ELEANOR HALL: The Immigration Minister appears to have heeded the
calls from Australia's new Anglican Primate to provide refuge in Australia for
4,000 of the Yazidis who've come under attack from Islamic militants in
The Federal Government has opened the special humanitarian visa category to Syrian Christians, as well as Iraqis.
While the Refugee Council welcomes the move, it says it's disingenuous for the Government to give with one hand and take away with the other, as it says this Government is doing with cuts to the overall refugee intake.
Alison Caldwell has our report.
ALISON CALDWELL: Last night, the Abbott Government announced it had included Syrian, Iraqi Christians and Yazidis in its Special Humanitarian Program in response to the crisis in Iraq.
This morning, senior government minister Joe Hockey told News Radio, what's happening in Iraq is a humanitarian crisis and Australia must do its part.
JOE HOCKEY: If we do not act now, then it will be potentially a genocide on the scale that we haven't seen in the world for a long period of time, and it is always the case that evil has its way when good people do nothing.
And we have to stop, we have to stop the systemic slaughter of innocent people wherever it may be in the world.
ALISON CALDWELL: The announcement was welcomed by the new Anglican Primate of Australia, Dr Philip Freier. He wrote to Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison asking that they emulate France in offering refuge to Christians facing forced conversion to Islam or death.
He spoke to RN Breakfast this morning.
PHILIP FREIER: Look, I think that's a great response. Clearly there is a scale of tragedy happening in Syria and northern Iraq that goes well beyond those numbers but there are many people who've actually fled now several countries.
There are Iraqi refugees who've moved to Syria and now they've been displaced out of Syria back into Iraq, so there are people in desperate need and any humanitarian response we can make in Australia is welcome.
ALISON CALDWELL: Under the Special Humanitarian Program, the Government provides more than 4,000 visas each year to refugees who are most in need of resettlement due to their desperate circumstances.
Now Syrian and Iraqi Christians and Yazidis will be part of that intake.
The Refugee Council of Australia has welcomed the statement but CEO Paul Power says the Abbott Government is being disingenuous, after it removed 6,000 refugee places last year.
PAUL POWER: Well, I think people who are receiving the news positively are being deceived by the Government.
The Government has actually, after it was elected last year, cut back the refugee and humanitarian program by 6,250 places.
That included an overall cut in the offshore resettlement program of 1,500 places, or more than 1,500 places, and they're now trying to fool people into believing that additional places are available.
What's happened is that Special Humanitarian Program - which is the offshore resettlement program through which people in Australian can propose family members in desperate need and others in desperate need of refugee resettlement - that has been increased by around 4,000 places but it's been at the expense of the refugee program, which is the process through which refugees are referred by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) and that program has lost 6,000 places.
ALISON CALDWELL: At budget time, the Immigration Minister released a media statement saying that stopping the boats had enabled the Coalition Government to provide 20,000 extra places within the Special Humanitarian Program. They did announce a whole new batch of extra places, didn't they?
PAUL POWER: Yeah, well that's 20,000 additional places for the Special Humanitarian Program over five years.
What that announcement didn't say was that the refugee program, which is the other part of the offshore resettlement program through which UNHCR refers refugees for Australia to resettle, over five years had been cut by 30,000 places.
ALISON CALDWELL: Paul Power says thousands of other refugees in other parts of the world are being neglected.
PAUL POWER: Any places given to people from Iraq will necessarily reduce the number of places for Bhutanese refugees that have been in camps in Nepal since 1992, Burmese families that are trying to reunite with separated family members who are stuck in camps on the Thai/Burma border, for Congolese refugees in desperate circumstances in the Great Lakes region in Eastern Africa and North Africa. You know, for people from, in all sorts of difficult positions around the world.
So at a time when there is a very clear international crisis, it's a reasonable expectation that a government like Australia should do more not less to assist people in desperation, and you know, the facts of the matter are that the Australian Government is doing less than it was doing 12 months ago.
ELEANOR HALL: That's the CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power, speaking to Alison Caldwell.