A long line of refugees, many holding personal possessions, waiting at the Greece-Macedonian border.

Syrian refugee crisis: how Australia can help

The Syrian war has been going on for four years – it’s time for the Prime Minister to show some humanity and for Australia to accept its fair share of people fleeing conflict.

Heartbreaking stories

In the last week, the world’s eyes have been opened to the huge number of people escaping the horror of their homeland.

It is impossible ignore the photos showing the lifeless body of a young boy, lying face down in the sand after washing up on a beach in Turkey. Three-year-old Aylan Kurdi and his young brother, Galip, were among at least 12 people believed to have drowned after their boat took on water as they tried to reach the Greek island of Kos. Aylan’s family made the dangerous journey after Canada rejected their refugee application to resettle with a relative in the country.

Last week’s tragic events follow the discovery of around 50 bodies found inside the hull of a ship off the coast of Libya. Before that, the corpses of 71 people in Austria, including children, were found crammed inside a truck at the side of a main highway. The dead, believed to be from Syria and Afghanistan, had suffocated.

Australia remains in the news for its appalling treatment of the people who seek safety on our shores. And the collective inaction of many world leaders, including our own, to the worst refugee crisis since World War II continues.

The deaths of these women, children, and men are a tragic condemnation of world leaders’ failure to provide safe and legal ways to escape war and violence.

Why don’t refugees stay in the first safe country they arrive in?

Only a handful of EU countries, including Germany and Sweden, offer safety and respite to the refugees arriving on their doorstep. In other places, they’re greeted by police brutality and a failure to provide even basic help.

On Macedonia’s southern border with Greece, up to 4,000 refugees were trapped when the border was closed. Paramilitary police units blocked the border crossing with razor wire and fired stun grenades at shocked families who had fled the war in Syria. Further up the Balkans migration route in Hungary, police fired tear gas inside a crowded reception centre.

Amnesty International recently returned from Lesvos and Kos, the Greek islands on the frontline of Europe’s refugee crisis. According to Greek government figures, 157,000 refugees arrived in Greece by sea during July and August. Overloaded and under-resourced authorities cannot cope with the dramatic increase in the number of people arriving on the island.

Doesn’t Australia already do enough?

The Prime Minister’s recent comments that Australia resettles more refugees per capita through the UNHCR’s resettlement program are misleading and, quite frankly, embarrassing.

The Prime Minister’s recent comments that Australia resettles more refugees per capita through the UNHCR’s resettlement program are misleading and, quite frankly, embarrassing.Claire Mallinson, National Director, Amnesty International Australia.

Estimates show less than one per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled through the UNHCR’s resettlement program. And while Australia does resettle a proportion of that one per cent, the rest of the world does the heavy lifting of the other 99 per cent.

Countries such as Sweden and Germany take refugees through onshore applications AND the UNHCR resettlement program. Recent estimates show Germany will be providing protection to an estimated 800,000 Syrians who arrive in the country seeking asylum this year alone. Australia, on the other hand, has committed to a paltry 13,750 total refugee placements – that’s around 0.07 of the overall number of refugees per capita, per year.

A young boy who is smiling - he is wearing a woolly hat and has his hand raised as he holds hands with the photographer.
© Amnesty International. A young boy who is smiling – he is wearing a woolly hat and has his hand raised as he holds hands with the photographer.

If the Prime Minister wants to talk about numbers, it’s the poorer, less-equipped countries providing safe havens to the vast majority of the world’s refugees. Lebanon hosts approximately 1.2 million refugees from Syria – around one in five people in the country. Jordan hosts about 650,000 refugees from Syria – 10% of the population. Turkey hosts 1.9 million refugees from Syria – more than any other country worldwide.

The fact that the few Syrians who have made it to our shores have now been languishing at the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island for over two years, is something the Australian government should be ashamed of.

What should Australia do?

The Australian Government has the power to save thousands of people, just as it has done in the past. In 1989, as the harrowing footage from the Tiananmen Square massacre rolled in, Former Prime Minister Bob Hawke granted an asylum stay to 42,000 Chinese students. Australia’s generosity back then protected thousands of students whose lives were at imminent risk.

It is well within Australia’s capacity to increase its refugee intake to at least 20,000 places. And that should be in addition to, not part of, our existing humanitarian quota of 13,750.

Australia should also increase its funding to the UNHCR and commit to work with the UN and other countries to develop a world response to the worst crisis in 70 years.

How you can help

Show that you care about Syrian refugees by adding your name to our petition below calling on the Prime Minister to increase Australia’s annual refugee intake.

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Amnesty International