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Iraqis offered permanent residency in Australia.

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Wednesday 9 April 2008

Iraqis offered permanent residency in Australia


TONY EASTLEY: Well about 100 Iraqis, who've worked directly with Australian troops overseas are to be offered permanent residency in Australia.  


A special team of immigration officials and doctors has been formed to fast-track the processing of the workers and their families before Australian troops begin withdrawing at the end of June.  


Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon says the Federal Government has a moral obligation to provide a haven for Iraqi civilians who helped Australian troops. 


Mr Fitzgibbon says the approach to provide help came directly from Australian forces in Iraq and that the immediate families of the workers are welcome in Australia as well. 


Mr Fitzgibbon is speaking here with AM's Sabra Lane. 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: We expect up to 600 Iraqi's will be involved in the process. Interpreters and translators there have played a very significant role in assisting us in terms of strategy and of course, protection.  


And we do feel that we have a moral obligation to them, to resettle them here in Australia. We don't want to see the mistakes that have been made in the past and we're determined that they'll be taken care of. 


SABRA LANE: So when will that process begin? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, the process has begun immediately in a sense. Our teams are already preparing to travel to Iraq and near nations. Our allies have been informed of our intentions and the logistics of getting those people out of Iraq are already in the planning. 


SABRA LANE: What evidence does Australia have that these civilians' lives are at risk? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, I don't want to go into operational-type questions but of course, there have been some well-publicised cases of Iraq's facing retribution for assisting United Kingdom troops. When the Prime Minister and I were in Iraq just before Christmas, we were personally approached by a number of our people, our soldiers on the ground, appealing to us to ensure that those who have been working so closely with them and those who have been such assistance to them should be taken care of and of course, we heard that message very clearly. 


SABRA LANE: Does that mean that any Iraqi's who've rendered assistance will be eligible for these new visas or just those deemed at greatest risk? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: We rely on those on the ground in Iraq to tell us who are the nominated people. Our troops know who they are. They are well categorised and we have a database of them and what they've done and of course, we'll ensure that security checks and health checks are done on each of the individuals and their families. 


SABRA LANE: is it true that the Prime Minister led this push in Cabinet and what were his arguments? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: It is true that the Prime Minister was very determined to ensure that those who have helped us so much are taken care of and I do recall in one discussion, him invoking the experiences of the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War. 


SABRA LANE: Refugee advocates say if Vietnam is the benchmark here and allowing Iraqi's to resettle in Australia, that back in the 70's, Prime Minister allowed all Vietnamese displaced by war, who came to Australia by boat to resettle here. 


What of the thousands more Iraqi's who've been displaced by this war? Do we have a moral obligation to help them too? 


JOEL FITZGIBBON: Well, of course we've spent more than $75 million since 2003 on humanitarian aid in Iraq. We want to rebuild Iraq's economy and its society and as best we can, we want to keep people in the country. But of course, there are 13,000 other places available in the broader humanitarian program, so any other people who are able to demonstrate that they do face persecution on any grounds, are able to make application under the broader program. 


SABRA LANE: Minister, still on Iraq - the US Commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus has told congress overnight that he is going to stop US troop withdrawals in July as he says recent gains made by the Coalition will be put at risk by further troop withdrawals. That is when Australia is due to start its process of withdrawal - are we leaving our ally in the lurch here? 


SABRA LANE: No. General Petraeus' focus is on other regions and in particular on Baghdad. Dhi Qar and al-Muthanna Provinces where we've been operated, remain very, very stable, quiet and calm and of course, we've discussed our decision to withdraw our combat troops with our allies and with the US in particular and they understand our position.  


But that doesn't mean that the Australian Government doesn't remain committed to the broader Iraqi project and as I've said our humanitarian aid contribution will remain very, very significant.  


TONY EASTLEY: The Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon speaking there with Sabra Lane.