Australia may provide asylum to Iraqi workers

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Sydney, Oct 9 (UNI) Australia is considering offering sanctuary to dozens of Iraqis working as interpreters and support staff for Australian troops and diplomats in Iraq.

Thousands of Iraqis, working for the coalition forces in Iraq in a wide range of non-combat roles, have been warned by insurgent groups that they will be killed if they are captured or if the US-led forces leave.

Buckling under increasing public pressure, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had announced that Iraqis who have helped British troops will not be abandoned.

Similar concerns have been expressed by members of the Australian Defence Force and diplomatic service about their locally hired staff.

Because there is no plan yet to withdraw Australia's 1500 soldiers, sailors and air force personnel from Iraq, the discussions at cabinet level remain secret and the official line in Canberra is that there is no plan to offer Iraqis sanctuary, The Age reported.

A Government spokesperson said last night that immigration requests were considered on an individual basis. Another spokesperson for Labour's immigration had a similar response.

''They would have to apply in the normal way under the humanitarian programme,'' she said.

Yesterday, the Australian Defence Force and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade both declined to say how many Iraqis worked for them in Iraq or if any had been killed or injured in the violence there, citing ''operational security reasons''.

According to the British Ministry of Defence it has 538 Iraqis on its payroll and the Home Office says that since 2003, British forces have employed up to 15,000 Iraqis.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said Britain had taken in only 17 Iraqi refugees in 2007 out of the thousands waiting in Jordan for resettlement in safe countries.

Amnesty International has described this as extremely disappointing and said the British Government should stop sending people back to the violence in Iraq and it should stop forcing refused Iraqi asylum seekers into legal limbo and destitution.

UNI

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