The experience of Iraqi refugees who came to Australia to seek protection is under scrutiny by political experts who have gathered in Melbourne to argue that Australia could have done more to help those fleeing the conflict. 
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19 Mar 2013 - 2:11 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

The experience of Iraqi refugees who came to Australia to seek protection is under scrutiny by political experts who have gathered in Melbourne to argue that Australia could have done more to help those fleeing the conflict.

Ten years ago, Australian troops entered Iraq as a key member of the Coalition of the Willing. The war caused the displacement of some 4.7 million Iraqis who were forced to leave their homes following the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Deakin University PhD student Libby Effney told participants at the 'Iraq 10 Years On' symposium at Melbourne University last week that the Australian government played only a "minimal role" in helping Iraqi refugees. An estimated 11,000 Iraqis resettled in Australia Between 2001 and 2007.

"Newly arrived Iraqi refugees in Australia have relatively poor settlement outcomes, exhibit poor mental and physical health and experience high unemployment," she said.

"The quandary in which many Iraqi refugees in Australia find themselves raises important ethical questions about the country's interpretation of universal human rights and Australia's oblications to displaced Iraqis."

Iraq-born Mueen Albreihi was living in Australia with his family on a temporary protection visa in 2003.

He says the Australian government's decision to pause applications for permanent residency after the outbreak of war only served to compound stress caused by years of instability.

"We were waiting for our permanent protection in Australia to be processed by the Department of Immigration but because of the fall of the Saddam regime, the department stopped our applications from being processed, claiming that the situation in Iraq would be improved, so that was a big, big concern to everyone at the time," he says.

What was supposed to be a temporary pause lasted much longer than anyone expected, says Albreihi.

"After four years they decided to resume processing of those applications and they began granting the vast majority of Iraqis in Australia at the time were granted permanent protection visas," he adds.

Iraqi former refugee Sahar Abdullah has a different view, saying she can't fault the assistance given to her by the Australian government since she arrived here more than seven years ago.

“In my opinion, honestly, Australia really is the best country for refugees,” she says. “Because when we [got] here, I came as a refugee so I got my opportunity to learn English, to study, to get my job. This is a really good place. It's not like other countries.”

Abdullah disagrees with suggestions the Australian government could have done more to support people like herself.

“I think the government supports all the refugees,” she says.

“For example, when I came here I didn't have a job or any work so I got my benefits from Centrelink. And then I had that until I got my job. So this is the first thing, and this is the one of the many things we receive from the government.”