Door opens for 4000 Iraqis

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Continuing uncertainty in Iraq has led the Australian Government to agree to lift the freeze on processing applications from Iraqis on three-year temporary protection visas who came by boat.

Until now, the Government had refused to deal with the applications, dating back as long as 18 months, saying it was waiting for the situation in Iraq to stabilise. The refugees feared this meant the Government would send them back, even though United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has recommended against forced returns.

Iraqis were the largest group to arrive by boat to Australia in the three years to 2002 and 4269 of them, more than 90 per cent, were assessed as genuine refugees who had fled death or persecution. But they were granted only temporary protection visas. Of these, 4107 have applied to stay in Australia following the expiry of their three-year visas.

The 1809 who arrived before the law changed in September 2001 can stay permanently if their applications are accepted, while most of the rest are eligible only for a new three-year visa.