the regional and International actors in and around Sudan that unless the issues of religious militancy, discrimination and the campaigns based on persecution of civilians are addressed and recognised as a central part of the political debate, the road for any breakthrough in the chronic unrest in Sudan will remain blocked.


A tribute to the Sudanese people’s poet, Mahjoub Shareef (1943-2014)






By: Abdulkhalig Elsir

Last month the Sudanese people lost an eminent poet and public figure after a long battle with illness. Mahjoub Shareef got the’ consensus’ from the Sudanese from all walks of life as the people’s poet. Since his poem found its way to the public in the early seventies of the last century. Since then on, a strong intimate relationship between him and the masses have taken place.

Shareef’s poem has strong political tone, but that is not surprising if we knew he was a devout Marxists and a member of the Sudanese Communist Party (SCP) until he died. Ironically, while politics in a country like Sudan divide people than anything else, Sharif seems the only one got to break the norm, so far. The unconditioned love and respect he used to receive from people despite his political colour is phenomenal.

His simple and direct poem made of Vernacular of ordinary people as well as his focus on political, social and economic injustice gave him the edge of being a ‘true’ representative of them. But the decisive factor of the overwhelming love by the people his humbleness, integrity, honesty and courageous life he lived. In a country like Sudan where elitism and corruption are plague, turning down entice of celebrity and elitism is very rare. During his wretched life, he got everything that could turned him rich, famous and elite, not just by the regimes who always tried that, but also by ordinary people who love him. Voluntarily, he decided to take their side until the last moment of his life.

Shareef was a primary school teacher. But the discontinuity of his career due to his political activism gave his life instability and hardship. He had a very poor and wretched life. He always tried to remind those who try to help him that the majority if people live a worse situation than him. He knew the road to prisons as a political opponent since his first emergence as a promising songwriter in the early seventies. Also, the succession of military regimes in Sudan made him a prominent ‘customer’ to prisons.

He never stops dreaming of for better tomorrow. His poem devoted to inspire people to believe in themselves. He encouraged them to fight for their rights and don’t accept injustice or make it a norm.

We will built the country we always dream about

An inclusive and a huge one with no doubt

A bird in the place of bullet

Hovering around a fountain

…A hospital in place of a prison

In another poem, he insisted that empowering women and recognizing ethnic minorities, is the only way for a stable and sustainable country.

Marry teaches us

Aisha reminds us

That every weapon should be turned it to a trowel

In one of his famous poem aow fa intazir (or… you will see), he berated police and security apparatus for being used by the tyrant regimes to kill and torture the innocent people. Reminding them being used as a tool to serve their agendas is a deadly mistake.

You are not the soldiers of God

Your are not the soldiers of the country

But in fact you are their soldiers

And some of their properties

Their triggers and their protectors

But you are not going to be one of them

…and you are not going to be like them

Or to eat their food

Or to dress the way they do

……………. Have you ever seen them flood the street in the early morning?

Or came out dirty from afternoon shifts? Or with tired eyes after night shifts?

Have they ever invited you to visit them?

Have they ever visited you? No, they will not.

So why you do that?

I know they trained you to crush, burn and kill with no mercy,

….But you have to remember how many dictators flee and left someone like you

Alone with fear of revenge.

Remember that or…you will see.


But his masterpiece and the mother of his all poem is (To my Mum Mariam). It is a very long and touchy message to his mum after she visited him in an infamous remote prison located in the western Sudan called Shala’a. It was aftermath of a failed coup carried out by a military faction of the SCP against Nimerie regime in July 1971. The act unleashed Nimerie’s outrage. He carried a very heavy-handed crackdown on the SCP members. Its leaders were executed in brief trials. The country prisons filled with its members indefinitely. Shareef was one of those, and he was sent to this remote and notorious prison. The atmosphere then was very frightening. The regime media ran a hostile propaganda and turned the SCP members as a public enemy, traitors of God and the nation. This tactics of the reputation-tarnishing, freaked out the prisoners’ families. It is very obvious it was one of the regime’s psychological tactics to push families to play a role in facilitating a way-out for their sons from the political arena.

I remember those days very well. It happened that, my father has been through this ordeal couple of times. Between the years of 1975 to 1978 he was in and out of Al-Damar prison – a prison in a small town near our town, Atbara. I was almost 10 years old. I used to go with my late aunt Noura, one of older sisters of my father, to visit him at the end of every month. My aunt and the other members of the family were not happy with his involving in politics. Once we arrive there and catch up with my father, she starts her whinging straight away ‘; “Elsir my brother, when are you going to leave these things and look after your family as anyone else? My father is a short-tempered person by nature, but in this situation he cannot afford to spoil such precious moments he given to catch up with his family. He tries his best to play down her criticism by putting a kiss on her forehead while playing with me and asking about our life and my younger brother. Once that happened, she started to laugh while saying, no hope, I know you are not going to change. 

In this atmosphere came the visit of Shareef’s mother to convince him to abandon politics and come back home safe. It was not clear if she came for this purpose. But the implicit dialogue the poem based on suggests this point.

 My dear mum Mariam

You full of love and kindness

How many mums do I have, no one but you

….I neither disobedient son nor a thief or a traitor.

