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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4927

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Government Whip) (12:07): I also join in strongly commending the member for Berowra in putting this matter before the parliament today, and I welcome representatives from the Assyrian Universal Alliance, Mr David David, Hermiz Shahen and all the members who are here today. As members would be aware, I have spoken on this matter many a time in this parliament. I agree with the member for Berowra that there is an urgent need for a compassionate response by the international community to what is truly a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The member for Berowra quoted a figure of 600,000 people who have left Iraq since 2003. I would like to quote a figure provided to me by the Catholic Church. They say that one million indigenous Assyrians, Mandaeans and other Christian minorities have exited Iraq since 2003. They have been forced to flee and have been subjected to forced conversions and physical violence. According to the Catholic Church, over a million people have left and they will not be returning to Iraq.

Australia was a willing participant in the military engagement in 2003 that saw a dramatic restructuring of the infrastructure and forces that operated to influence the outcomes within Iraq. The invasion resulted in a dramatic escalation of disputes between the Sunni and the Shia Iraqis, with the indigenous Assyrians and Christian minorities very much caught in the middle. Over the last 10 years, over a million indigenous Assyrians, Mandaeans and other Christian minorities have been forced to flee the region—a region which they have called home for the last 2,000 years. These Aramaic speakers—the same language that was spoken by Jesus Christ—were in that region well before the British and the French decided to put lines on a map and call it Iraq. These people were truly indigenous to that region and that has now failed to be accepted.

Back in 2010 I spoke of the horrific attack at Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad, where 56 Christians were murdered. People often go to churches, temples, mosques or whatever place of worship it may be to find spirituality, safety and solace. It is pretty heartbreaking to imagine families—young people with children—being murdered at what they would have considered to be the most sacred of locations, their place of worship. The location of the attacks sends a very strong message about religion being the focal point of violence and persecution in the Middle East today. The attack was carried out by members of the Islamic State of Iraq, a group aligned to al-Qaeda, who have made it their mission to rid Iraq of Christian minority groups, including Assyrians, and therefore Christians in Iraq—men, women and children—have been made legitimate targets by these radical organisations.

The report entitled Incipient genocide: the ethnic cleansing of Assyrians in Iraq outlines the detail of systemic and persistent persecution of Assyrians in Iraq, including these gruesome murders, extortion and violence. Looking at the images of the victims, including the children, and putting a face to each of these tragic stories is truly confronting and sobering. Assyrians and other religious minorities in Iraq face the most dire circumstances of any group of people in the modern world. Australia is a nation that is fortunate enough to enjoy political and economic stability and, as a leading member of the global community, has a responsibility to do all it can to improve these conditions. However, we have an additional moral responsibility to assist in Iraq because we were part of the coalition of the willing, which set in motion the chain of events resulting in the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq. Once again, I thank the member for Berowra for bringing this matter to the attention of the House. (Time expired)