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Opposition calls for Australia to take in more refugees -

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DAVID MARK: The Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten says Australia needs to take in more refugees.

Australia provides aid and has committed places within the existing humanitarian programs for Syrians and Iraqis.

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott says his Government is helping asylum seekers from Syria and his policies have prevented drowning at sea.

But many people are asking the Government here to do more. With unprecedented numbers of people fleeing the region for Europe, and the United Nations appeal for Syria critically underfunded, there are calls for the Government to boost aid to the UN.

Sarah Sedghi reports.

SARAH SEDGHI: Just this year alone, more 350,000 asylum seekers have reached European borders.

It's an unprecedented crisis but when the image of a Syrian toddler who drowned trying to make that journey was circulated yesterday, the world was horrified.

Labor Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

BILL SHORTEN: I'm a father. When I saw that photo, I felt sick. It is a heartbreaking image.

I cannot imagine the set of circumstances which has led to that tragedy or how the family of that child must be feeling right now.

We've got to deter the people smugglers; we've got to deter the criminals who would exploit vulnerable people, desperately seeking refuge in another country, and we need to stop the drownings at sea.

By the same token, that's why Labor also believes that, over time, we should take more refugees.

SARAH SEDGHI: The Federal Opposition also says the Government needs to increase funding for the UN refugee agency.

The UN appeal for Syria alone has only received about a quarter of the funding needed.

Currently, the Government sets aside 4,400 places for Syrians and Iraqis under the Special Humanitarian Program.

It's committed to accepting at least 4,500 Syrian people over the next three years.

Speaking to ABC Goulburn Murray, the Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the best way to save lives is to stop the boats.

TONY ABBOTT: Well I'd say, if you want to stop the deaths, if you want to stop the drowning, you've got to stop the boats, and we saw yesterday on our screens a very sad and poignant image of children tragically, tragically dead at sea in illegal migration and, thankfully, we've stopped that in Australia because we've stopped the illegal boats; we've said to the people smugglers, your trade is closed down.

If you want to keep people safe, you've got to stop illegal migration, and that's what we've done.

SARAH SEDGHI: The Federal Government previously reduced the total number of places available under the Special Humanitarian Program from 20,000 to 13,750.

Late last year, the Government agreed to gradually increase the program again, up to 18,750 places over the next four years as part of a Senate deal to reinstate temporary protection visas.

And the Prime Minister Tony Abbott says places have been put aside for Syrians.

TONY ABBOTT: When Scott Morrison was the minister a year or so back, we announced that, because of the crisis in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, we were going to take an extra 4,400 I think it was, people under our refugee and humanitarian program from Syria and Iraq.

And it's precisely because we have got much better border controls in place, we've established much better border security that we are in a position to increase our refugee and humanitarian intake.

SARAH SEDGHI: Paul Power, the chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, wants the Government to commit to taking in more refugees.

PAUL POWER: When you look at the scale of the need, there's very clearly a need for Australia to do a lot more.

SARAH SEDGHI: He says Australia has a responsibility to help.

PAUL POWER: The high commissioner for refugees, António Guterres said this very clearly last year when he convened an international discussion, dialogue on protection at sea.

He said you know, those who believe that the easy solution is to close doors should forget about it. When a door is closed, people open a window. If a window is closed, people will dig a tunnel.

If there is a basic need of survival, a basic need of protection, people will move whatever obstacles are put in their way.

Those obstacles will only make their journeys more dramatic.

Sure, we've put up a, you know, a huge fence between our country and south-east Asia to stop people fleeing persecution from coming to Australia, but all we've done is actually deflected them back into other regions of the world.

SARAH SEDGHI: In Europe, countries are considering their response to the crisis.

British prime minister David Cameron is expected to announce that the UK will accept thousands more people from Syria.

Dr Phil Orchard is a senior lecturer in peace and conflict studies and international relations at the University of Queensland.

PHIL ORCHARD: A number of governments are revisiting their programs.

Like Germany is accepting or Angela Merkyl has stated Germany may accept in up to 800,000 refugees this year, and so really the idea that Australia is accepting in 13,000 of whom 5,000 may be Syrians is just, frankly, much less than the rest of the world indeed is planning to do.

One of the best things we can do is resettlement because, as opposed to aid where you're just helping the refugees in the region, with resettlement, you're actually taking some of the burden off of the countries around Syria.

And it's important to remember here that, when we're talking about Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, they've each taken in over a million refugees already, and they've spent billions of dollars themselves, Turkey in particular, dealing with this problem.

They're simply overwhelmed.

DAVID MARK: Dr Phil Orchard from the University of Queensland, ending Sarah Sedghi's report.