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Australia Sort of Responded to the Syrian Refugee Crisis

The Australian government will now take 12,000 additional refugees from Syria. But is it enough?

by Alan Weedon
Sep 9 2015, 6:00am

Today Prime Minister Abbott announced Australia will take an additional 12,000 refugees from camps in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan this year. This will bring the country's total refugee intake for 2015 to 25,750. As well as permanently settling the refugees, we'll also provide $44 million to the UNHCR to support 240,000 displaced people in countries neighbouring Syria.

But while those figures initially seem impressive, placed in a global perspective our actions are dismal. As Germany welcomed 10,000 displaced people last Sunday, we're about to take a similar number in a year. That said, we're looking better than we did.

When the conversation around accepting additional refugees started earlier this week, there were concerns they would be talking the places of individuals already waiting to be accepted. But speaking at a press conference at Parliament House this afternoon, the Prime Minister confirmed these would be in additional 12,000 places, specially made available to the "persecuted minorities" from a "region soaked in blood".

Furthering Abbott's points, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop explained the $44 Million will provide shelter huts, water, food, cash, and support for women and girls in camps dotted around Syria's borders.

At present, there is no timeline for Australia's intake, as Abbott told reporters the necessary checks for "health, security and character" will have to take place.

The government also announced the deployment of eight fighter jets from the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) to strike ISIS-captured areas of eastern Syria. The jets will form part of a coalition effort, with activity currently underway in ISIS-controlled Iraq.

The Prime Minister framed the decision to supply the jets as part of a larger plan to bring peace to the area. When the ABC's Sabra Lane asked what "peace" would look like, he replied: "The Middle East should be comprised of governments that don't do genocide against their people, or have terrorists against our countries. Obviously, we're not going to create liberal pluralist democracies overnight."

While the news of governmental support is undoubtedly good, it still pales in comparison to efforts by other developed nations. Germany alone is on track to house more than 800,000 refugees this year. On average, Europe is processing between 4000 and 5000 refugee arrivals a day. This means that they'll dwarf Australia's newly announced efforts before the weekend.

Today as we announced our plans to settle 12,000 people, EU states were discussing plans to settle 120,000 individuals across the continent. The expected bulk of that will be within Germany and Sweden.

Presently, Australia takes about 0.43 percent of global refugees—putting us in 28th place on a per capita basis. So while 12,000 people will now find peace and safety in Australia, and will undoubtedly find today's announcement life changing, the rest of us might carry on feeling embarrassed.

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