  I miss you so much but I’ve no regret

The soldier hurdling between me and you

He won’t get what he want

He is the loser

Shareef then went to tell her about his ultimate love and how he kept remembering her bedtime stories in the prison’s lonesome nights. He told her how those memories brushed away any feeling of fear or intimidation, and how he became more persistent and resilient. He reminded her about his mates who went straight away to the gallows rather than dobbing in their comrades. 

You do not know what Wad Alzain had done?

They asked him; where is the hide of your mates?

Tell us and we will grantee your safety

He never shown a crack or broking down

He went to his death determinedly


To My Mum Mariam, went viral after it leaked from the prison. The way people received it was unprecedented. Its flow, intense rhyme and magical internal rhythm make it easier for memorising and chanting. It was moving and touchy. It showed a great deal of what is happening in prisons and how the politicians treated. It turned them to heroes at the eyes of the public rather than enemies as the regime’s propaganda wished. Political prisoners through generations embraced it as their bible. They stem from it their courage and persistence.

Belonging to people and inspiring them to solve their problems is Shareef’s life project. This project does not only confined to poem, but it went deeply whereas practicality worked to bond his relationship with ordinary people in their day-to-day life. To do that, he came out with a social initiative called (NAFFAJ). The word itself has no English equivalent.  It is a small door located in the wall that divided two houses’ backyards. It is a mutual decision neighbours used to take in the old suburbs of Omdurman city.  This voluntary decision usually takes place when neighbours after a long time of coexistence got the feeling that they are now one big family. Hence, they do not need to come through the main door as “strangers.”  In their new reformation to their ‘new family,’ the two neighbours sharing solidarity and maintain their privacy and back up each other like any blood-related family. This Naffaj or small door is a symbolic gesture of how people can be closer to the extent that their belongingness is beyond neighbourhood.

Shareef picked up the concept and make the name a rhetoric to revive the faded meanings of altruism, compassion and solidarity that Naffaj used to give. As one who has no faith of the government institutions like the majority Sudanese people, he believed bringing back the old positive values of pre-modern Sudan is the only effective way to tackle the misery of poor people in shanty suburbs surrounding greater Khartoum. The initiative encouraged and urged people to engage interactively in a cooperation of donation and also physical help if it needed during disastrous times, by exploiting the various skills of people, especially the youths for community services.

Rud Aljameel (giving back), is another initiative by shareef. It is a social organization its main concern is to bring homeless children to community and helps them to start a new life. The organization collaborated with many NGOs to provide shelter and literacy classes. It also helps them to explore their potentials and to promote the talented among them to be recognized by the community. It was open for everyone to share and contribute, especially the young people. The enthusiasm and passion people shown is incredible. The children have shown a great response, as well. Their painting, theatre plays, poems, story writings have a continuing exhibitions and festivals throughout the year.


The ongoing harassment by authorities was part of Shareef’s life. Depriving him of getting a job was a norm. Nevertheless, he never showed any quitting or surrender. He never lost hope of better tomorrow for him and his people. Despite the appalling situation he lived in, he did not stop writing poems of hope and inspiration. In June, 1989 another episode of the authoritarian regime came to rife the misery of the Sudanese people. This time it took the form of Islamic ideology backed up by the military. A random arrest, torturing, killing and job firing by the virtue of ‘public interest’ was the main features of its rule. Freedom and people wellbeing reduced to almost zero.

Shareef had his portion of appalling moments. He was arrested and sacked from his job, at the time when he was a bit old and suffering from a long-time disease in his respiratory system. Intentionally, he been prevented from getting his medication, the act that deteriorated his health condition until the rest of his life.

His integrity, altruism and devoting his poem to ordinary people, gave him an overwhelming popularity. In turn, this popularity made him a ‘symbolic capital’ and a battleground of intellectuals, elites and political rivals at the same time! It may sound strange, but in a divided country like Sudan, polarization, ethnic tension, dismissiveness and exclusion are way of life. As I said, amazingly, Shareef rose above all these social diseases and became the beat of the masses’ heart or a ‘beat of the street’ according to the Sudanese expression.

The rivalry of who have the right to claim the ‘ownership’ of Shareef was dominant. The government, this time, used a different approach, the carrot instead of the stick. It started to send him, directly or through agents sometimes, valuable gifts came in the form of cars and money. But politely and firmly he turned them down. The ‘national’ elites tried their best to lure him joining their club with no success.

One of those attempt, a controversial article by a well-known Islamist writer, Osman Mergani, calls for a ‘nationalization’ of Shareef, arguing that Mahjoub is bigger than to belong to any minor group, Hence, he should be ‘owned’ by the all Sudanese people. Dr. Hassan Musa, a Sudanese-French critic and international-recognized painter, finds the call for Shareef’s nationalization under the pretext of nationalism, is a dodgy one. He asked sarcastically; what kind of nationalism that doesn’t include the communists?

Dr. Abdullahi A. Ibrahim, An Ex- communist, a prominent anthropologist and political writer, praised Musa’s point of view while he was lashing out on Osman. Dr. Ibrahim argued “What it missed from those who call for the nationalization of Mahjoub Shareef, wasn’t the ‘danger’ of him been a communist, but he was a Sudanese nationalist beyond no doubt. Hence, any attempt of an impulsive nationalization in order of depriving him of from being a communist is just a hollow conclusion…. And the most annoying part of this call its disrespect to Shareef voluntarily existential choice.”

