Iraqi Christians, Yazidi refugees fleeing Islamic State for Australia may miss out on visas

By social affairs correspondent Norman Hermant
The Assyrian Resource Centre says the 4,000 special humanitarian visas are not enough to cope with the number of refugees fleeing Iraq. ABC The Assyrian Resource Centre says the 4,000 special humanitarian visas are not enough to cope with the number of refugees fleeing Iraq.

As hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Christians and Yazidi refugees flee Islamic State (IS) militants, family members living in Australia are hoping to secure special humanitarian visas for their loved ones.

But groups representing the communities say the 4,000 places freed up by the Government are far too few.

In a bare apartment in western Sydney, the distinctive sound of Kurdish drifts out into the top floor hallway.

A Yazidi man is on his daily video call with his wife, now a refugee in Turkey.

Brim, not his real name, is an Australian citizen and has been here more than two decades. But as a follower of the minority Yazidi faith, he still fears for his safety.

Brim’s wife and stepdaughter fled northern Iraq two weeks ago, barely escaping the latest advance of IS militants.

They have joined the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Yazidi refugees.

They are now in central Turkey, struggling for the very basics.

“There are 32 persons in two rooms – 32 persons, imagine. It’s like cat, or like mouse. They surviving like that,” Brim said.

There are many other stories of suffering.

At a community resource centre in Fairfield, in Sydney’s west, the hallways are jammed with the families of Iraqi Christians – Assyrians – looking for help.

They wait for their turn to meet with volunteers who can help process immigration applications.

Almost everyone has a tale of family members desperate to escape to Australia.

Admoun Anwiya is hoping to get a visa for his brother, who he says was wounded by IS militants in Mosul.

“My brother, he’s a doctor and he’s a specialist,” he said.

“And [Islamic State] attack him in his surgery and shoot him in his head … only because he’s a Christian.”
4,000 visas does not meet demand: Assyrian Resource Centre

Many at the Assyrian Resource Centre say even the well-established Christian community in Baghdad is under siege.

Ilvin Warda says her sister’s family are now virtual prisoners in their home.

“Every day I will cry,” she said.

“At night they phone me, ‘save our Christians’. I don’t know how I [can] help them.”

The Government says it has freed up 4,000 places for special humanitarian visas – many for applicants from Iraq and Syria – but those are not new.

They come from the already existing quota of 13,750, reduced from 20,000 this year.

Carmen Lazar of the Assyrian Resource Centre says while her community appreciates everything the Australian Government has done in the past, this time it is not enough.

“I know that Australia cannot take the 125,000 refugees that are currently registered with United Nations,” she said.

“But we still need assistance. Four thousand – we need more than that.”

As for families with already existing visa applications, like Brim’s, the Department of Immigration says there are no plans to speed up the process for refugees fleeing the IS.

His wife’s application for a spousal visa has now been shifted to the Australian embassy in Turkey because she has fled Iraq.

Brim has been told it could still be a year until they learn whether she can come to Australia.

In the meantime, he can barely hold back his tears as he talks about reports of the IS raping and even selling women.

“They come to catch them, and they selling them. They selling them,” he said.

“Oh my god. We are in [the] 21st century. They [are] selling women. Oh my god, what kind of culture, what kind of human[s] are they?”

Do you know more? Email*