THE government’s decision to admit 12,000 Syrian refugees is very welcome, and, if media reports are correct, the Prime Minister is to be congratulated for his victory over those in Cabinet who wanted to allow in less or even none at all.
Also praiseworthy is the fact that the 12,000 is above our normal refugee intake of 13,750, and not, as was rumoured earlier, to be included as part of it.
The 12,000 figure is also marginally above Labor’s call for an intake of 10,000.
However, it falls well below the Greens call for an intake of 20,000, which we could certainly afford.
It was also pleasing to see reported in The Daily Advertiser (September 11, 2015) that the Multicultural Council Wagga Wagga's manager, Belinda Crain, said that we have the capacity to at least settle 200 to 300 people in our region
However, this is not entirely a good news story, for apart from the relatively low number of refugees we are taking there are a number of other negatives associated with the announcement.
One of these is poignantly ironic, for our 12,000 refugees will not be drawn from those making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and up through Eastern Europe that caused the outpouring of compassion that prompted Mr Abbott to finally act, but instead they will come from established UNHCR refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan and the Lebanon.
Rather more worrying is the announcement that our intake will be drawn only from certain categories, and we are told they will be those deemed to be most at risk: persecuted minorities, women and children.
Superficially this looks fine, until one realises that it is Orwellian Double Speak of the first order, of which the rulers of the Brave New World would be proud, for it is nothing more than code for “only Christians”.
Of course persecuted Christians should be helped, but our intake should surely be inclusive, not exclusive of others.
As Glenn Davis, Anglican Archbishop of Sydney said (The Sydney Morning Herald, September 10, 2015) “We would be very reluctant to see an expanded refugee program that uses religion as a discriminating factor. This is antithetical to the love of God for all people and the unmerited and non-discriminatory grace and mercy that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.”
It should also be pointed out that though some minority groups have been specifically and systematically targeted by Islamic State, they are certainly not limited to Christians.
There are also Yazidis, Druze and Mandeans targeted, along with Shiite Muslims.
But perhaps the most serious qualification to be made about the refugee announcement is that it was made at the same time as the announcement of the Abbott Government's decision to commence airstrikes in Syria, which will surely worsen the refugee crisis and aggravate extremism.
"At a time when our community is desperate to show compassion to people fleeing war in Syria, Tony Abbott is dropping bombs," said Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.
"There is no legal basis for air strikes in Syria and there is no clear strategy. This should be a decision for the Parliament, not a besieged prime minister desperate to save his political hide.” Quite – and as generations of politicians have demonstrated, a khaki election is a useful tool to save one’s political hide. And this time compassion is added to the electioneering mix.
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