Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on Thursday denied charges his country is procrastinating in resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq, having resettled just 26 in the same time frame it took Canada to process 26,000.
Australia had agreed to accept 12,000 refugees from the conflicted region in addition to its current humanitarian intake programme of 13,750 people.
Dutton said national security measures were responsible for the pace of the resettlements. Border security is a hot topic amongst far right groups in Australia.
Dutton told reporters in Washington that the Australian public demands the government does everything possible to make sure its national security is protected and that it is bringing “the right people” into Australia.
The comments came a day after Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles called the number taken in by Australia "pitifully small."
At a senate estimates hearing last week, immigration officials announced 26 Syrian refugees had been resettled since the intake of 12,000 was announced last year September.
The Canadian government’s website says over 21,313 refugees have been resettled Since November, while an additional 4,687 received approval for their applications, but have not yet arrived.
The number of registered refugees in Turkey, meanwhile, has risen around 600,000 during the same period, according to the latest United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees figures.
New Zealand has until now resettled 82 of the 200 Syrian refugees it agreed to accept under a similar programme, the Refugee Council of Australia noted.
"Our government is dragging its feet while the rest of the world is acting much more quickly to meet their promises," said refugee council chief Paul Power.
"It is a shame for all concerned that the Australian resettlement programme is so bogged down in bureaucratic delays, when the governments of Canada and New Zealand have proven that it is possible to move much more swiftly."
The Australian decision to accept 12,000 people from the conflicted region came at a time when a photograph of a child’s tiny body in a bright red T-shirt and dark shorts, lying face-down dead in the surf, appeared in newspapers around the world, prompting sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees and triggering a call by the United Nations for more cohesive asylum policies to deal with the growing numbers of refugees that are trying to escape the five-year-old Syrian conflict.
The number of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia is pint-sized in comparison with those arriving in Europe. Turkey has resettled more than 2.5 million Syrian refugees, the most in the world according to registration records of the United Nations while Europe has taken in just over a million last year.
Under Australia’s tough immigration policy, anyone intercepted while trying to reach the country by boat is sent for processing to oppressive camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. They are never eligible to be resettled in Australia.
Australia’s High Court this month rejected a legal case that challenged its right to deport 267 asylum seekers, including babies, that came from the camp on Nauru back to Australia for emergency medical treatment.
According to Amnesty International, Nauru consists of a toxic mix of uncertainty, unlawful detention and inhumane conditions.