Shareef contracted pneumonia from prison. The illness affected his life great deal, especially in the last 10 years. He never gets cured, and the disease was the main reason of his death. Although his death was a big shock, but it was also a strong statement of unconditioned love and message of inclusiveness. Hundreds of thousands from all walks of life turned to accompany him to his last destination. They walked for almost six miles, the distance from his home to the cemetery, in a symbolic gesture, demonstrated his ability in mobilizing people even when he is dead. Until the end, his integrity did not hinder. He made a clear will that no one of the government officials should attend his funeral.

Shareef will always be remembered as one of those ‘last respected men’ in the country its elites cannot help indulging in corruption, favouritism and opportunism. A person devoted his life and poem to make a difference. He left a legacy of tenth of poems devoted to his people and his country that once described it as his main love, as well as, millions of young people inspired and influenced by his ethics and goodness and who are willing to hold his banner through the same direction.


Note: I’ve done a rough translation to some verses of his poems for the highlighting purpose. However, this translation lagging so behind from the poetic structure of the original ones. It lacks rhyme, rhythm and internal music of the original poems.


Sixth Anniversary of the Unity Cup

Osman Shihaby & Ahmed Ali

The Unity Cup started in 2008. It was initiated by the Federal Police, Victoria Police, the AFL multicultural program that includes Essendon, Western Bulldogs and North Melbourne football clubs.

Majak Dow with all girls team at the Unity Cup

Majak Dow with all girls team at the Unity Cup

The aim of the event is to bring communities together and to create relationships between the communities and the police, especially the youth.  It is also for young kids to learn more about the AFL.

This year the Unity Cup, held on the 24th of March, was different compared to the past years; now there is music and BBQ as well as the football.  It has also been expanded to involve Muslim, Jewish, South East Asian and Indigenous communities. Also, there were AFL teams from Perth, Sydney and Adelaide, which they competed that day.  These different organisations attending the event gave out flyers and talked to people about the services they provide to communities in their own languages and in English as well.

The 2013 Unity Cup was very unique because the people who came to the event were not just watching the games but they got information from service providers too. The media were also there, including ABC and Channel 7, who interviewed the people and asking how they felt about the event.   Because it was such a nice weather, people who attended the event, were very much enjoyed it.

A Sudanese AFL player, Majak Dow, was there too. He encouraged the young Africans to play the game and talking about his own experience.

Unity Cup 2013 winners from Sydney

Unity Cup 2013 winners from Sydney

My hard life – an interview with Kartia Kehagias


Kartia Kehagias

By Ajak Mabia

This is my third in the series of articles on Greek migrants in Australia looking at the lives of migrants who came before us.

Kartia Kehagias works in Sydney in a women’s refuge, and is an advocate for women in abusive relationships. She helps to convince women why they should not return to an abusive partner or husband.Kartia told me her story in an interview.

I came to Australia from Greece in 1955 with my parents when I was two years old. We were part of what is called the ‘Greek Diaspora’ here in Australia.

As migrants, my parents were given ‘assisted passage’; they were given 75 pounds to come here. We spent two months on the voyage, and I remember we passed through the Suez Canal.

We arrived in Bonegilla, a town on the border of Victoria and NSW. It was an old army base. It was very hot there, and full of flies. We had to deal with the very bad conditions, which we were not used to. We had a group kitchen and lived in a very small room. Bonegilla was an Aboriginal community area. We were in their community, but we didn’t understand them. It was our first contact with ‘black people’.

We were interned for six weeks at the army base, during which time we were provided with food. But in those six weeks, the husbands or whoever had to find work, because after six weeks there was no assistance provided. I remember my father had to leave us behind in the second week we were there, and he went to Wollongong  to look for a job in the steel works. During this time we relied on relatives and friends. We didn’t expect any assistance because we knew when we signed the papers to come to Australia, we would have to find our own means of survival. It was hard for my parents though, but accepted by the migrant children: there was nothing we could about it; we didn’t know any different.

Two weeks later my father asked us to join him, so my mum and I took a train from Bonegilla to Wollongong where  my father was living  in one room with other Greeks. In those days, when migrants had been here for a few years and they felt comfortable, they would buy a house and rent it out to others. The whole family would live in one bedroom. We had to share the kitchen and the bathroom, and we had to know what time we could cook.

As  children we were not allowed to play in a back yard because the workers slept during the day. We had to be very quiet, otherwise we could be thrown out and have nowhere to live.  As we were growing up, we didn’t enjoy ourselves much, or laugh or play with balls or toys because otherwise we would disturb the night-shift workers.

My father didn’t want to work in steel factory any more, so we moved to Sydney.  I remember my mum had to push me on a trolley to a woman who looked after children, and she left me there with a little lunch, like one piece of fruit. I used to look after myself. I used to go from house to house to be looked after. I was three years old. When I was five, my grandmother came from Greece, and she used to pick me up and take me to school.

My father was now working for the Sydney Water Board. A large part of Sydney was not yet built, so they were laying water pipes and sewerage. My mum was working in a laundry in a hospital, ironing bed sheets all day. I was happy at school but my English was poor. I loved to play with other children because I never had any toys – I was 8 years old before I had my first toy.  We were the generation that never had a childhood; we were there to help our families, our younger sisters and brothers.

Because we learned English at school we were the interpreters for our parents. Most parents were working in jam factories and the huge glass factory in Botany Bay. If they ran out of work, they had to go and line up in the factory at six o’clock in the morning. They only knew how to say, “Job please?”  That’s what they would say in English. If they were given a job, they started at 7 o’clock. If something was wrong, nobody could say anything because you’d be sacked. They didn’t have social security or Centrelink to fall back on if they lost their job.

My parents eventually bought a small house and they had to rent one room. I had to share a bedroom with them.

One day, my father sold that house and we moved 40 kilometres out from Sydney. My father didn’t want me to become accustomed to the Australian way of life. We had neighbours who were into fashion, they had old style cars and they played rock and roll music, so my father was worried I might melt in to Australian culture, or those who played that music might influence me. So my mother had to leave at 6 am to travel to her work.

When my grandmother died and my younger sister was born, I had to be the mother and look after my sister. There was no staying home and looking after the children; everybody had to work to survive. My mother arrived home at 8 oclock at night from work. We were always told that we were very lucky to be brought to this lucky country. My parents were loyal to this country.  If my mother heard the Australian National Anthem, she stood up.  But my father wanted us to maintain the Greek culture and have nothing to do with Australia culture.

[Kartia broke down in tears when she talked about her painful childhood, how she felt so traumatised.]

But you had to do it because you had no choice.  I cooked for the family and studied and maintained the house and looked after my sister until I was 21. Then my father decided to marry me off.

In those days, if you were not married early, nobody wanted you, so my father organised an arranged marriage. I was a very pretty girl and outgoing regardless of what I had endured during my childhood. So I got married to this man and had two children by the time I was 24. It was then he wanted us to go back to Greece to look after his older parents. I went to my father and told him, ‘I don’t want to go back to Greece because I don’t even speak the language’, but my father wouldn’t support me and my mother couldn’t support me either because my father would bash her if she did.

So here I was alone with nowhere to turn and I had to go with him back to the place my parents didn’t want to live in. My father didn’t want to deal with the shame. So he forced me to go back and I went to Greece with my two children at age 24.  I stayed there for eight years.

Because my husband was self-employed, he could take time off when he wanted to. So we used to go to the village, and here there was no running water, no toilet, no electricity, no shower. There was some kind of toilet out the back yard of the house so when you went to the toilet, you had to carry the water with a bucket. Here was I, an Aussie girl growing up in Sydney and I ended up in this village, doing what I did when I was a child, looking after his old parents, cooking for them, cleaning up after them, getting them water.

On top of that I had to look after his mother’s animals. She had goats, emus and donkeys. I was back to the primitive life that I lived when my family first arrived in Australia and I had worked so hard to get a better life. That’s what my father forced me back to. It was a primitive village and I had to do all sorts of primitive things.

Then his father died, and his mother got cancer two years later, so I had to look after her. When she died, I had to prepare the body: bathe her and dress her for burial. They open up the casket so when everybody comes to the funeral, they can see the body.

When I think back now to that time, I can’t think of any Australian girl who would do that at 28. Forcing me back to live in Greece was so confronting. I was a ‘showoff’ wife –  I looked so different from other Greek girls.

After all of this, my mother sent my husband a letter saying that I needed to come back to Australia. “You took her away so she leaves me back in Australia, and I want to see my grandchildren”.  A socialist government came to power in Greece, so he couldn’t make any money and he had to think about our three girls when they got married. They had to have money and men to marry, and as he couldn’t afford it, we had to move back to Australia.

Nine months after we were returned to Australia, my mother died, at age 63, because she had worked so hard and was abused by my father, so her body created the disease to get out of the situation. I had no support when we came back, only a suitcase. My father didn’t want me to stay with him in the house because I was an ‘unsuccessful daughter’. My father was more supportive of the man, my husband, than his own daughter who lost her youth to look after the family while they were all at work.

With all the support, my husband found his footing again, so we moved to our first home and I got pregnant again with a fourth child. He was very angry because he had to work so hard to buy the house. Before we left for Greece, he had houses but he sold them all because someone in the community told him to sell all his properties so he doesn’t have to come back. They said, ‘If you have house back in Australia, you always want to come back’.

A few days before my mother died, she called me to come and sit beside her bed and asked me to promise her that I would do in my life what was right for me. I said, ‘When did you realise that?’ She said, ‘When both my feet are in the grave’, and at lunch time, she died. It was her way of telling me to leave my husband.

It took me another ten years to leave him. The final straw was when he and my daughter bashed me up because my older daughter wanted to leave home, she told her father that I was the reason she wanted to leave home. She used me as her scapegoat. In those days, it was okay to be abused by a man, but not the child who you gave birth to. I cried for five years saying, ‘This child who I brought into this world raised her hand against me’. Her father threatened me and told me if I left him, he would slash me.

