Persecuted Iraqis may be granted sanctuary
October 9, 2007
THE Government is considering offering sanctuary to dozens of Iraqis working as interpreters and support staff for Australian troops and diplomats in Iraq if the Australians are brought home.
Thousands of Iraqis working for the coalition in a wide range of non-combat roles have been warned by insurgent groups that they will be killed if they are captured or if the US-led forces leave.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is expected to confirm overnight that a maximum of 500 new asylum places in Britain will be made available to Iraqis under threat of persecution.
This includes interpreters and others who worked for British forces in Basra or the embassy in Baghdad.
The British Government has previously said any Iraqis wanting to go to the UK would have to apply through the normal channels but Mr Brown has now buckled to public demands that Iraqis who have helped British troops should not be abandoned.
Members of the Australian Defence Force and diplomatic service are known to have similar concerns about their own locally hired Iraqis.
Because there is no plan yet to withdraw Australia's 1500 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel from Iraq, the discussions at cabinet level remain secret and the official line in Canberra is that there is no plan to offer Iraqis sanctuary.
A Government spokeswoman said last night that immigration requests were considered on an individual basis.
“All claims for protection are assessed in this way,” she said.
A spokeswoman for Labor's immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, had a similar response.
“They would have to apply in the normal way under the humanitarian program,” she said.
Mr Brown is also expected to announce further troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Yesterday, the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade both declined “for operational security reasons” to say how many Iraqis worked for them in Iraq or if any had been killed or injured in the violence there.
But in August an ADF spokeswoman said 77 Iraqis worked for the ADF in Iraq though she would not say what roles they filled. And a DFAT spokeswoman said then that 10 Iraqis worked for the embassy in Baghdad in administrative, research, maintenance and driving roles.
The British Ministry of Defence says it has 538 Iraqis on its payroll and the Home Office says that since 2003, British forces have employed up to 15,000 Iraqis.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Britain had taken in only 17 Iraqi refugees in 2007 out of the thousands waiting in Jordan for resettlement in safe countries.
Amnesty International has described this as extremely disappointing and said the British Government should stop sending people back to the violence in Iraq and it should stop forcing refused Iraqi asylum seekers into legal limbo and destitution.
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