Government putting Iraqi and Syrian Christians lives at risk by delay, refugee group says

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The World Today
By Mohammed Taha and Michael Edwards
Sana Hodi’s sister Ashwaq Khalil and mother Margaret Boutros
Photo: Ashwaq Khalil and Margaret Boutros are in Jordan waiting for their applications to be processed. (ABC News: Mohamed Taha)
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Map: Fairfield 2165

Australian Iraqi and Syrian Christians say the Australian Government is moving too slowly and lives are being put at risk by delays in bringing their relatives into Australia.

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Audio: Iraqi Christians say relatives lives are at risk due to Australia’s slow resettlement process (The World Today)

The Australian Government pledged to help by taking in 12,000 Iraqis and Syrians affected by fighting in the Middle East, and were 9,000 expected to end up in New South Wales, with many in the Fairfield area.

But according to official figures, only 26 people have arrived so far, with only a further 124 people approved.

Australian Syrian and Iraqi Christian groups have lodged thousands of visa applications for members of their community stuck in Jordan and Turkey.

When the former prime minister Tony Abbott announced the intake, he said the Government would “move quickly” to resettle the refugees.

Dr Intesar Naoum, from the Iraqi Christian Association, said the persecuted community needs help.

“The occupation of Mosul by [Islamic State], we’ve had a lot of Christians evacuate or fled Mosul, most of them are living in Kurdistan of Iraq and thousands of them fled to Jordan for safe haven there,” Dr Naoum said.

“They are seeking refugee to other countries, Australia is one of these countries. We are hoping to bring them as soon as possible.”

The Iraqi Christian Association said they had lodged more than 300 refugee claims, and some are dated back from two years ago.

An Immigration Department spokesperson told ABC that it was not possible to put a time frame on how long it could take to process the full cohort of refugees, as the processing time varies according to the circumstances of each applicant.
Hundreds of refugee applications but only a few arrivals

Dr Naoum said he has heard little from Immigration authorities other than that the cases are being processed.

“We had around 300 applications and till now I think one or two people of that list has arrived in Australia,” he said.

“We have been asked by our community what’s happening, it’s two years since then and still we haven’t received many of our families.

“We had many meetings with the Department of Immigration, we had follow-up emails to them seeking more feedback to these applications and unfortunately we haven’t had any feedback.”

Mr Hodi said his family lives with the stress of the uncertainty of their relatives being stuck in a dangerous place.

“We are suffering because they suffer there,” he said.

“The people there are in danger, they’re not safe. We hope that the Government [will] help and I hope that the Government will accelerate the process.”

‘There is no future for the Christians in Iraq’

Mosul, Iraq’s largest city and home to a large Christian community, has been regularly under attack by Islamic State militants, who have carried out massacres and destroyed churches, forcing the terrified Christians to flee.

Last week, the United States declared Islamic State’s atrocities as genocide.

Fairfield, 30 kilometres south-west of Sydney, is the hub of Australia’s Iraqi and Syrian Christian communities.

Many of the community are people who have fled war and discrimination, and a large number of them still have relatives back in the Middle East.

Sabah Hodi, who fled Iraq in 2012, is now trying to get his mother-in-law, sister-in-law and their family to Australia.

“There is no future for the Christians in Iraq, all the Christians are under threat,” Mr Hodi said.

“They kill us, persecute us, they take our homes … everything.”