As Europe struggles to manage the flood of refugees from Syria and Iraq, Tony Abbott has promised Australia will “step up to the plate” and increase its humanitarian intake from this part of the world. However, the increased intake will remain within the Government’s agreed overall refugee program of 13,750 resettled per year.
The Government had agreed last year that Australia would take 4500 refugees from the war-torn area of Syria, and in a response to the “humanitarian disaster”, the Prime Minister announced yesterday that “we are proposing to take more people from this region as part of our very substantial commitment. 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 he had been moved by “the horrific imagery of that little boy washed up on a beach in Turkey” and that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton would be heading to Geneva for talks with the UN refugee agency. The Government will also consider further funding to help the humanitarian effort for those in refugee camps. “Australia, as always, will step up to the plate. We always do when there is a problem in the world,” Mr Abbott said.
However, the Prime Minister is still committed to taking military action in Syria, with the Cabinet’s National Security Committee to meet this week to discuss extending air strikes into the area.
Labor leader Bill Shorten and the Greens want an immediate increase in the intake of refugees. “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,” Mr Shorten said, with the Greens calling for 20,000 refugees to be taken as a matter of urgency.
The announcement by the Prime Minister comes after impassioned pleas by NSW and South Australian premiers. Mike Baird took to Facebook on Saturday with his plea, “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. But stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.” His South Australian counterpart, Jay Weatherill offered support, “We certainly will be offering South Australia as an open and welcoming destination for those Syrians fleeing violence,” he said.
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No one who saw the image of three-year-old Aylan’s body washed up on the beach in Turkey could fail to be moved by the plight of those fleeing Syria to try and save their families. As is often the case, it takes a truly tragic and confronting image to jolt people out of their slumber and into action. However, the reality is that children as young, and even younger than Aylan face fear on a daily basis, many of them too young to know a life that is any different.
The crisis in Syria and the resulting influx of refugees to Europe is not just something that is happening ‘over there’, it’s incumbent on us all to accept that we have a humanitarian obligation to help where we can. These are not people seeking a better life on whim; these are people who are fleeing for their lives. As has been well documented, the Asad regime’s indiscriminate barrel bombing of civilians, the ruthlessness of IS when it comes to taking over towns and villages and the atrocities they will have seen and endured, will be more than we can ever hope to understand.
So well done Mr Abbott for responding in a way that we all should and that is to “step up to the plate” and help where we can. How many refugees Australia takes will be up for discussion. For those living their lives in fear it will never be enough, but it’s a start and one which goes a little way to restoring my faith in government and politicians.
What do you think? Do you believe that including the increased number of Syrian refugees in Australia’s existing 13,750 quota is the correct response? Or do you agree with the Greens and Labor that there should be a significant increase in our total quota of refugees?