The refugee son of the assassinated Iraqi leader, Izzedin Salim, has been granted special dispensation to return to Iraq and grieve with his family.
A Special Purpose Visa for Riad al-Hujaj was being hastily arranged yesterday after the intervention of the Prime MInister John Howard and Minister for Immigration Senator Amanda Vanstone.
Mr Hujaj, who arrived by boat in Australia in October 2000, lives in western Sydney on a temporary protection visa (TPV). Normally, if he was to leave Australia he would not be allowed to return.
Mr Salim, a long-time opponent of Saddam Hussein and member of the Islamic Dawa Party, was heading the US-appointed Iraq Governing Council when he was killed in Baghdad on Monday by a suicide bomber.
Mr Hujaj described the decision as the best consolation he could get in his time of grief. “I was not expecting this would happen so I am extremely thrilled. I am very grateful to the Government to be able to go and come back,” he told an interpreter.
“It’s probably the first time someone in my position could travel like this.”
A spokesman for Senator Vanstone could not provide details of how often such visas had been issued. “They have been used from time to time but they have not been regularly used.”
However, Margaret Piper, the executive director of the Refugee Council of Australia, said the visa was extremely rare. To count how many times it had been used would not need “very many fingers at all and definitely not any more than one hand”.
Three years ago the then Minister Philip Ruddock refused Ahmed Alzalimi permission to visit his wife Sondous Ismail Ibrahim in Indonesia after their three children drowned in the Siev X disaster.
“When they argue a man who has lost three children is not a sufficiently serious situation to warrant the minister exercising his discretion and here we have a situation where, yes there is a real tragedy involved but because of the political connections the visa is offered very promptly there is a significant inconsistency,” Ms Piper said.