OPINION LEND A HAND
Time to let our human qualities shine and accept more refugees, writes Paul Syvret
COMPASSION has nothing to do with some confected right versus left divide.
It is not about ideology or politics, but rather reflects our better human qualities of empathy, tolerance and generosity, especially toward those less fortunate than ourselves.
In this regard it is refreshing to see leaders from across the Australian political spectrum calling for Australia to do more, a lot more, to assist with the humanitarian crisis spilling from Syria and Iraq into Europe.
The catalyst for this call for action has been a simple series of photographs depicting a young Syrian boy, his body washed up on a Turkish beach after a failed attempt to cross to Greece by boat.
As NSW Premier Mike Baird – the country’s most popular conservative leader – said over the weekend: “That photo isn’t just a story of one tragedy. It is the story of thousands of real people in a fight for life itself.”
Baird contends that stopping the boats can’t be where this ends.
“I believe we should do even more. And we should do it now.”
He’s right, although “thousands” is something of an understatement. An estimated four million refugees have already fled Syria alone, with about half of these ending up in overcrowded makeshift camps in Turkey.
This great diaspora of the dispossessed and the desperate is just a fraction though of the more than 51 million people who have been forcibly displaced around the world, or more than twice the entire population of Australia.
Yesterday morning federal Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg joined the chorus of voices calling for Australia to do more, suggesting that the scale of the crisis warrants a special and specific response.
This would be along the lines of the special (albeit largely temporary) intake of 4000 refugees from Kosovo that the Howard government instigated in 1999, or Bob Hawke’s decision a decade earlier to grant permanent visas to more than 40,000 Chinese students in Australia following the slaughter of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square.
“There is a good case, there is a very good case here,” Frydenberg argued, “for a specific response to what we’re seeing from those tragic pictures in Europe.”
It is encouraging that the Federal Government, which has long exploited refugees and asylum seekers as political pawns with which to wedge the Labor Party on matters of border security, is at least starting to realise the scale of this disaster warrants a far bigger response from Australia.
That said, what is on the table at the moment could hardly be deemed exceptionally generous.
As it stands Australia will increase its intake of Syrian refugees from last year’s 4400 level, but there it stops. Any extra Syrians will come out of the existing total humanitarian intake of 13,750, meaning others from around the world will be bumped down the queue.
And there are countless thousands of displaced persons in parts of the world like Africa and parts of Asia such as Myanmar who are facing at least the deprivations and trauma that so many fleeing Syria do.
At the same time it would appear, at least according to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, that if there is to be a special response then it will come via temporary protection visas, with those granted asylum being shipped back home when it is deemed safe.
This is the model that was adopted with our special humanitarian response to the Kosovo crisis.
Given the state of play in Iraq and Syria – a country
NSW PREMIER MIKE BAIRD CONTENDS THAT STOPPING THE BOATS CAN’T BE WHERE THIS ENDS