Australia: JRS urges Australia to increase humanitarian intake

08 September 2015|Oliver White

Renewed fighting in northern Syria since June 3 has sent a further 23,135 refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey’s southern Sanliurfa province. Some 70 per cent of these are women and children, according to UNHCR. Photo: UNHCR.

Media Release: JRS urges Australia to increase humanitarian intake

The impact of the Syrian refugee crisis in Europe has jolted Australia into realising that it needs to respond more urgently and generously to the humanitarian disaster caused by the Syrian conflict. JRS Australia welcomes the Australian government’s determination to provide further assistance to those fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

JRS urges the government to increase immediately the current annual humanitarian intake from 13,750 to at least double that, given the scale of the current crisis.

“The Prime Minister has said that Australia will ‘do the right thing’ and that it is part of the Australian character to assist people when they are in trouble. The right thing to do now is to increase the humanitarian intake, so that vulnerable refugees from Syria may find safety here, while we continue to offer similar protection to refugees from other troubled parts of the world,” says Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ, Director of JRS.

JRS urges the government not to neglect other refugees closer to home, who are stranded in countries that do not offer them adequate protection, and are in need of resettlement.

“Large numbers of stateless Rohingya are also fleeing persecution and violence in Myanmar. Hazaras are facing systematic and determined extermination in Afghanistan. We should not neglect these people while we help the Syrians,” says Fr Mowe. “Only an overall increase in the numbers we take will allow us to do the right thing.”

JRS is alarmed by suggestions that Syrian refugees be offered Temporary Safe Haven Visas (SHVs), last used to resettle Kosovars in 1999.

“Syria is not Kosovo. There seems little prospect in Syria for peace, let alone reconstruction, in the foreseeable future. Why would we take a traumatised people, and subject them to the stress and uncertainty of a temporary stay? The Syrian refugees need stability, and the possibility of starting a new future, a new life,” says Fr Mowe.

JRS urges the government to show political courage and humanitarian leadership by offering permanent resettlement to Syrian refugees, and to do so regardless of religion. Voices urging Australia to favour Christian refugees over non-Christians must be resisted. We should honour our tradition of helping the most vulnerable, regardless of nationality, ethnicity, or religion.

JRS also recommends that the government increase funding to the United Nations Refugees agency (UNHCR) in the Middle East.

The recent Federal budget announced $1 billion aid cuts in 2015-16. Funding to the Middle East and North Africa, including Syria, has been one of the hardest hit. The amount Australia provided in humanitarian aid to Syria from mid-2014 to mid-2015 dropped from $53.7 million to less than $8.8 million.

“If Australia is genuinely concerned about the Syrian crisis, it should increase substantially its contribution to UNHCR, and in particular in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, “ says Fr. Mowe.

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