So I found a house about a kilometre away. I rented it with money I hid from him and went to Centrelink, and I paid the rent for nine months before we moved in with my three children. I had to plan it out, and I educated myself by going to college to study natural therapy. When I got all my papers from college, I knew that I could create a life for myself and my children.

The morning before we left, I told my three children that there was a truck coming to take us somewhere else to live. ‘Do you want to come with me?’ I gave them a choice. They said,’We’re coming with mum’. So at 7: 30 in the morning, I prayed, ‘My dear Lord, please take him to work, please God, let him go before 8 o’clock’. He was a builder so he could come and go as he pleased. That morning I was scared to death. So all I could do was pray. Eventually he went to work. The interesting part was that the truck was from a company called ‘Angels Removalists’. I think it was God who sent it to me. I told the truck driver he had one hour to move us. I had to move all the furniture. I included all his beer loaded in the fridge so he couldn’t even drown his sorrow in his beer. I knew I wouldn’t get any money for the children from him.  He was making millions of dollars, and he started hiding all his money and paper work, hiding them in his office and he started to send money to a separate bank account. He knew that I had had enough.

The minute my father found out that I had left home, he shut his door on me. That was the 7th, March 1997.

Women should be aware of their financial situation, where the money is going.  Women should save their own money, even keeping $10 from the grocery money every week is enough to make sure you have a little money for an emergency. As a woman you never know, so always keep it in time of need.

Forgotten Region of Western Sudan (Darfur)

By Yahya Arko    

The ongoing crisis in Western Sudan, Darfur began in 2003. This is as a result of fighting between the government of Sudan and its militia, composed of a movable group of fighters mostly of Arabic background known as Janjaweed, and rebel groups, notably the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Rebel groups claim that Arab-ruled government of Sudan is intentionally causing social inequality, political marginalisation and discrimination towards black Africans.

The government refuses to respond to rebel’s demands and instead, armed and supported the Janjaweed militia to carry out a military campaign against civilians. Militias have consistently attacked villages and killed civilians that share the same ethnicity as the rebel groups, steal livestock and poison water supplies, and the government air forces burn the villages to the ground.

The militia repeatedly rape girls and women who live in internally displaced person camps when they go out to collect firewood or water. As a result more than 2.7 million people have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in internally displaced person camps or to neighbouring countries such as Chad. According to non-governmental organisations, it is estimated that over 400,000 people have been killed since the conflict started.

The Darfur conflict has now been going for ten years. On a daily basis men are killed, women are raped and children are dying of malnutrition. The conflict is ongoing, and peace is nowhere near. The government and rebels are not willing to stop the conflict.

The international community has also failed the people of Darfur; the International Criminal Court (ICC) did not follow through with the indictment of the President of Sudan, Omer Al-Bashir, on charges of crimes against humanity. Al-Bashir has made many trips to the states that signed the Rome Statute such as Chad, and the ICC has said nothing.

Darfur is no longer on the international community’s agenda and is no longer in view of the international media. When is the international community going to meet its moral obligation and listen to its conscience, instead of turning a blind eye to the conflict?


Sudan burns Darfur businesses and student dormitories in Khartoum

By Alpha Fur-bell

“There are slow ongoing killings of people from the Darfur and students living in Khartoum”, said Idris Haron, a Darfurian small business owner in Khartoum.

The Sudanese government forces and its supported militias (Janjaweed) set more than 100 retails shops on fire in mid-December 2012 and in January 2013 at Al Haj Youssef town local market, eastern Nile province in Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan. Al Haj Yourself is a well-known place with majority of inhabitants from Darfur. Shops in the town’s local markets are ran by either Darfurians who fled the recent conflict in Darfur or their descendant living in the towns.

Since the conflict started in Darfur in 2003, the people of Darfur living in Khartoum, particularly in Al haj Youssef and Mayo, has been the target of the Sudanese government. Over 500 Darfurians have been taken from their homes by the Sudanese security forces and killed.

The government of Sudan killed more than 700,000 people in Darfur and now turned to kill Darfurians living in big towns such as Khartoum.

An eye witness whose name cannot be identified for security reasons, reported in January, this year alone 12 Darfurians including two teachers and 5 university students were killed in Al haj Youssef and Mayo areas, which have high residency of people from Darfur.Scores of armed men in civilian uniforms and vehicles attacked SookSetta (a local market) in Al haj Youssef and Mayo, firing on civilians, looting and burning Darfurians shops. An eye witness said,“The attackers were from the Sudanese government armed forces and members of the ‘Janjaweed’, a militia the Sudanese government has deployed alongside the army that committed genocide in Darfur”.

Here is the account of the eye witness whose shop was set alight in his present:

“My own grocery shop in Al haj Youssef was burnt to ashes in front of my eyes and I could not stop it because they would have shot me. I have been left with nothing, I do not know where to start and how to feed my family. We Darfuris in Khartoum live like in a heel. We cannot go back to Darfur because we lost everything and no security and we cannot live in Khartoum because the government knows us and targets us. It is too harsh for us everywhere in Sudan”.

The eyewitness also reported that that the police force, with back-up from the Sudanese army, surrounded the local market in Al haj Youssef watching shops burning from the sidelines, adding the government was totally behind the burning of Darfurians shops.

