Australia has agreed to accept more refugees from Syria and Iraq. However, Prime Minister Tony Abbott is calling for a "strong security response" to deal with the situation and is refusing to increase the total number of refugees allowed into the country.
Senior Australian politicians are calling for an immediate intake of 20,000 Syrian refugees. But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to say if the country's overall humanitarian intake – currently set at around 14,000 people – will increase during the current crisis. He did say the total number of asylum seekers who will be allowed to enter the country will not increase.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Abbott declined to give a specific number of refugees Australia would welcome. But he indicated it would be more than the 4,400 people from Syria and northern Iraq Australia took in last year.
To combat the criticism, Abbott has argued that, on a per capita basis, that Australia continues to accept more refugees through the UNHCR than any other nation. He has also said the country is "open" to providing more financial assistance.
'Inhumane' immigration policies
Australia's strong stance on asylum seekers, which includes a policy of turning back boats and offshore processing of refugee claimants, had stopped the people smuggling trade to Australia and opened up more places for those in genuine need, said Abbott. However, the country's immigration policy has been described as "inhumane, of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country's tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war", in an editorial from the New York Times' editorial board.
The Australian Greens immigration spokesperson, Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said Abbott's announcement amounted to "virtually nothing" because the government had given "no real commitment" to increase Australia's overall refugee intake. "We need to be taking more refugees, we need to be putting more funding towards the United Nations, and we need to stop with the callous talk of turning back boats," Hanson-Young said in Canberra.
"It is crucial that we give an emergency intake above and beyond the current numbers of 20,000, to help resettle those… children and families fleeing the war zone in Syria." she said. "[That would be] a small, modest, but meaningful number for Australia and anything less, anything within the current intake, simply isn't good enough. This is a humanitarian crisis."
In the year ending 30 June 2014, about a third of the 13,750 people allowed to settle in Australia came from Syria and Iraq, according to a Reuters report. The government has plans to gradually increase the annual total intake to 18,750 by 2018-19.
Australia's Immigration Minister Peter Dutton will travel to Geneva to have talks with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to find out what further assistance Australia can provide. The government is to make a decision next week whether to join airstrikes against Isis in Syria.