A former Nauru detainee who the Australian government helped to resettle in Cambodia with a payment of $98,000 is furious that we have not done enough to help him.
Abdullah Zalghani fled Syria in 2011 with his wife and family, abandoning them in Lebanon while he played refugee Lotto. Hoping to find a rich country to look after him, and having heard good things, he tried to reach Australia. But while en-route from Indonesia his boat was intercepted and Abdullah wound up on Nauru where he was miserable without a brand-new Ferrari.
Offers were laid on the table, and in 2016 he agreed to settle in Cambodia, which does not have as many Ferraris but serves a mean Shallot Lamb. Also, backsheesh was involved, with Australia agreeing to grease his oily palm to the tune of $60,000. Various other services were arranged for his ‘package’, most of it provided by the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). In December 2016, Abdullah sent for his wife and kids to join him in Phnom Penh, positive this cash bonanza was the tip of a golden iceberg.
To Abdullah’s rage and disgust, this turned out not to be the case, and he found himself abandoned by the country he had hoped would make him rich.
In May, Abdullah told the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) that Australia had defaulted on promises made to him. One of his central grievances is his belief that the Australian government assured him that Australia would foot the bill for his kids to attend a “local private school”.
The Department of Home Affairs issued a statement following publication by the ABC of Abdullah’s heart-wrenching story. The department clarified that a lump sum was paid to Abdullah specifically to cover his children’s health and education. But there was still the outstanding matter of their Ferraris and Abdullah was not a man to keep silent when double-crossed.
A spokesman for the department is quoted by the ABC as later on saying, “It was emphasised to Mr Zalghani that it was his responsibility to use the lump sum to cover his family’s health, education and other expenses he saw fit.”
He continued, “Mr Zalghani acknowledged this would be the last payment, and that he and his family were settled and established in Cambodia.”
It was also the case that Abdullah and his family received special consideration by being housed at IOM accommodation longer than the agreed term of three months.
While Abdullah admitted to the ABC receiving the lump sum, he would not back down from his position that he has been wronged. He told the ABC, “Yes, I received $38,350 (on top of the $60,000) but this amount is not for health insurance and study, because study and health insurance for four to five years are much higher than this amount.”
Thus duped, he explained how he had signed the document unaware of the cost of health and education in Cambodia, which was not at all generous to VIP Syrian refugees like him and his family. Abdullah was not about to be fobbed off with anything less than where diplomats send their children. When he did his research, he learned that the cost of such schools was astronomical and way more than the paltry sum provided by Australia. On top of that, he demanded the best healthcare and the price of that alone taken with all the other costs he had incurred had robbed him of his chance to own a Ferrari.
The Australian government, which could easily afford to give him more money, was deaf to his expounding. After all, Abdullah was a man with expenses. He had to pay back those who had taken care of his wife and children while he was in detention. Then was the cost of setting up a restaurant in Phenom Penh, which he had hoped would earn him enough to buy a Ferrari. But here too, as he was let down by Australia, the Cambodian people disappointed him buy not patronising his restaurant., which ran at a loss until he was forced to sell it off.
Abdullah is furious and will not settle until Australia opens up its rich cash reserves and starts floating a hell of a lot more free money his way. As Australian ex-servicemen top themselves because the government won’t take care of them, and Australians are forced to sleep rough for want of a roof over their heads, Abdullah is a special case. He is a Syrian man who is owed a living by the Australian people and not that of a pauper. He and his family deserve nothing less than to live like oil sheikhs.
The National Justice Project has agreed to take up Abdullah’s case, which is formally making demands of the Commonwealth. He is being represented by Don Mori, who handled the case of Aussie terrorist David Hicks.
Only three refugees have ever resettled in Cambodia, another Syrian and some Rohingya person. Yet, the deal with Cambodia is reported to have cost Australia $55 million, what with payoffs to the Cambodian government and the IOM. If justice is served according to Abdullah, then that will look like small beer by the time his lawyer is through with the government.
*NAB acknowledges the ABC as the original source of this story.