The announcement on September 9 that Australia will accept only 12,000 refugees from Syria and that the government will seek to discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and religion is further proof that the government is lying about leading the world in welcoming refugees.
Immigration minister Peter Dutton announced on ABC radio that Australians would be “impressed by the generosity” of the government in response to the crisis. This is an insult to the tens of thousands of people who demonstrated their humanity and compassion towards the plight of Syrian and Kurdish refugees in vigils around the country on September 7.
In violation of international law, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on September 10 that Australia will join the US in aerial bombings of Syrian territory. The government, like the US, is defending this aggression as a “collective act of self defence” of Iraq. But this is a legal obfuscation to justify action that will only make the situation worse for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians and Kurds who are already fleeing this war.
The Australian Air Force has been bombing targets in Iraq at the cost of thousands of civilian lives and Australia has been engaged in wars of occupation alongside the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are the regions that the majority of refugees are fleeing from. Yet the government is shirking its responsibility to protect these people, preferring to prosecute another illegal war and to hand pick refugees on the basis of racist discrimination.
As Paul Power from the Refugee Council of Australia explained, the truth is that the federal government cut Australia's total refugee intake by 30% immediately after its election in 2013. Its meagre proposals to increase the intake in the years 2016–2018 will not even return Australia to the 2013 level.
In contrast to Abbott's claims earlier this week that Australia ranks highly for refugee intake on a per capita basis, Australia actually ranked 28th in the world on a per capita basis and 46th relative to total GDP, based on its 2014 intake.
Australia should immediately offer help to alleviate the suffering of people fleeing conflict. This is a wealthy country and we can do more. In the aftermath of World War II, more than 170,000 displaced persons came to live in Australia. More than 80,000 Vietnamese people made Australia their home in the decade following the Vietnam War.
Australia has opened its doors over many decades to refugees fleeing repression and war, including from South America and China. Clearly we can do much more to help.
Australia should withdraw its military forces from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria immediately.
Rather than wasting billions locking up innocent, defenceless people in offshore prisons, we should close the camps on Nauru, Manus Island and all other refugee detention centres, lift the cap on our refugee intake immediately and organise mass airlifts of Syrian, Kurdish and other refugees to bring them to safety in Australia. These refugees can be housed in the community and provided with the protection and support they need.
On September 9, I successfully moved for Moreland Council to: advocate to the government, ALP and Greens that Australia immediately resettle at least 30,000 more Syrian, Kurdish and other refugees, with no discrimination based on religion or ethnic group, and that this resettlement be in addition to the annual humanitarian and refugee quota; that the annual humanitarian and refugee intake be increased to at least 40,000; that the policy of boat turn-backs be immediately ended as it is exacerbating the crisis elsewhere; that the government close offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island and bring all of these asylum seekers to Australia; and to endorse the Stand up for Refugees rally on 11 October in Melbourne.
[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance Councillor on Moreland Council in Victoria.]