CANBERRA - Australia’s prime minister said Monday his country will resettle a “significant” number of refugees from Syria this year, while the opposition called for an additional 10,000 refugee places to help the world cope with a humanitarian crisis.
Tony Abbott told the nation’s parliament he would have more to say about numbers on Tuesday after Immigration Minister Peter Dutton reports back from meetings with the United Nation refugee agency and the International Organization for Migration in Geneva and Paris about the refugee crisis from Syria.
“It is the government’s firm intention to take a significant number of people from Syria this year,” Abbott said.
“The women and children in camps, in particular the women and children from persecuted minorities in camps, they deserve a compassionate response from Australia and that is exactly what they will get from this government,” he said.
The opposition Labor Party called for an additional 10,000 refugee places on top of the 13,750 already planned for the current fiscal year that began in July.
With a population of 24 million, Australia’s annual refugee intake of 13,750 is regarded as the world’s most generous on a per capita basis.
Last year, 4,500 of those refugees were fleeing the Iraq and Syria conflicts.
Even before the worsening Syrian crisis, Abbott’s government had planned to increase that refugee intake to 16,250 in 2017-18 and then 18,750 in 2018-19.
New Zealand also said it will take an extra 600 refugees from Syria as the humanitarian crisis there worsens.
Prime Minister John Key said Monday that the South Pacific nation will take the refugees over the next 2½ years. The emergency intake comes on top of New Zealand’s annual target of accepting 750 refugees.
Key said public support for more refugees has likely built since last week when haunting photos of a 3-year-old Syrian boy dead on a Turkish beach circulated on social media.
He said “people’s hearts melt” when they see those types of images. He said the government had been considering taking more refugees before those images surfaced.