UN refugee agency welcomes Australian visa for long-term Iraqi refugee

2 February 2007

The United Nations refugee agency has welcomed Australia’s decision to grant a permanent visa this week to an Iraqi refugee whom it had detained on the Pacific island nation of Nauru for five years.

Mohammed Faisal, 27, can live and work freely in Australia after receiving a protection visa on Wednesday, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported yesterday.

“I want to meet with friends, focus on my health, study and help my family who are still in Iraq,” Mr. Faisal told UNHCR after learning the news.

Mr. Faisal was one of more than 1,500 asylum-seekers who were held on Nauru or Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island as part of an immigration strategy by Australia aimed at deterring others from trying to reach the country’s mainland.

The strategy was introduced in 2001 after a Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, rescued 433 asylum-seekers from a leaking Indonesian fishing boat off the north-western coast of Australia and was then denied permission to bring those people to Australian land.

Nearly all of the asylum-seekers who have arrived since then have had their claims processed and either been accepted into Australia or another country, or they have returned voluntarily to their countries of origin.

Australian immigration authorities initially refused to grant a visa to Mr. Faisal, citing an assessment by intelligence officials that he posed a security risk. The Iraqi man then became suicidal and was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in Brisbane last August.

After arriving in Australia, Mr. Faisal was able to lodge a fresh visa application, and a re-assessment by intelligence officials cleared him of posing any security threat.

Eight asylum-seekers from Myanmar remain in Nauru after being transferred there last year when they were found on an Australian offshore reef. Another Iraqi refugee, Mohammed Sagar, is waiting to travel to Scandinavia after UNHCR arranged a resettlement place for him.