Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

Chris Hayes MP – Private Members’ Business - Assyrian People

June 21, 2021

  (Fowler—Chief Opposition Whip) (11:15): I second the motion. I thank my colleague the Member for McMahon for moving this motion and I welcome all our Assyrian constituents who are here today. The simple fact is that Assyrian and Chaldean families have long made their home in my electorate of Fowler and in the electorate of McMahon. Since the 1980s, they've been coming to Australia in greater numbers under various humanitarian, refugee and family reunion visas. The Australian Assyrian community has made a significant contribution to our nation. That's because they are some of the most hardworking, industrious and dedicated people to migrate to this great country of ours.

Despite migrating to Australia, this vibrant Assyrian community have not forgotten where they came from, their homeland, and particularly not the struggles of their people. The Assyrian community of Iraq, as we've just heard, have shown great strength and resilience in the face of extraordinary tyranny and adversity. I commend the Australian Assyrian community for their campaigning and tireless efforts in support of the Assyrian people facing such a terrible plight in the Middle East. I take the opportunity of acknowledging Hermiz Shahen and David David and all the members of the Assyrian National Council of Australia. I want to refer particularly to Ms Carmen Lazar and the Assyrian Resource Centre for their ongoing advocacy and the extraordinary role that they play every day for the Assyrian community settling in this country.

It was only last week that David and Hermiz, together with Carmen, met with the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs to discuss the ongoing and pressing issues facing the Assyrian people of Iraq. During the meeting, they raised the possibility of Australia playing a bigger role in the settlement of Assyrians and other religious minorities from Iraq in this country. I know this approach is particularly supported by His Beatitude Archbishop Mar Meelis Zaia, as well as His Grace Archbishop Nona of the Chaldean Catholic Church. My community in Western Sydney has played a very constructive and welcoming role in settling refugees in this country, particularly with a majority of refugees coming from the Middle East now calling our area home. I must acknowledge the great work of Carmen Lazar and the Assyrian Resource Centre and thank Carmen for her extraordinary efforts and assistance in settling migrants and refugees from the Middle East.

Over the past decade, the Assyrian people have been forced to abandon the region in Iraq where their culture and traditions have flourished for over 6,000 years. Many Assyrians have been forced to flee from their homes in cities into remote villages, where unfortunately there's limited access to health, education and other essential services. These families are living in very harsh conditions with few available resources and certainly no hope of returning to their homes.

The recent attacks on Assyrian villages in Iraq, which have threatened the lives of many and left places of religious and cultural significance in ruins, demonstrate that the survival of the Assyrian culture and identity is clearly under threat. There are reports that the situation is so dire that the Assyrians of Iraq have declined in number by a staggering 90 per cent over the past decade. From an estimated 1.5 million in 2003, they are now just over 150,000. We can only pray that those remaining in Iraq do get the opportunity for a new start in life, free from the threat of persecution and free to practise their religion and cultural identity.

The ongoing political turmoil in Iraq leaves me with great fear for the plight of the Assyrians and other religious minorities living there. While the threat of ISIS may have been removed, the Assyrians, Christians and other religious minorities unfortunately continue to live in fear under increasing threat from various militias controlling local areas, particularly throughout the Nineveh Plains. We hear reports of curfews being imposed upon them as well as harassment and abuse. Like many, I welcomed the statement by the Iraqi government in 2016 to recognise the aspirations of the indigenous Assyrians, leading to an in-principle agreement to establish an autonomous region. I call on the Iraqi government to give effect to that decision of 2016 and provide a safe haven for the Assyrian people. We cannot abandon people to whom our civilisation owes so much.