Moreover, in early February 2013, pro-government militias stormed the dormitories of students from Darfur studying at the universities in Khartoum and set them on fire. According to the Sudan Tribune around 27 rooms housing more than 132 university students were damaged. Sudanese State media has reported that no deaths or injuries to students and that the destruction to Darfur student houses was marginal.

However, independent sources reported that more than 25 Darfuri students lost their lives during the incident and dorms were totally damaged. Other sources reported that the Sudanese government is continuously arming the Islamists students loyal to the ruling National Congress Party (NCP) at different universities to disrupt the academic year for those students coming from Darfur.

“The aim for burning Darfurian student dormitories was to create accommodation problems and force them to leave dorms and the universities in Khartoum”, said a Darfur student in Khartoum.

The lack of security for Darfur students at universities in Khartoum has forced many students to discontinue their studies, fearing attacks and violent acts from pro-government militias and the security forces.

Khartoum University has admitted that students from Darfur are facing various problems from the government that include violent acts, deliberate suspension, detention without charge and forced disappearance of those student who speak against the behavior of the Islamist government in Khartoum.

Rights activists argued that the Sudanese law obviously discriminates against Darfurians and that the Sudanese government is behind any heinous activities against people of Darfur and university students in Khartoum and throughout Sudan.

Reflections on Collingwood: interview with Anthea Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

This is my second article in this series looking at the lives of other migrants who came before us.

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Anthea Sidiropoulos

Anthea has tasted and seen it all; the bitterness, the sweetness, the poor and the rich. She knows what it was like to grow up in Collingwood in the 1960s and 1970s. If new migrants think they are doing it tough now, they need to find out about the lives of previous migrants who lived in Australia in 50s and 60s.

Anthea is a singer-song writer and community leader, who has enjoyed a music career spanning over 15 years as an indie-artist.

Anthea’s father was the first non-Australian born person who went into Parliament after serving in local government as a Collingwood councillor. Her mother was a hairdresser (see Interview with Pipo).

Living in Collingwood meant Anthea had to deal with the complex and contradictory environment of a multiethnic society. “It’s not easy being a teenager and trying to find your spot in society, let alone being picked on by peers because you look different”.

“I was a rebel as a child”, she says, “but I just wanted to be a normal Aussie girl”.  She changed her name from Anthea to Julie, and wanted to be blonde.

As a singer, her influences were Australian music, American blues, American rock, and Greek music. “I listened to pop music, such as the Beatles, Aretha Franklin and the early Tina Turner. My influences were from American music in the 1960s, particularly the civil rights movement singers like Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. Soul music for me was very positive and non discriminatory. All the lyrics were about peace, love and brotherhood, always having a good time and living together harmoniously as a community”.

Her experiences as a child seeing aboriginals in Collingwood and Fitzroy were formative.

“There were pubs on every corner on Gertrude Street. I was 10 years old and my father was concerned with Aboriginal issues. He had no idea how to deal with it. There were many Aboriginal people living there, but they were not really present – they were only in pockets in Gertrude Street, and they always lay on lawn and there was beer everywhere. I was not allowed to go there because of the alcohol. We had a shop there and indigenous people always came to our shop and my parents were very helpful to them, on a basic level”.

Anthea has a theory about the way aboriginal people are treated: “The Australian Government wants to sabotage the indigenous race so if they are on alcohol they will be disempowered, they will not be educated, they will lose their identity and language, and therefore you have zombie community”.

Anthea remembers as a young girl she had many questions about the Collingwood community she lived in.

“We lived in a mono-culture, but I grew up bi-cultural. I had my school life which was English but my home life was Greek.  I had to juggle the two.  At the same time I was exposed to the horrible ways some people treated human beings; firstly because of their colour and secondly, because they were poor. It wasn’t just black people, it was poor white people too”.

“There was a little girl I used to go to school with, and her parents were so poor, she lived in a shelter. I visited her house one day and her wall was made of paper. I remember asking my father, ‘how come we have our walls solid with no holes and I just came from my friend’s house and her wall is made of paper and there are holes in it?’ ”

Collingwood was originally an industrial city. “If you at look Collingwood’s original houses, they were very tiny and were built to accommodate the workers. They used to chuck them in there, where they ate and slept. The Yarra River was lined with factories and the workers used to pump water from the river to make the machinery work. It was terribly dirty; it looked like a hurricane on the Yarra River. That’s all changed now. When the human rights and socialist movement arose, they demanded the Council address these issues. They didn’t care whether you were black or white or yellow – they just wanted the fair treatment of the worker and environment for all the residents in Collingwood. They were committed to working towards a better life in the area for every resident, rather than getting themselves into a political career. That’s why my father got in to the Council”.

“An elderly man called George, who was in Council, wanted my father in Council. But nobody else wanted him. They wanted an Australian-born person. My father was officially Australian, but he wasn’t Australian enough to be considered a Council position. He could speak English, but with an accent and with his looks, it was obstacle. This was in 1963.  It took George five years to convince the Council to consider him”.

“My father’s position in Council made him very popular in the Greek community. He became skilful and he knew how to address the community issues and help the community with their bills and so on. It was a struggle and a tough time, and it was very exciting because there were social changes, which had never happened before”.

