First group of refugees arrive in Australia

Australia receives first five refugees under resettlement plan of 12,000 people who fled war in Syria as refugee debate heats up

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Syrian refugee children play on November 15, 2015, at a makeshift camp by Taybeh village, Lebanon

The first group of refugees arrived in Australia, including a couple and their three children, in the city of Perth on Monday - under the plan of resettlement for 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, picked by Australia to amid the surging refugee intake debate in the country.

Australia agreed to take in up to 12,000 refugees in September when the country’s former Prime Minister Tony Abbott came under international pressure to expand refugee intake as EU countries.

Some Australian parliament members insisted to give priority to Christian refugees, while members of the Labour Party called on for fair refugee intake criteria’s “on a needs basis, without qualification or discrimination.”

Subsequently, Abbott announced that Iraqis and Syrians fled terrorism in their countries would be granted permanent residency whether they are Muslim or Christian, highlighting that Australia’s focus would be on the “persecuted minorities who have been displaced and are very unlikely ever to be able to go back to their original homes.”

The UN Refugee Agency and some other humanitarian aid agencies were set to provide funding support for urgent needs such as shelter kits, clean drinking water, food and hygiene kits.

Since September, Australia’s refugee policy came under criticism despite the country accepting to take in more refugees, to the additional 13,750 existing refugees, as the country was accused of denying access to detained offshore refugees in need of medical care and paying people smugglers to turn back boats with asylum seekers to Indonesia.

According to the Australian government’s policy, it states that refugees who reached the country by boat are not accepted. Once refused by Australia, they are detained and kept in Nauru and New Guinea while their claim for refugee status is processed including, “genuine” refugees complying with the country’s refugee policy criteria’s.

"Handpicked by Australia"

The new wave of refugee intake was suggested to be “reconsidered” by some opposition party members, following the Paris attacks, which were condemned worldwide and  warned not to be linked with refugees

However, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reminded that the refugees who Australia decided to take were “handpicked” by authorities, therefore there was no risk of importing “terrorism.”

"We are focusing on people who have been persecuted in Syria and Iraq, people who are fleeing from terrorism, from persecution. Our screening and testing is very intense," she said.

"Australia is in control of the whole process. These are not people who are coming via the people smuggling trade and we don't know who they are."

Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, also reiterated Bishop’s words - expressing that Australian officials were doing all the necessary offshore investigations before bringing the refugees into the country, as well as rejecting applications.

"It's a different scenario for our country compared to a country like France because we don't have land borders," Dutton told 2GB Radio, a day following the first part of refugee arrivals.

According to official statements, the family that arrived in Perth on Monday has been living in a refugee camp for several years and the mother of three was seven-months pregnant.

TRTWorld and agencies