There has been universal agreement that the large numbers now fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Libya and other Middle East/African countries should either be accepted as refugees or provided with assistance in some form. Unfortunately, there is no public recognition that the primary cause of the refugee surge is the ongoing murder and destruction occurring under the terrorist activity of IS, al-Qaeda and other extremist Islamic groups. This includes the Assad regime, which is being helped by the Russians and the Iranians.
Australia is already participating in air strikes in Iraq and Abbott has now announced their extension to eastern Syria to attack IS targets but not Assad’s (the legal basis for the airstrikes is “the collective self-defence of Iraq”). The UK and France are reported to be close to a similar extension of air strikes (see article below France and UK eye Syria strikes). However, while the US is militarily involved in both those countries, it has refused to put “troops on the ground”.
Yet there is almost universal agreement amongst defence experts that this is needed. Surely, the refugee surge provides a strong political basis for justifying action aimed at destroying or minimising such extremist groups? Indeed, a case exists for shaming the US to agree on extended military activity. If this were to happen, other countries including Australia would participate.
The case for doing so is reinforced by the continued terrorist activities/threats in some western countries and by the emigration of residents to fight with terrorist groups. Australia has experienced both domestic threats and emigrant terrorists.
As to numbers of refugees, Germany’s acceptance of a large number should not be taken as a “base” for measuring policy. That country’s decision to open its borders reflects in part its involvement in WW11 and the aftermath, including the re-unification. Countries with smaller populations are well justified in protecting their cultural composition and economic capacity by taking smaller numbers.
Beyond this, a very large number of refugees is already waiting on UN lists and they should not be pushed down the queue, particularly as it appears that a significant number of today’s refugees are taking advantage of the occasion simply for “economic” reasons.
Australia has been accepting 13,750 a year and Abbott has now announced that Australia will permanently resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria on top of the existing number ie it appears that the 12,000 is a one-off. The government will also spend $44 million in aid supplying 240,000 refugees with cash, food, water and blankets in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan. The cost of resettling the 12,000 refugees is also said to be about $700 million over four years, not including processing costs.
This is a different outcome to the one said to have been Abbott’s aim before today, most notably on having no overall increase in refugee intake. The widespread support for helping the refugees, including Shorten’s immediate nomination of 10,000, appears to have been persuaded the Coalition to adopt a more “generous” policy. Note also that the announcement was made in a joint press release with Bishop and Dutton.
Despite suggestions that preference be given to Christians of whom over a million are reported to have been killed by Islamic groups, Abbott simply indicated that women, children and families from “persecuted minorities” sheltering in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey would take priority. He denied there would be any preferential treatment given to Christians over Muslims. But in saying that “It’s those who can never go back that we’re focussed on” he implied that Christians could be high up the list. Further,
while Australia would “move quickly” to resettle refugees, they will be subject to a rigorous assessment before acceptance. Regrettably, Labor stated specifically that there should be no rejection of Muslims and that the additional refugees must be selected on a “needs basis”.
The UNHCR released a statement welcoming Australia’s commitment. The Refugee Council applauded Abbott.
Although criticised for being too slow to respond to the refugee crisis and for implying before today that there would be no increase in total refugees, Abbott seems to have emerged from this issue reasonably well given the circumstances. There remains scope for him to emphasise the need to tackle the refugee surge at its source.