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Hope for Syrian refugee intake

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A Federal Liberal frontbencher has predicted the Government will “look very favourably” at increasing the number of refugees it accepts from war-torn Syria.

Several Coalition MPs have urged Prime Minister Tony Abbott to do more, 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.

Abbott won’t budge on refugees for now 
Father buries toddlers, wife

Mr Abbott yesterday said “one of the good things about stopping the boats” is that Australia is in a “much better position” to take more people.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said increasing the refugee intake to help Syrians fleeing the war has been “under review”.

“We hadn’t made a final decision, but I would suspect that given the circumstances, we’ll look very favourably at that and I personally think I’ll support that,” he told Insiders.

But Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop has given no commitment to increasing the refugee intake.

She said an alternative option would be the creation of so-called safe havens within Syria and along its border.

“There should be consideration to whether we can set up safe havens inside Syria, inside Iraq, so that people who don’t want to leave can remain in their home country but safe from the terrorist attacks,” she said.

Ms Bishop told reporters that Australia had already announced an increase in the refugee intake to 18,750, and would continue to be part of the global response to the Syrian conflict.

“The Prime Minister and I had a very long discussion about this yesterday and we recognise that this is an international crisis,” she told Sunrise.

“It’s beyond the capacity of any one country or indeed any one region to resolve it.”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, meanwhile, has joined his New South Wales counterpart Mike Baird in calling on the Government to act.

“We certainly will be offering South Australia as an open and welcoming destination for those Syrians fleeing violence,” he said.

Mr Baird yesterday said the disturbing images of Aylan’s lifeless body on the beach moved him to think “surely we can do more” to help the “plight of the persecuted and the poor”.

“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,” he said in an emotional Facebook post.

“But stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.”

More than 240,000 people have been killed in Syria since 2011 and millions more have been displaced.

The conflict, which began with anti-government protests, has evolved into a complex multi-front war, with regime and rebel forces as well as Kurds and Islamic State (IS) group terrorists involved in the fighting.

Many Syrians are among the asylum seekers arriving in Europe, where Austria and Germany have thrown open their borders to thousands of exhausted people.

Labor’s Mark Butler has urged the Government to provide strong support to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We have seen funds from Australia under Tony Abbott to the UNHCR cut over their term in government,” Mr Butler told Sky News.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale wants Australia to accept 20,000 Syrian refugees immediately.

“If the prime minister has a skerrick of decency and compassion he would do what his predecessors have done – show some leadership and recognise that Australia needs to play its part in the world,” he told Sky News.

“We can’t continue with this isolationist, turn our back on the problems of the world approach that this prime minister brings to the office.”

Independent senator Nick Xenophon also backed calls for Mr Abbott to do more to help those displaced by the war.

Meanwhile the Government is considering a United States request to expand bombing operations across Iraq’s western border into Syria.

Cabinet’s National Security Committee will this week make a decision on whether to launch air strikes against IS targets in Syria, and is almost certain to authorise the action.