Australia grants visa to Iraqi man held on Pacific island for five years

News Stories, 1 February 2007

© The Age/Paul Harris
Mohammed Faisal (far right) celebrates his freedom with friends from the Brisbane hospital where he spent five months. Photo courtesy of and

CANBERRA, Australia, February 1 (UNHCR) The ordeal of Iraqi refugee Mohammed Faisal is finally over after he was granted an Australian protection visa following five years stuck on a tiny Pacific island and five months in a psychiatric hospital in Brisbane.

The UN refugee agency welcomed the resolution of the 27-year-old's case after he was given the all-clear on Wednesday to live and work freely in Australia. "I want to meet with friends, focus on my health, study and help my family who are still in Iraq," he told UNHCR after receiving his permanent visa.

Faisal was one of hundreds of asylum seekers from various countries who were held on the Pacific island nation of Nauru as part of an Australian immigration strategy aimed at deterring others from trying to reach mainland Australia.

The young man, arriving by boat in 2001, was eventually recognised as a refugee following a review of remaining Iraqi claims on Nauru in 2005. But while the cases of the other asylum seekers were resolved, Australia's national intelligence agency ruled that Faisal and fellow Iraqi, Mohammed Sagar, posed a security risk and should not be granted a visa to Australia.

UNHCR has since found Sagar a resettlement place in Scandinavia and he is expected to travel to his new homeland later this month. But Faisal's case was only resolved after he became suicidal and was transferred to a psychiatric hospital in the eastern Australian city of Brisbane last August.

Faisal was able to lodge an application for a protection visa after his arrival in Australia, triggering a fresh assessment by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. The agency now classed him as not being a risk to national security.

Sandi Logan, a spokesperson for Australia's immigration and citizenship department, said Faisal now met "all criteria entitling him to the grant of a protection visa and consequent release from detention."

Australian Attorney General Phillip Ruddock told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday that the security agency "came to a different view on the basis of fresh consideration of material that was before it that was different to what was before them before."

A relieved Faisal told UNHCR in Brisbane about the enormous support he had received from people in Nauru and Australia, including new friends made in the hospital. On his first day of freedom, he was back visiting Ringo, an Australian war veteran and fellow patient. "I am worried about my friend Ringo, worried to leave him alone with himself. And so I came here to visit him today, to give him his medication and make sure he has his food."

In the coming days, Faisal will travel to Melbourne to meet friends and supporters, including other refugees who spent time on isolated Nauru, which receives aid in return for holding asylum seekers while Australia processes their applications. There are currently eight asylum seekers from Myanmar on Nauru, taken there by Australia after they were found on Ashmore Reef in August 2006.

Susan Metcalfe, a close friend of Faisal, said that with the uncertainty over he could get on with rebuilding his life. "The healing began when a visa was placed in his hand," Metcalfe said, adding: "He now has some peace of mind knowing that he will have a future in this country, that he can get a job, make choices for himself, and even ... walk down the street by himself."

Australia struck deals in 2001 to use Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea as offshore processing centres for the hundreds of boat people trying to reach the country's shores. The move came after a Norwegian freighter, the MV Tampa, rescued 433 asylum seekers from a leaking fishing boat and was refused permission to bring them to Australia.

Under subsequent legislation, all asylum seekers arriving at islands excised from Australia's migration zone had their claims heard offshore. Since 2001, a total of 1,547 people were processed on Nauru or Manus Island. Of these, 482 returned voluntarily to their countries of origin following negative refugee status decisions.

Another 1,062 were resettled on either refugee or humanitarian visas, with more than half coming to Australia. Until Wednesday, Faisal was the last remaining asylum seeker of this caseload after his compatriot Sagar was accepted for resettlement in December.

By Ariane Rummery in Canberra, Australia




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Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR and its partners estimate that out of a total population of 26 million, some 1.9 million Iraqis are currently displaced internally and more than 2 million others have fled to nearby countries. While many people were displaced before 2003, increasing numbers of Iraqis are now fleeing escalating sectarian, ethnic and general violence. Since January 2006, UNHCR estimates that more than 800,000 Iraqis have been uprooted and that 40,000 to 50,000 continue to flee their homes every month. UNHCR anticipates there will be approximately 2.3 million internally displaced people within Iraq by the end of 2007. The refugee agency and its partners have provided emergency assistance, shelter and legal aid to displaced Iraqis where security has allowed.

In January 2007, UNHCR launched an initial appeal for US$60 million to fund its Iraq programme. Despite security issues for humanitarian workers inside the country, UNHCR and partners hope to continue helping up to 250,000 of the most vulnerable internally displaced Iraqis and their host communities

Posted on 12 June 2007

Crisis in Iraq: Displacement

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to the Syrian capital Damascus on 2 October, 2009 to meet Iraqi refugees two years after her last visit. The award-winning American actress, accompanied by her partner Brad Pitt, took the opportunity to urge the international community not to forget the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi refugees who remain in exile despite a relative improvement in the security situation in their homeland. Jolie said most Iraqi refugees cannot return to Iraq in view of the severe trauma they experienced there, the uncertainty linked to the coming Iraqi elections, the security issues and the lack of basic services. They will need continued support from the international community, she said. The Goodwill Ambassador visited the homes of two vulnerable Iraqi families in the Jaramana district of southern Damascus. She was particularly moved during a meeting with a woman from a religious minority who told Jolie how she was physically abused and her son tortured after being abducted earlier this year in Iraq and held for days. They decided to flee to Syria, which has been a generous host to refugees.

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie meets Iraqi refugees in Syria

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie returned to Iraq in July 2009 to offer support to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who remain displaced within their own country.

During her day-long visit to Baghdad, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited a makeshift settlement for internally displaced people in north-west Baghdad where she met families displaced from the district of Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad, and from the western suburbs of the capital.

Despite the difficulties in Iraq, Jolie said this was a moment of opportunity for Iraqis to rebuild their lives. "This is a moment where things seem to be improving on the ground, but Iraqis need a lot of support and help to rebuild their lives."

UNHCR estimates that 1.6 million Iraqis were internally displaced by a wave of sectarian warfare that erupted in February 2006 after the bombing of a mosque in the ancient city of Samarra. Almost 300,000 people have returned to their homes amid a general improvement in the security situation since mid-2008.

Angelina Jolie returns to Iraq, urges support for the displaced

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