In light of the recent migrant crisis in Europe, and the shocking images of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s drowned body, Prime Minister Tony Abbott has agreed to grant more refugees asylum in Australia. Although he will not increase the limit of asylum seekers Australia accepts, he will give refuge to more than the 4,400 Syrian and Iraqi refugees Australia accepted last year. Mr Abbott has offered his assurances that Australia takes more asylum seekers per capita than any other nation.
Australia will increase its intake from 13,750 to 18,750 by 2018; a jump of 5000 people. “Like every other Australian I was moved by the horrific imagery of that little boy [Aylan Kurdi] washed up on a beach in Turkey,” Mr. Abbott announced at the press conference in Canberra. “We have always been a good global citizen. Always have been, always will be…this is doing that right thing by Australia, and it’s doing the right thing by the world.”
The Prime Minister also said: “The government is also considering further funding for humanitarian assistance to those seeking refuge in refugee camps.”
This financial support is in addition to the $155 million provided since 2011, in response to the crisis of human rights in Syria. This decision came after numerous senior ministers in the Liberal Party pressured Mr Abbott to reconsider his stance on refugees. Trade Minister Andrew Robb stated that the government would “look very favourably” at increasing Australia’s immigrant intake. Other ministers showing their support are Deputy Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce, coalition backbenchers Craig Laundy and Russell Broadbent, and NSW Premier Mike Baird.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has diluted this claim, although she is in full support of Australia rising to the occasion. She instead suggested that ‘safe havens’ be set up on the Syrian border for those who wish for safety, but do not want to leave the country. However, Abbott has insisted that the situation in Syria is “dire,” and that people want to leave the country, rather than risking the safe havens become unsafe. He also stated that families, and women and children would take priority, especially those from persecuted minorities taking refuge in the camps surrounding Syria and Iraq.
This news is welcome not only to the persecuted Iraqi and Syrian people, but to anyone who sympathises with those fleeing for their lives. However, there is a temptation to condemn Western countries such as Australia, the UK, and European nations for imposing such strict limits on immigration in the first place. It is easy to become bound up in the emotionality of the situation; nobody likes to see the heartbreaking images of distressed families running from persecution, and facing more persecution on the other end.
However, the asylum seeker crisis must be looked at from a practical perspective as well. Although we can safely assume the majority of those in crisis are genuine refugees, there is a lot we do not know that has to be considered. It sounds terribly callous, but issues such as what illnesses refugees may be carrying springs to mind. What hidden agenda some may have. What weapons (if any) are in their possession. And of course; who is a genuine victim of persecution, and who is trying to enter the country with the sole purpose of doing us harm.
Having said this, the situation at this moment in time is horrific. After the events of past few weeks, it is glaringly obvious that this needs to be handled with as much compassion as practicality. The immigration crisis is the greatest Catch 22 Western Society has faced and a solution that solves it 100 per cent is not yet apparent. There must be a middle ground we can find. There must be an easier way of granting these people freedom and safety. Either way, the fact that the Australian government is moving forward with this decision is a step in the right direction. It gives us hope that a brighter future will one day be provided for refugees in dire need.
Image via Startsatsixty.com.au