December 6, 2005

Australia embroiled in war crimes/visa row

By Michael Perry

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Nine people refused refugee protection
visas by Australia in the past five years on the grounds they
had committed war crimes and crimes against humanity are still
living in the country, officials said on Tuesday.

Immigration officials said a total of 23 people had been
refused protection visas because of war crimes or crimes
against humanity but only two had been deported, nine left
voluntarily and three remained in immigration detention.

The other nine were living freely in Australia awaiting
appeals, an immigration spokesman told Reuters.

"Records currently indicate that 23 people have been
excluded from receiving protection visas under Article 1F (A)
(C) of the refugees convention between 2000 and the present,"
he said.

Those involved came from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sri Lanka,
Nepal, Lebanon, Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Tibet, Nigeria,
Chile, Iran, Iraq and India, the spokesman said.

But the department refused on privacy grounds to say
whether any of the cases had been referred to police.

The Sydney Morning Herald published an investigation on
Tuesday, headlined "Australia's War Crimes Fiasco," alleging
that the immigration department had "repeatedly failed to call"
police to investigate confessions of atrocities by asylum

It said Australian Federal Police had confirmed that of 15
war crimes allegations it had received in the past eight years
none had come from the immigration department.

"I don't want us to be a safe haven for war criminals,"
Tony Burke, Labor opposition spokesman on immigration, told

"If someone has committed atrocities overseas the police
ought to know about it. If the immigration department has any
information establishing that, or even leading to that, (the
minister) should be responsible to pass the information on."

The government has said it informs police where


On Monday, the government confirmed that a former bodyguard
of Iraq's Saddam Hussein was living in Australia after winning
an appeal against the rejection of his protection visa

It said it was reviewing Oday Adnan Al Tekriti's case.

The Herald broke the news that Tekriti had been in
Australia since arriving illegally by boat in 1999, sparking
criticism from Labor that the immigration system was failing.

The newspaper's revelations saw a former U.N. war crimes
investigator claim that Australia's failure to prosecute war
criminals had left it with a reputation as a safe haven.

"I believe that Australia has a reputation amongst those
who have been involved in war crimes as a safe haven," Graham
Blewitt, a former deputy prosecutor at the U.N. War Crimes
Tribunal at The Hague, told Australian radio on Monday.

"You are not going to be prosecuted (in Australia) and
frankly that is a reputation that Australia should not be
prepared to wear," Blewitt said.

Australia has been criticized in the past for not pursuing
alleged war criminals more vigorously. The Nazi-hunting Simon
Wiesenthal Center has charged Australia with a "loss of
political will" to bring local Nazis to justice.

Australia has tried unsuccessfully to prosecute a handful
of aging, suspected Nazi war criminals. The country disbanded
its war crimes unit in 1993 -- at the time a former war crimes
prosecutor said the unit was investigating 20-25 cases.

War crimes investigators believe war criminals arrived in
Australia as part of a wave of post-World War Two immigration.

Last week the Wiesenthal Center asked the Hungarian
government to launch an investigation into the World War Two
activities of a Hungarian living in Melbourne. It said he had
held an "important position" in the fascist Arrow Cross
movement which persecuted and murdered Jews in Hungary in 1944
and 1945.

Australian media reported last week that Croatia had
launched a war crimes investigation into a Yugoslav migrant
living in Australia. The man has told local media he fought on
the Serbian side in the Balkans war of the 1990s, but denied
killing civilians and torturing prisoners of war.