Josef Szwarc. Resettling an additional 12,000 refugees.

The Government has announced that “Australia will resettle an additional 12,000 refugees who are fleeing the conflict in Syria and Iraq.”

http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2015-09-09/syrian-and-iraqi-humanitarian-crisis

This note publishes the statement with some comments about various aspects.

“Our focus will be on those most in need – the women, children and families of persecuted minorities who have sought refuge from the conflict in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.”

Comment: There were reports of political and other commentators suggesting that people of Muslim faith should not be selected. At a press conference about the decision to take in the additional refugees, the Prime Minister stated that there would not be discrimination against Muslims and said: “if you look at the persecuted minorities of the region there are Muslim minorities, Druze, Turkmen, Kurds, there are non-Muslim minorities, Christians…Jews, Yazidis, Armenians, so there are persecuted minorities that are Muslim, there are persecuted minorities that are non-Muslim….” The explicit rejection of faith-based discrimination is welcome: to act otherwise would be unconscionable.

“A team of Government officials will depart for the region as soon as possible to begin identifying and processing potential candidates for resettlement.”

Comment: The commitment to implementation expeditiously is very welcome – the level of immediate need is great.

“In addition, Australia will provide humanitarian support to more than 240,000 Syrian and Iraqi people who have been forced to flee their homes or seek refuge in neighbouring countries. This is expected to cost $44 million. “

Comment: The boost in assistance for people in the region is important – international financial support for UNHCR is well short of what the agency urgently requires.

“This funding will deliver much needed food, water, healthcare, education, emergency supplies and protection, including support for women and girls.”

“With this additional commitment, Australia’s contribution to help address the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq will be around $230 million since 2011.”

“Today’s announcement represents a significant contribution to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.  It is a generous, prudent and proportionate response by a decent and compassionate nation.

It follows consultations with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian agencies in Geneva.

Our officials will work with the UNHCR to resettle the refugees as soon as possible.

They will undergo normal security, health and character checks before coming to Australia and receiving permanent protection.”

Comment: It is to be hoped that the aim of resettlement ‘as soon as possible’ is not hampered by the pace of conducting ‘normal security, health and character checks’ which can be very prolonged and in the order of 12 months and longer. However, there are media reports of the first arrivals by Christmas. Significant additional resources will be required for both the Department of Immigration and ASIO which may mean reallocation of current staff from other tasks or recruitment, but new staff will take some time to be able to do the complex work involved. Other sources will have to be tapped – The Australian reports that “the load on the Australian immigration system could see retired officials and contractors brought into departments to help handle the load….” 

The commitment to permanent protection is welcome: the refugees have endured traumatic events, so this is a critical measure of security to allow them to rebuild their lives.

“The 12,000 places will be in addition to the existing humanitarian programme of 13,750, which rises to 18,750 in 2018-19.

This decision represents a significant increase in Australia’s humanitarian intake.

We are able to make this contribution because the Coalition Government has stopped the flow of illegal boats to Australia, easing the pressure on our humanitarian programme.

It will require the support of all Australian governments and community organisations.

We will engage State and Territory leaders and community organisations in coming days to discuss how the nation can contribute to this effort.”

Comment: A number of State governments and community organisations have indicated their willingness to support the settlement of an increased intake of refugees, building on the important roles already played by State, territory and local governments and civil society over many years. New models of collaboration and engagement are needed and we can draw on a history of effective responses to the intake of large numbers of immigrants and refugees.

Josef Szwarc is Manager, Research and Policy, Victorian Foundation for survivors of Torture.

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