Australia will be resettling an extra 12,000 refugees in a “once-off” increase of our humanitarian refugee quota in response to pressure from the Australian people and an escalation in the Syrian & Iraqi conflict.
Australia’s international responsibilities and our “best interest” were two reasons behind the government’s change of position.
Addressing the parliamentary press corps in Canberra yesterday, the Prime Minister said that it was important for Australia to react to the unfolding humanitarian crisis “with our heads as well as our hearts”.
“I didn’t want to rush into something before receiving advice from our minister in Europe [who] is talking to the UNHCR.”
Mr Abbott said the government’s focus is on “persecuted minorities” that can never go back to Syria, which has been interpreted by some in the media as meaning Christian refugees.
“We want the 12,000 to come in as quickly as possible. It is important that we bring in people that will be contributors to the culture and community,” Mr Abbott said.
“This is a region which is riddled with conflict which is soaked in blood.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the Australian government will also provide humanitarian assistance to an additional 240, 000 people in Syria and Iraq.
“Their are urgent needs to provide basic equipment and support, shelter kits, clean safe drinking water, food and support for women and girls,” Ms Bishop said.
We can do this with the additional $44 million out of our humanitarian aid program…This way we can relieve some of the burden that the neighbouring countries are bearing as a result of the conflict within Syria and within Iraq, ” she said.
The government’s qualification that additional refugee placements would be open to “persecuted minorities” has attracted criticism from some who see it to be implicitly excluding or reducing the number of Muslim Syrians that would be resettled in Australia.
“There are persecuted minorities that are Muslim, there are persecuted minorities that are non-Muslim,”
“Our focus is on the persecuted minorities that have been displaced and are very unlikely ever to go back to their original home,” Mr Abbott said.
At the same press conference the government confirmed that RAAF airstrikes would be extended to regions under ISIS control in Syria, in an escalation of the conflict.
“Air strikes could take place within days”, Mr Abbott said.
Spokesperson from the Refugee Action Collective Queensland Mark Gillespie says that increased airstrikes against ISIS will not make a substantial difference.
“The airstrike is an outside regime that is not going to change anything,” Mr Gillespie said.
Mr Gillespie explained that Syrians are not the only refugees fleeing persecution
“Australia is putting up fences; If Lebanon can take 1 million refugees, it shows what can and should be done.”
Given Australia’s history of “turning back the boats”, Mr Gillespie believes the first refugees to be let in should be the ones Australia has detained in offshore detention centres.
“If we are going to welcome refugees, we should open the doors on Manus Island and Nauru, not just Syria.”
The ultimate end goal for refugees and assisting government parties is peace with its citizens and seeing the end of the ‘death cult.’
“All human beings are entitled to a government that doesn’t commit genocide against their own people,” Mr Abbott said.