Jewish compassion for orphan

IT was perhaps inevitable in a national climate that has seen some commentators linking Muslim arrivals to terrorism, but Sydney solicitor George Newhouse is disappointed some fellow Jews have panned his campaign to help free a young asylum seeker from Christmas Island.

The Jewish human rights lawyer says he has drawn criticism from some Jewish quarters for taking up the legal cudgels for nine-year-old Seena Akhlaqi Sheikhdost, one of 22 survivors of a December 15 shipwreck off Christmas Island, which claimed the lives of his parents, among at least 50 deaths.

Iranian-born Seena made front-page headlines last week when he was photographed in a traumatised state at a funeral of one of the shipwreck victims in Sydney. He was later returned to detention on Christmas Island.

Legal action was not required, with Newhouse helping negotiate the return of Seena to Sydney, where the boy has extended family. On Tuesday, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen agreed to release the child.

“I think it’s a positive outcome and the appropriate one in the circumstances,” Newhouse told The AJN.

Newhouse said he was approached by relatives of Seena in Sydney to represent the boy. “Seena is a nine-year-old boy who watched his mother drown in front of his eyes and has lost both parents in the most horrific circumstances. He is a most deserving recipient of any assistance.”

Asked if being Jewish had informed his sense of compassion, Newhouse responded: “If you’re asking what motivates me, it’s the history of the Jewish people and my abhorrence of persecution and the fact that this is a young soul who’s gone through the most horrific trauma. I can’t imagine there would be anyone of any  faith or any creed that wouldn’t have sympathy for this child. I’d like to think that, but I’ve had comments made to me by Jewish people that don’t necessarily show the same level of sympathy.”


Image: George Newhouse. Photo: AJN file