The Politics    Monday, September 7, 2015

Under pressure

By Nick Feik

‘Arbat Transit Camp 3-3-2014’ by Cmacauley - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.
Politicians from all sides of politics are calling for a more generous response to the Syrian refugee crisis

The pressure was building over Australia’s response to the Syrian crisis, and Tony Abbott attempted to defuse it yesterday by announcing that Australia would accept more Syrian refugees.

“Australia, as always, will step up to the plate. We always do when there is a problem in the world,” the prime minister said.

There was fine print, though: the increased intake of Syrians would come at the expense of refugees from other parts of the world. Australia’s overall refugee intake would stay the same.

Abbott and his colleague Andrew Robb (on Insiders, earlier in the day) again tried to propagate the absurd notion that Australia is already generous to refugees, arguing that it takes in more refugees on a per capita basis than any other nation on earth. This is completely false, a wilful misrepresentation of facts.

Germany welcomed more Syrian refugees yesterday than Australia has accepted from there since the civil war began. There are literally millions of Syrian refugees in Jordan and Turkey.

Up until last year, Australia was still trying to return asylum seekers to Syria. 

(As Fairfax points out, it is only when looking at the UNHCR’s official resettlement program – when “resettlement” refers to the specific act of transferring refugees from the country in which they sought refuge to a third country that has agreed to accept them, through the UNHCR – that Australia rates anywhere near the top of any rankings systems. This program helps fewer than 1% of the world’s refugees.)

The issue of how many refugees Australia will accept is by no means resolved, however, probably because it’s so obvious that Australia is being ungenerous. Several proposals have been floated, both by Coalition and other politicians. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg have raised the possibility of a temporary safe-haven arrangement, as was provided to Kosovars in 1999; Labor has proposed that the government allow a one-off increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake, offering an extra 10,000 places for Syrian refugees. The Greens have pushed for 20,000 extra places. State premiers Mike Baird, Jay Weatherill and Daniel Andrews have also pushed for a more generous intake.

Abbott was questioned about his stance again this morning. He stressed that part of Australia’s response would include a military role, and declined to commit to actual numbers, but significantly, this time he did not rule out the prospect of boosting the overall number of refugees Australia accepts.  

He has also announced that Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has been sent to Geneva to ask the United Nations how our government can assist in the crisis – though it’s possible that this was simply to get him out of Australia.

Today’s links

Nick Feik

Nick Feik is the editor of The Monthly.

@nickfeik

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