Iraqi soccer players seek asylum


Three members of Iraq's Olympic soccer team and one of the team's assistant coaches announced their intention to apply for asylum in Australia after an international game in Gosford on November 17. They are currently on three-month temporary visas as athletes, and as such are not being sought by the immigration department.

Assistant coach Saadi Toma told his fellow team officials by telephone that he and the three players — identified as Ali Mansour, Ali Khidhayyir and Ali Abbas — that they did not want to return to Iraq because of the violence wracking the country following the March 2003 US-British-Australian invasion.

Three members of the national team, which differs from Iraq's Olympic team but shares some of the same players, refused to return home after the team's Asia Cup victory in July. Captain Younis Mahmoud, as well as Nashat Akram and Hawar Mulla Mohammed, said they feared for their lives if they returned.

After the game, Mahmoud called for the US to withdraw its troops from his country. "I want America to go out", he said. "Today, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, but out. I wish the American people didn't invade Iraq and, hopefully, it will be over soon."

Ironically, in a letter to Iraqi PM Nuri al Maliki, Australian PM John Howard said Iraqis should follow the example of their nation's soccer team. On August 13, Howard told journalists in Canberra, that Iraq's Kurds, and Shiite and Sunni Arabs, had to "take a leaf out of the book of the Iraqi soccer team. That was a wonderful moment in Iraq's otherwise sad experience, where the three groups came together in a magnificent victory. The metaphor that represents for the people of Iraq is compelling."

In other refugee news, a family of four from the Philippines is facing deportation after 23 years of living in Australia. They applied for asylum in 1996, but now their legal options have been exhausted and they are appealing to immigration minister Kevin Andrews to let them stay on humanitarian grounds. The family's mother, Susan Avendano, says her son is the only Australian citizen among them, but cannot be left behind as he has a mild intellectual disability.

"He needs help mentally, emotionally and of course the family bond with love and that's what we're offering to our son" she told the media on November 18.

On November 21, two Australian warships rescued the passengers of a sinking 10-metre wooden boat that had arrived off the coast of Western Australia from Indonesia. The passengers on board included three men, three women and 10 children.

A spokesperson for Andrews told the media that all 16 would be taken by the navy to Christmas Island, 500km south of Jakarta, where Australia has an offshore immigration processing centre.

The Howard government has spent hundreds of millions of dollars building a new immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, and has excised the island from Australia's immigration laws. This means that asylum seekers who are taken there are prohibited from accessing the Australian legal system to be settled as refugees in Australia.

Despite continued attempts by asylum seekers to enter Australia by boat — a right under international law — as well as continued protests by refugees in detention centres — such as the hunger strike in Villawood detention centre that began on November 15 — ALP leader Kevin Rudd has stated that if elected he would maintain the policy of mandatory detention of asylum seekers who arrive without prior official authorisation.

"You cannot have anything that is orderly if you allow people who do not have a lawful visa in the country to roam free", he told November 23 Australian. "That's why you need a detention system. I know that's politically contentious, but one follows from the other. Deterrence is effective through the detention system, but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas."