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Thursday, 27 March 2003
Page: 13808

Ms GILLARD (2:42 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs. Will the minister confirm that in the last six weeks the Howard government has returned six Iraqi asylum seekers? Can the minister confirm that these Iraqis have been sent to countries on the edge of the combat zone, countries which are preparing for a major intake of refugees as a result of the war in Iraq? Will the minister assure the House that these Iraqis who have been repatriated are safe?

Mr RUDDOCK (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Reconciliation) —I thank the honourable member for Lalor for her question. Can I just say that the figures that I gave before to the House in relation to Iraqis suggest that some 86 people were assessed, amongst the some 5,000 or so who came to Australia without lawful authority, and were found not to be refugees. The reason that they were found not to be refugees was because they had other available protection. That was the reason in the main; I think there may have one or two that were rejected on character grounds. I looked at the figures for other countries in relation to assessing Iraqis and the interesting aspect was that many countries in Europe had rejected in excess of 50 per cent of Iraqi asylum seekers over a period of time. Of the 86, there remain, I think, 39 in detention in Australia. There have been a number of people, over a period of time, who have obtained travel documents voluntarily and left Australia to avail themselves of other protection available to them.

Ms Gillard —Where are they?

Mr RUDDOCK —There are a number of countries: Iran, Syria and Jordan. Those people have gone to a number of those countries over a period of time.

Ms Gillard —Are they safe?

Mr RUDDOCK —I am aware of a family of six people, who applied for and obtained travel documents to leave Australia and to travel to New Zealand—I am sorry; Syria.

Opposition members interjecting

Mr RUDDOCK —The documents that they obtained, which included a visa to enter Syria, enabled them to be removed from Australia. The fact is—excusing the mirth—that, while they travelled to Syria, I understand all six are now in New Zealand.