Mr HAYES (Fowler) (19:45): “Last week I had the honour of hosting the premier screening of a documentary, Defying Deletion, sponsored by the Assyrian Universal Alliance. The film, produced by a young American filmmaker, Andre Anton, depicts the very real and chilling plight of many of the Christian minorities in Iraq, including the Assyrians and Chaldean Catholics, as well as the followers of John the Baptist, the Mandaeans, and other marginalised groups.
I have on a number of occasions spoken in this place of the horrendous situation in which these minorities find themselves, largely following the involvement of the coalition of the willing in Iraq in 2003. They have been exposed to terrible acts of violence and persecution often to the point of death. They have also experienced a systematic loss of culture, heritage and language and are being forced to leave their traditional homelands.
Since 2003, the Catholic Church has estimated that more than one million Christians have fled Iraq, leaving their homes and, in many cases, families in search of basic survival. They have fled to neighbouring Syria, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt just to be met, in some instances, with almost as dire a fate as what they have fled. Recent political unrest in some of these countries has made their circumstances highly distressing. There were even reports a couple of weeks ago of Syria deploying death squads to push back many of the Christian minorities over the border into Iraq.
This worsening state of affairs for the indigenous and Christian minorities in the Middle East made last week's film screening all the more timely and confronting. The screening was also timely considering that it was only last week that in this place we debated Australia's migration laws.
A number of individuals who fled Iraq and who spent time at neighbouring refugee camps were lucky enough to eventually make their way to Australia as refugees. Many actually live in my electorate in Fowler. They waited patiently in the refugee camps for their turn to get a chance at a new life here or in other peace-loving countries that regularly open their doors to refugees on a very much humanitarian basis. Many of them were forced to leave their families behind in hope that one day they would be reunited in a country such as Australia.
These people would like be assured that the change in our immigration policy will remove any advantages or preferential treatment given to those who choose to pay the criminal element, people smugglers, in respect of buying a one-way ticket to this country. They want to know that, if they or their relatives apply for refugee status, they will be treated in an orderly and fair manner by this country. Removing any sort of preferential treatment for irregular boat arrivals through offshore processing was one aspect of the report of the expert panel adopted last week. Another important aspect that will certainly be welcomed by those who are concerned about a genuine humanitarian response includes the decision to increase our refugee intake to 20,000 per year with the eventual aim to increase it to 27,000 in five years. Adopting this recommendation demonstrates the compassion that Australia has towards genuine refugees.
As demonstrated by Mr Anton's film last week, there are a large number of those for whom getting to a country like Australia is the only chance of survival. I would like to thank the film producer, Mr Andre Anton, and Elmer Abbo, who assisted in the production, for travelling all the way from the US to give a voice to those suffering from this awful fate. I would also like to thank Hermiz Shahen, Deputy Secretary-General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance; David David, President of the Assyrian Australian National Federation; and Den Jadro, who accompanied them on the trip to Canberra, for all that they do in fighting for the protection of human rights of Assyrians and other minorities in Iraq.
I would also like to thank all the members who attended the screening last week for demonstrating their support of the struggle of these minorities in Iraq. Madam Deputy Speaker, we have a moral responsibility to help these people find peace. Link (page 105, Hansard)”