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Government says no record of Iraqi soldiers' -

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Government says no record of Iraqi soldiers' fight for freedom

The World Today - Tuesday, 24 February , 2009 12:30:00

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

ELEANOR HALL: Back home again now, the Federal Government has rejected the allegations by the
former hostage Douglas Wood that it treated his Iraqi rescuers shabbily.

The Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the Government has no record of the Iraqi men ever
applying for protection in Australia.

Mr Wood was held captive by insurgents in Iraq for almost two months in 2005. Iraqi soldiers
secured his release but since then seven of them have been killed.

Mr Wood says the remaining men have tried to apply for asylum but have been turned down by
Australian authorities.

The Immigration Minister says he's asked departmental officials to contact Douglas Wood to see if
any assistance can be offered.

Alison Caldwell has our report.

ALISON CALDWELL: Speaking to a packed press conference on his return to Australia, former hostage
Douglas Wood described his dramatic rescue by Iraq soldiers after being held captive by insurgents
for over six weeks.

DOUGLAS WOOD: Well, I wasn't sure what was happening. First there was a bit of shooting outside,
and then they came and covered me over with a blanket and there was still a lot of yelling and
screaming. And then a gun was actually fired inside the room; that was a bit scary.

REPORTER: It was a good day.

(Laughter)

DOUGLAS WOOD: The Iraqi boys did a very good job at saving me.

ALISON CALDWELL: Since then seven of the 10 soldiers who rescued Douglas Wood have been killed by
al Qaeda. He now lives in Melbourne.

DOUGLAS WOOD: One was shot, they came into his house and shot him. The other one was taking his
child to school, going down the street for a loaf of bread, whatever. Normal, selected, gunned
down. It's mind-boggling. And all because they helped me.

ALISON CALDWELL: The man in charge of the rescue operation, Colonel Mohammed al Samarae, has been
granted permanent residency by an undisclosed Western country.

For their safety, the remaining two men are living in another country, supported by Colonel
Mohammed.

Douglas Wood says they want asylum here in Australia. He says the country owes it to them.

DOUGLAS WOOD: I hope they'll immediately grant them asylum and bring them to Australia. I think
that's the humanitarian thing to do. I think that's the right thing to do.

Oh no, they're still at risk where they're at, al Qaeda is obviously looking for them. Knocked off
the seven others and they want, as part of their terror campaign, to keep the civilian population
scared.

ALISON CALDWELL: Colonel Mohammed is visiting Australia to support the men's case for asylum.

It's claimed that in 2005, he applied for asylum in Australia, at the embassy in Baghdad and in
Jordan, with no luck.

DOUGLAS WOOD: You know, they thanked him for rescuing me but that was it.

ALISON CALDWELL: So he has sought asylum in Australia?

DOUGLAS WOOD: Oh yes, he did. He went about three times in Baghdad and again he went in Jordan and
they kept rejecting him, then finally found safety elsewhere.

ALISON CALDWELL: Douglas Wood says in October last year, Colonel Mohammed accompanied the men to
Malaysia.

DOUGLAS WOOD: At his own expense again, he flew these two boys to Malaysia, to the Australian
embassy, and pleaded their case and was denied. Their lives are at risk because they have saved an
Australian.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Immigration Minister Chris Evans says the department hasn't been able to find
any record of the men applying for protection in Australia.

CHRIS EVANS: We've got no record that we can find of any such application. I want to be clear, I'm
not saying there hasn't been but we couldn't find no record at this stage of there having been an
application seeking protection.

ALISON CALDWELL: He says if they've left Iraq, the men can also seek help from the UNHCR (United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to apply for asylum in a third country.

In the meantime, he's asked the Immigration Department to arrange a meeting with Douglas Wood to
see if any assistance can be provided.

CHRIS EVANS: And see if we just can't get to the bottom of it. I think the best thing to do is if
we can get an urgent meeting with them, examine their documentation and claims and get to the
bottom of the matter.

ELEANOR HALL: That's the Immigration Minister Chris Evans ending that report by Alison Caldwell.