Asylum for Iraqis who saved Wood
March 14, 2009
TWO surviving Iraqis from the army unit that rescued kidnapped Australian businessman Douglas Wood are finally safe in Australia.
The men had been hiding in Middle-Eastern countries after escaping from Iraq and arrived in Australia this week on emergency rescue visas.
The two were among nine Iraqi soldiers who gave evidence against two kidnappers who were captured when Mr Wood was freed from execution in 2005.
Mr Wood wrote to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd pleading for his help when he heard the other seven soldiers and members of their families had been hunted down and killed in apparent revenge attacks.
The Age was told the two visited Australian embassies in Jordan, Baghdad, Malaysia and the US only to be told they were not eligible to make such an application, or that Australia “is not taking Iraqis”.
The soldiers' former commander, Mohammed Al-Samarae, came to Australia to argue their case.
Mr Al-Samarae was a colonel when he led the operation that freed Mr Wood and left the Iraqi army as a brigadier-general. He has been given asylum in the US.
Mr Rudd and Immigration Minister Chris Evans sent senior officials from the Departments of Immigration and Foreign Affairs to meet Mr Al-Samarae and Mr Wood.
The head of the men's legal team, David Mann from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre, said they were rescued from clear and imminent danger.
He said al-Qaeda extremists had embarked on a calculated reign of terror against those who rescued Douglas Wood.
“They sought to hunt them down in a very concerted way and they'd already brutally executed seven of them,” Mr Mann said.
“These two men were next in line and needed to be rescued urgently. The Government rightly recognised their need to be rescued and put an emergency plan into place.
“We are delighted that they are safe,” Mr Mann said.
Mr Mann said Mr Wood was grateful to all those who helped save the men's lives.
“He said 'They saved me and now we've saved them',” Mr Mann said.
Senator Evans said yesterday the men were in grave danger and had been granted permanent refugee visas.
He said the Government recognised the role the Iraqis played in securing Mr Wood's release.
“There were genuine fears for the safety of these two soldiers because of the role they played in Mr Wood's rescue,” Senator Evans said. He said the men would be given help to establish new lives in Australia.