Yesterday I wrote about the appallingly weak response of the Australian government to the Syrian refugee crisis. It generated more vitriol than support, if comment posts are any guide. Where were you, silent majority?
Well, today I am thrilled to report that the government has had a radical change of heart. Hallelujah!
Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia would be taking in 12,000 refugees from Syria over and above our existing humanitarian programme of 13,750 this financial year (previously we were to take a number only within the existing quota).
Now, in my view and in the view of organisations such as Oxfam and World Vision and the Australian Greens, and everyone’s favourite human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robertson, it should be upwards of 20,000. But, it is more than the 10,000 that many churches and the ALP advocated.
It’s an almost doubling of our refugee intake, literally overnight! It’s a fantastic start and we should applaud this action, loudly, from a government which more often than not is on the wrong side of an immigration headline. Do more of this, Tony. This is the Australia we can be proud of.
The prime minister also announced $44million in spending on relief for refugees in the affected region. Again, positive. He also denied that priority would be given on religious grounds. Let’s hope we keep that word. And let’s hope our elected representatives see that we still have the scope, and the will, to do more.
It is now fair enough for Australia to ask: what are you doing United States and Gulf states? Are your 4,000 Syrians a year enough, UK? Time for you, as Tony Abbott would put it, to step up.
As for bombing in Syria…
The PM also announced today details about Australia extending its bombing campaign against ISIS from Iraq into Syria.
War should always be a last resort. We are at the last resort. There is no other means to dislodge this hyper-gang of psychopaths. Diplomacy is regrettably not an option. And we can hardly expect the local population of Syria to overthrow them; they have, by and large, left.
As the good Geoffrey Robertson informed the Q&A programme last night, there is provision in international humanitarian law for the duty to “destroy” genocidal organisations (although in his opinion the bombing doesn’t work). Australia has a particular responsibility to take action in Iraq and Syria because the situation as it is today, with the rise of ISIS, is partly our making due to our participation in the invasion of Iraq. We helped let the genie out of the bottle, now we must help to snuff it out.
The type of war to be applied and its consequences must, of course, be carefully considered. So far we are restricting action to air and support and Obama’s long-game strategy must be given due opportunity. But the most uncomfortable question we need to be asking is: at what point are boots on the ground the only option? We may need to provide an answer very soon.
TOP IMAGE: Tony Abbott announces increased refugee intake from Syria. (MARK GRAHAM/AFP/Getty Images)