“It’s easy sitting back now and telling the story as 52 year old, but at the time, I don’t think they had any idea how much impact they made in Collingwood’s community. My father was responsible for Collingwood, Fitzroy, Clifton Hill, North Richmond, and Abbotsford. There were so many different nationalities living there, but the majority were Greeks”.

“The household was very busy. There were meetings every night. Mum was always cooking, with me on the sink from a very earlier age, washing dishes. I witnessed a lot of frustration. I didn’t completely comprehend what the frustrations were at the time. I understand it now, as a older person. There were mixed feelings at same time among the residents: sadness and positives. Then the Vietnamese refugees arrived and that was another interesting story. Again different; there were so many frustrations but positive outcomes”.

“Coming from first migrant parents who worked 7 days and 7 nights a week because they couldn’t find a decent job, working hard so their children could have a better education. It was the last thing they wanted to hear that one of their children wanted to become an artist or musician. When I was 16, I applied to the Alliance Music Competition and won a scholarship for a whole year of singing lessons. I went home very happy, but my mother said, ‘No I didn’t have you to become a theatre singer’. I was very upset. The next day I turned up with a saxophone and drove my mom crazy, as revenge. I was in a school play and my teacher tried to convince my mom, but she still said ‘No’. I pursued my music career and went on to sing in cover band, singing Aretha Franklin songs”.

“I did all this to be accepted. I didn’t want to be a Greek at all. I had my cares at school because I am dark, even though I changed my name my when I was 6 years old and wanted to be blond. But I couldn’t change my colour. And it breaks my heart to see these issues are still exist and continuing to”.

Anthea said somethings have changed for better compared to 60s and 70s. “It is great time to be alive. But there are challenges ahead of us that need to be solved in the 21 Century. When is segregation going to end? When is gap between poor and rich going to close? When are human rights abuses going to end? How far is a piece of string?”

“We just have to get on with life, and regardless of what I’ve said, I am very optimistic and sceptical at the same time”.

Aljazeera shows its hypocrisy

Oh, rebels, flame the revolution by the people’s blood

And sculpt in every soul the salvation of people

….Those who hold their life in their hands

Every victory preceded by tragedy

I wished it to the countries whom their leaders fool themselves

Who think sovereignty can’t be without US troops

The filthy rich countries that their people strives

The countries you sleep as a citizen and find it striped off the next day

Oh, I wish it to the regimes of inherited repression


This is a meaning-based translation to a segment of Arabic poem written by a Qatari poet Mohammed Al-Ajami. In this segment, Al-Ajami praised the Arab Spring revolutionists who brought down many regimes in the region. He wished if this revolutionary spirit visits his home and does the same change. Despite it was just a poem and merely wishes, but the cost Al-Ajami was paid is really harsh.

In last November, Al-Ajami was jailed and denied any family visit. Last week a court sentenced him to life! For instance, this case might be seen by many as a kind of injustice normal in this part of the world. However, what makes it unique at this time,  is the Qatar self-image of liberal reformions that is keen to sell to the international community.  Ten years ago, Qatar decided to create a CNN-like media which it resulted in Aljazeera TV news. Aljazeera has got a green light from Qatari authoroties to discuss and intervene in other countries sensitive issues like; political freedom, women and human rights, ethnic minorities’ issues and the record of human rights violation. Lots of money pumped in to make the project successful.

The way Aljazeera has preformed surprised many observers in and out of the region. It has created lots of unrest and tension in the region, especially among the ultra-conservative Arab Gulf States. Many accused Qatar of playing a Western proxy, means to divide the unity of the “Arab nation”. But the Qatari officials insisted they only respond to the wind of change that hit the whole world: the transparency and the right of free expression.

Of course those who are in a close ties with the region and know exactly what happens, don’t buy the Qatari propaganda. To them, It is  obvious Aljazeera was created for two purposes – to spread the influence of Political Islam and to promote the Qatari royal family as the true reformists of the region and the whole Islamic world. It is very interesting to see that Aljazeera has never criticized or came across any Qatari issue, nevertheless, it always praised and valued by the Western politicians and the media alike.

But this time, Al-Ajami’s incident came to act as a big blow to Aljazeera credibility. During the Arab Spring, Aljazeera adopted the uprises of Tunisia and Egypt and acted as a platform to their leaders. Moreover, it covered the event in overwhelming way, to the extent that it builds a permanent studious in some places, like Egypt, for example. It brought political expertise from all over the world to talk about the human right violations in the region and produced documentaries telling the stories  of the ‘prisoners of conscience’.

Al-Ajami in fact did nothing than what Aljazeera used to do during the last two years. He praised the Arab Spring the same way Aljazeera did. He wished a change to his people the same way Aljazeera justified its intervene in others business. But ironically, when Al-Ajami was treated brutally by the Qatari authorities, Aljazeera turned blind eyes. Aljazeera till today didn’t raise the case or even mentioned his case in the news. In contrast,  many human rights organizations criticized Qatar authority and demanded a fair trial for him.

Al-Ajami is a definate prisoner of conscience. Principly, the role of any professional media is to highlight issues  and bring them to public attention.  By denying Al-Ajami this right, questions  Aljazeera’s professionalism and credibility at stake. Apparently, Al-Ajami incident disclosed how Qatari’s claims of democratic reformations are facade and pseudo one.

