Prime Minister Tony Abbott says he is prepared to “step up to the plate” and increase the number of refugees Australia accepts from war-torn Syria, but within the current humanitarian intake.
Mr Abbott was urged to increase Australia’s refugee intake after photos of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi on a Turkish beach shocked the world and put a human face to the dangers refugees risk trying to reach safety.
This means a greater percentage of Australia’s 13,750 yearly refugee intake will be devoted to Syrians and Iraqis, after Mr Abbott confirmed that the overall number would not rise.
“No, we are proposing to [only] take more people from this region as part of our very substantial commitment,” Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott decided to raise Australia’s “substantial commitment” to Iraqi and Syrian refugees amid pressure from the public, the media and members of his own party.
As part of the government’s response, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton was dispatched to Geneva to ask the UN how Australia could help.
During a press conference on Sunday, Mr Abbott referred to the harrowing image of Syrian child Aylan Kurdi washed up deceased on the shore in Turkey.
The photograph of the three-year-old boy spread rapidly on social media and made the front pages of newspapers across Europe last week, bringing home the human tragedy of a story that has been running for months.
Some commentators said its impact was comparable to the iconic shot of a naked girl running towards the camera from a napalm attack during the Vietnam War.
“Our focus will be on families and women and children, especially of persecuted minorities, who have sought refuge in camps neighbouring Syria and Iraq,” Mr Abbott said.
NSW Premier Mike Baird, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten had all previously called for Australia’s commitment to Syrian and Iraqi asylum seekers to increase.
“It is a great thing that we don’t have children drowning at sea trying to get to our shores. That has been a significant humanitarian achievement,” Mr Baird said in an emotional Facebook post.
“But stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.”
‘PM must do more’
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten called on the Government to lift the overall refugee intake.
“Labor believes that we can take more refugees in Australia. We should also be providing greater resources to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees,” he said.
Labor agreed at its July national conference that it would double the current refugee intake to 27,500 by 2025.
Last financial year Australia settled more than 4400 people from Syria and Iraq, Mr Abbott said, adding that the overall refugee intake will increase to 18,750 by 2018.
But to put that into the European context, this year Germany said it expected to receive more than 800,000 refugees through its borders.
And compared to the number of applications for asylum in 2014, Australia’s yearly figure of 13,750 is lower than European nations like Italy (64,625), France (64,310), Austria (28,065) and Switzerland (23,770).
It is estimated some 7.6 million people have been displaced by conflict in Syria. More than four million of those have chosen to flee across the nation’s border.
Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the increase was “virtually nothing” as Mr Abbott gave “no real commitment” to raise Australia’s overall refugee intake.
“We need to be taking more refugees, we need to be putting more funding towards the United Nations, and we need to stop with the callous talk of turning back boats,” she said.
“It is crucial that we give an emergency intake above and beyond the current numbers of 20,000, to help re-settle those … children and families fleeing the war zone in Syria.
“Anything within the current intake, simply isn’t good enough. This is a humanitarian crisis.”
Dutton jets off to UN in Geneva
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Sunday travelled for Geneva to ask the United Nations how the Government can assist in the crisis.
It is expected Mr Dutton and the Government will announce the total number Australia will commit to resettle from Syria and Iraq in the coming days.
Mr Abbott said the Government was considering further funding for humanitarian assistance to those seeking refuge in refugee camps.
After Mr Abbott made his announcement the Greens called upon the Coalition to accept 20,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees immediately.
This week, cabinet’s national security committee will sit to sign off on a plan for the RAAF to expand bombing missions from Iraq, into Syria.
During the press conference on Sunday, Mr Abbott did say the overall refugee intake in Australia will increase to 18,750 by 2018.
But who misses out now to account for the bigger intake from Iraq and Syria?
– with ABC