Europe’s migrant crisis: Sydney relatives rush to race to make case

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The Australian
Sydney Assyrian Resource Centre director Carmen Lazar, left. ‘My concern is to get the right people into the country.’ Picture: Britta Campion
Hundreds of frantic people crowded the Assyrian Resource Centre in Sydney’s west yesterday morning in the hopes of bringing asylum-seeking relatives to Australia as part of the government’s plan to settle 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Young and old waited anxiously from the early hours, clamouring at the entrance of the centre, desperate to submit letters of acknowledgment from the ­Department of Immigration and Border Protection on behalf of relatives marooned in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.

Amira Khochaba, who is trying to bring her cousin, her cousin’s husband and son from Lebanon, said their applications had been rejected three times.

“I’ve been scared to lodge (the application) again — this is the fourth time. I’m scared to do it and get rejected again. Where are they to go? They have no house, no income, nothing,” Ms Khochaba said.

“They are living in a, you know, an underground carpark near Beirut. We try to support them, send them money. They are not allowed to work, if they get caught they are going to send them back to Syria.

“They have to keep renewing their visitation … they don’t have priority in Lebanon.”

Raad Barkho, who arrived in Australia as a refugee three months ago and is trying to bring his brother and his family to ­Australia from Lebanon, des­cribed how they were forced to pay $20,000 in extortion money to extremist group Jahbat al-Nusra in 2013 in exchange for his brother’s return.

There was an expectation, ­expressed by Assyrian community members in the crowd, that this would speed up and help the refugee application process for their relatives.

Volunteers from the community, speaking Assyrian and Arabic, had helped family members fill out humanitarian visa applications “as an extra helping hand”, Carmen Lazar, the manager of the Assyrian Australian Association, told The Australian.

“We are supplying names, file numbers, addresses in which neighbouring countries they are in, and if they’re registered with the UNHCR as well. When it is collated, I will hand this into the Minister of Immigration, Peter Dutton … (in line) with our own request,” she said.

The community flocked to the Fairfield centre yesterday as a consequence of a roundtable discussion hosted by Tony Abbott with religious and cultural community leaders in Canberra on Friday about the settlement of an additional 12,000 refugees.

Mrs Lazar was present at that meeting. She said she had asked Mr Abbott how the government intended to properly “screen” ­Assyrian refugees. “The majority of our community (the Christian minority) do not live in camps, so how will you find them?” she asked.

“How will they undergo secu­rity and character checks? It’s ­impossible, as the majority do not have papers. My concern is to get the right people into the country, the ones being persecuted.”

Mrs Lazar said she was told by Mr Abbott that the Department of Immigration and Border Protection would need to “work with the community organisations in order to find them” and to help verify that they were bona-fide refugees.

“They’re preparing to send staff to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon,” she said.