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Monday, 23 November 2015
Page: 13215


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (11:48): It was almost exactly 12 months to the day that the member for Berowra and I visited the refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. I still cannot shake from my memory the horror and despair on the faces of refugees living in those camps. Some were in tents, others were in shipping containers, but they were the lucky ones; they were in UN-run camps. The others whom we met in informal camps were basically living under plastic sheeting or tarpaulins with open toilets and no sanitary provisions. You cannot visit those areas and come away unaffected.

The enormity of this conflict in the Middle East cannot be overstated. In fact, it is the largest humanitarian crisis since World War II, with over 190,000 people now killed and 13 million people now displaced and in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. Since the crisis began as a civil unrest in 2011, more than 50 per cent of Syria's population have been driven from their homes by armed conflict, violence and persecution and are fleeing in search of safety and protection for their families. In fact, it was not all that long ago that the world saw the devastating images of three- and five-year-old boys' lifeless bodies lying facedown on the sand after being washed up onto a beach in Turkey. Aylan and his brother drowned, along with their mother, attempting a sea crossing in a rubber dinghy to escape the violence in Syria. These are extraordinarily powerful images. They certainly woke the world up to the enormity of the issue. They symbolised the horror and magnitude of this refugee crisis and the desperation of the people. They showed, very starkly, the extent of desperation that existed for those fleeing the violence in the Syrian conflict.

These are certainly very desperate people looking for a future for their families, but, because there is no hope of any kind under Islamic State, which unfortunately now controls a swathe of land in Syria and Iraq, there is not much in the way of alternatives available for these people. The regional impact of the crisis and its enormous displacement really place a moral obligation on those more fortunate nations, such as ours, to play an assisting role. It is true that, in 2011, we committed $130 million in humanitarian funding to assist inside Syria and neighbouring borders. This funding has been directed to UN agencies, international humanitarian organisations and Australian NGOs that are, as I saw, doing a tremendous job in providing life-saving assistance such as shelter, water, sanitation, food and medical aid for many of the people crossing the border. Currently, the neighbouring countries of Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan have been remarkably generous and are hosting the highest number of refugees. Together, they have taken about four million Syrian refugees into their countries. However, these countries are now straining under the number of refugees. Their public services are overloaded. Their water and sanitation systems are overwhelmed. Regrettably, there are not enough available places in schools and hospitals to accommodate many of these refugees.

In fact, about half of the Syrian refugees are children. Many of them are growing up without access to adequate health care or proper education. The consequence is that many of these kids are being exploited as child labour and many young girls are facing the prospect of being forced into early marriages. This is something that we need to address. This is why we have been calling for greater involvement of the parliament in providing answers to the long-term strategic issues with respect to Australia's involvement in this crisis. We are talking about the potential of consolidation with redrawn borders. With the violence now intensifying, the Australian people deserve to hear the strategy being outlined. Therefore, we call on the Minister for Foreign Affairs to support a parliamentary debate during this current sitting of government to consider Australia's response to the Middle East crisis.