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Headmaster blasts 'totalitarian' act on family

The headmaster of Australia's most well known asylum seekers, the Bakhtiyari brothers, has criticised the sudden removal of their family from their home at the weekend as similar to that of a totalitarian regime.

St Ignatius College Adelaide headmaster Fr Greg O'Kelly SJ sent a letter to The Age after Roqia Bakhtiyari and her six children, including students Alamdar and Montazer, were taken from their home in community detention in Adelaide at 7am on Saturday.

"It is totalitarian to come into a house of sleeping children and to have these children woken by what was probably unsmiling strangers," Fr O'Kelly told The Age. "That's the sort of thing that we read about in areas we in Australia are generally against. I think people would consider that very unAustralian."

Yesterday, he met the boys, their father Ali and his lawyer, Paul Boylan, at the Baxter Detention Centre, South Australia, where Mr Bakhtiyari is held. The family is now at a separate detention facility near Baxter.

In his letter to The Age, Fr O'Kelly urged the Howard Government to show clemency to the family. He said the children's high profile had worked against them after they escaped from the Woomera Detention Centre and sought asylum at the British consulate in Melbourne at the behest of refugee advocates.

"I think there is a mindset against the family by certain high officials with the (immigration) department because they embarrassed the department," Father O'Kelly said.

He said the boys had integrated well into the community. Montazer, who graduated from Year 9 this year, was known at school at "Monty" and was a fine cricketer. Both brothers were good at soccer and Alamdar, who is in Year 11, was presented with the school prize for English as a second language this year. They were Port Power supporters and had attended games.

Fr O'Kelly described suggestions that Mrs Bakhtiyari was not coping without her husband as political persiflage - her husband had visited every three weeks.

Meanwhile Adelaide's Centacare Catholic welfare agency has written to the New Zealand Immigration Minister, Paul Swain, asking him to take in the Bakhtiari family.

Centacare director, Dale West, who sponsored their release from detention last year, said last night he received acknowledgement of the letter and expected to hear something in a couple of days. The letter was cleared first by the Department of the South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, who is on holidays.

But he said he is not optimistic about New Zealand accepting them since they were returned to custody because the situation had become more political. "New Zealand doesn't want to embarrass Australia," Mr West said.

Pictured: Fr O'Kelly with school medals won by the Bakhtiyaris (The Age)

Headmaster blasts 'totalitarian' act on family (The Age 21/12/04)
Welfare agency asks New Zealand to open its doors to Bakhtiari family (Sydney Morning Herald 21/12/04)

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs
St Ignatius College
Centacare Adelaide
Baxter Watch

Students rally behind detained Bakhtiyari family (CathNews 20/12/04)
Headmaster optimistic over Bakhtiyari claims re-examination (CathNews 31/8/04)
Centacare director 'devastated' by Govt demands (CathNews 30/6/04)
Bishop's increased concern over Baxter situation (CathNews 13/12/04)

Family loses fight after four years (The Age 21/12/04)
Vanstone defends timing of Bakhtiyari move (ABC North and West SA 20/12/04)
Early morning brings dreaded arrival (The Age 21/12/04)
NZ asked to give Bakhtiyaris a lifeline (The Age 21/12/04)
Welfare agency asks New Zealand to open its doors to Bakhtiari family
Letters: Please let the Bakhtiyari family stay - Fr G.J. O'Kelly (The Age 21/12/04)

21 Dec 2004