Talking about early Greek migration with Pipo Sidiropoulos

By Ajak Mabia

Many migrants or refugees who come to Australia have their challenges to settle in.  But it is hard to compare who had it tougher: the ones who arrived in 50s, 60s and 70s or the more recent arrivals. No doubt the older migrants cleaned the back yard for us.

It’s important for new migrants to understand how tough it was for those who came before them and how they overcame their settlement issues: we can learn from them. One knows that it’s always struggle, but in long run, new arrivals will follow the same steps as those before them.

The Australian Government’s post-war migration policies aimed to increase the size of Australia’s population, and especially to provide unskilled workers for its burgeoning manufacturing industries. In 1952 the Australian-Greece Assisted Passages agreement providing a financial incentive for Greeks to leave their unstable, impoverished homeland, and make their way to Australia.

Many from rural areas migrated to Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. Because of the turmoil of WWII and the chaos of civil war, very few in this generation of migrants had post-secondary qualifications. Consequently, in many cases, immigrants were illiterate or poorly educated.

By 1961, the number of migrants born in Greece and now residing in Australia reached 77,333. Between 1961 and 1966, 140,000 Greeks immigrated to Australia. Aged in their 20s in the main, they were soon employed in inner Melbourne factories either through family contacts, friends, or through job allocation processes at the Bonegilla migrant centre.

Many Greek migrants worked on assembly lines at Ford and GMH, in breweries and tanneries, in food processing factories like Rosella,  Arnotts, and in sewing machines, textile and footwear factories like Kayser and Pelaco. Many took second jobs cleaning office buildings in the CBD. A smaller number of people went to live in rural and regional Victoria where they worked on farms or in smaller industries and businesses. By 1971 there were 160,200 Greece-born immigrants in Australia. Forty-seven per cent lived in Melbourne.

* * * * * *

Pipo Sidiropoulos came to Australia when she was 24 years old.

She owned small hair dressing salon back in Greece. She met her husband there when she was 16 years old. They had a secret relationship for five years. They were not allowed to marry because her parents were poor and couldn’t afford to pay the dowry, besides she was Orthodox and he was Protestant.

So, his father told him, if you want to marry her you will have to go to a very far away land.

Australia was great option for him. He came to Australia first and in 1954 he sponsored Pipo. One year later she arrived and stayed with another Greek family for two months. They were married in December 1955.

Pipo is sitting at her home in Kew when I asked her how she met her husband. She explained, with tears in her eyes, how romantic it was. She stood up and looked adoringly at a picture of him hanging on the wall. With a handkerchief she cleaned the frame and said, “my darling husband waits for me”. The way she said it was like a Romeo and Juliet love story.


Pipo Sidiropoulos in her living room

“He was very handsome”, she said. “Darling, wait for me”, she whispered again. “He was the reason I came to Australia. How cruel it was not to allow us to marry and stay in Greece” she said. She was looking after her parents and four brothers and sisters while they were at school using the money from her hair business. “But we were in love and we couldn’t share that with our families”.

“Many hearts were broken when I left Greece. But Australia has been very good to me”, Pipo said.

She said coming to Australia was the best thing that ever happened to her. “Australian people are beautiful, and I had nice neighbours. But when I started working in battery factory, I had no English. When the boss told me what to do, I didn’t understand what he was saying. All I could do is cry and cry. Whenever I was very upset, I cried. I cried so much then”.

“But I was so lucky to marry the man I met in Greece, because many Greek migrants married by photo; families chose girls and sent over their photos”.

She was the first Greek-speaking hair dresser in Australia, and she was earning enough money to live because all the Greek brides came to her.

She had no family here. “My neighbours were my family. You have to create your own family. If you smile at people, they will smile back at you. If you don’t give love, there is no love”.

I asked her whether she was treated differently because she was Greek. She responded: “One day I was in the salon and a person yelled, “Come here, you bloody wog”. And I said, ‘I am not wog, I am Australian'”.

Pipo said, “We all come from somewhere. Your mom might have come from England; whoever comes here comes from somewhere. I came from Greece”.

“This is my story. If you want to live happily, you need to have short memories and a thick skin”.

Racism is silly

A French woman was recently verbally abused by a group of racists on a Melbourne bus, and it was filmed on camera.   Our reporter, Thokgor Reech, comments:

All men are created equal”, said Thomas Jefferson.

No matter our race, colour, descent and ethnic origin, we all human beings.

Racism is silly; it reflects a narrow mindedness and lack of sensitivity toward others.

Human beings have distinguishing characteristics that determines their respective cultures.

Unfortunately, some people think they are superior to others, and are hostile towards members of another race.

There are two types of racism in the world: direct racial discrimination, which happens when a person is mistreated, abused, assaulted because of their race.

Systemic racial discrimination can happen when a policy treats people unfairly – socially, economically or politically – because of their race.

To overcome racism, it is necessary to make friendships with other people from different cultures and communities. Friendships cut all misconceptions between cultures and judges people as individuals rather than as groups.

It is important to live in peace and unity, with respect for other people.

Discourage those who judge others and make racist comments. Stop racist talk. It is important to make them realise how silly it sounds.

See video here