Assyria: Australian MP Raises Awareness About Minority Components in Iraq and Syria
The survival of Assyrians and other minority components is threatened by the conflict taking place in Iraq and Syria: many have been displaced, kidnapped, tortured, raped and killed. However, the discrimination they are facing is not a new phenomenon and in 2014 Mr Chris Hayes, member of the Australian Parliament, took part in a call to the Iraqi government for a plan to accommodate the Assyrian people and preserve their culture and rights. In a speech on 22 February 2016, Mr Hayes reiterates the urgency of addressing the status of the Assyrian people.
Below is an article published by the Assyrian Universal Alliance
Mr. Chris Hayes MP, Federal Member for Fowler and Chief Opposition Whip, made a statement in the Federal Parliament on 22nd February 2016, about the current situation of the Assyrians in the Middle East and the advocacy role of the Assyrian Universal Alliance (AUA) in the local community.
On behalf of the Assyrian universal Alliance and the Assyrian Australian community, we would like to thank Mr Hayes for his inspiring speech and support for the Assyrian community. Below please find the full Statement:
CHRIS HAYES – Adjournment– Assyrian Community, 22 February 2016
Mr. HAYES (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (21:00): Since the 1980s, Australia has seen a growing number of Assyrian migrants enter its shores under various humanitarian, refugee and family reunion visas. A high population of the Assyrian community in Australia, numbering around 40,000, actually resides in Western Sydney. Most have migrated from countries like Iraq, Iran and Syria, with a smaller number from Lebanon and Turkey. Since the involvement of the ‘coalition of the willing’ in Iraq in 2003, over one million Assyrians, Christian minorities and Mandeans in Iraq have been murdered or forced to flee the country, with all hope of returning to their homes lost. And there has been no improvement since. Minority groups in Iraq particularly the Assyrian and Mandean populations have been marginalised constantly and face annihilation. According to the Assyrian Council of Australia, Assyrians are threatened by total annihilation due to the dire and unstable situation in Iraq and Syria. Before the military involvement in Iraq in 2003, the Mandean population, for instance, numbered 60,000. Now that number is down to 3,000.
There has been real and ongoing persecution of all of these minority groups in Iraq and Syria, and it is not just from the forces of ISIS. Over the last decade, the Assyrian people have been forced to abandon the region where their culture and traditions have flourished over the past 6,000 years. Many Assyrians who have been displaced in Iraq have fled from the cities to settle in remote villages, where there is limited access to aid organisations. These families are living in very harsh conditions, with no resources and little hope of ever returning home.
Last year, together with the member for Berowra, I visited refugee camps in Jordan, Turkey and Lebanon and was able to see the situation firsthand, much of which is not reported in the media. The refugees I got to speak to were mainly women and children. They were living in crowded tents or shipping containers which very much would only be expected for short-term occupancy. Many of them had already lost all hope. But the thing is that these were not Assyrians, not Mandeans and not members of the Christian minorities; for them, even living in a refugee camp is still very unsafe.
With the growing threat of ISIS taking hold in Syrian and Iraqi cities, Assyrians and Mandeans have been subject to ongoing torture, kidnap, rape and complete displacement. Assyrians and other minority groups lack the proper funding and resources needed to combat ISIS. The House would remember that a number of us called on Iraq, only two years ago, to establish an autonomous province on the Nineveh Plain to accommodate the Assyrian people. While the Iraqi government appeared to give favourable consideration some two years ago, regrettably it’s now just a distant dream. In fact, Nineveh—once considered to be ancient Assyria in Iraq—which flaunted beautiful sites, and sculptures housed in the Mosul Museum, has now largely been destroyed by ISIS, leaving nothing for the Assyrians to go back to. Their everyday lives, their homes and evidence of their history have all been wiped out. I acknowledge the great work of friends of mine: Hermiz Shahen, the Deputy Secretary General of the Assyrian Universal Alliance, and David David, the President of the Assyrian Australian National Federation, for their tireless work in bringing these issues to the attention of the international community. We have a duty to advocate for these minorities; people whose voices are not being heard over the Islamic nature of the Middle Eastern conflict. The very identity of the Assyrian culture is now under serious threat. Assyrians and minorities from the Middle East conflict have made Western Sydney their home. These persecuted minorities have made first-rate Australian citizens. They have embraced Australia as their new home and value the freedom and democracy that it offers. I greatly enjoy getting to know these communities and vow that I will continue to work with them.
Reports released by the UNHCR, the Assyrian International News Agency, Amnesty International and the minority groups themselves make the same point: that persecution is happening, and there are not enough resources being directed to assist in these concerns. The Assyrians and other minorities deserve a homeland—a place where it is safe to live, to raise a family, to enjoy the right to live and to practice their religion.