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Migrant crisis: Gillian Triggs of Human Rights Commission calls on Govt to take more refugees -

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DAVID MARK: The president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, says Australia is obliged to take at least 10,000 extra refugees from Syria.

And Professor Triggs says if Australia were to join the bombing campaign in Syria, it would only increase the refugee crisis.

She says the Australian Government needs to consider the bombing campaign extremely seriously.

I spoke to Gillian Triggs a short time ago.

Professor Triggs does the Australian Government have any specific obligations in regard to the asylum seekers in Europe?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well the Australian Government has a responsibility under the Refugee Convention, which of course we have been a party to for many decades, to give protection to those who seek our protection when they are seeking from persecution and conflict and death.

Now that's a general obligation' it's not a specific one in the sense of x number of people. In the context of Europe, we clearly do have an obligation to respond in a humane way and to take refugees, so I think the visit by Minister Dutton to the High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva is a very, very important step because I think those discussions should lead to some identifiable number that the High Commissioner for Refugees would see as appropriate for Australia to take.

DAVID MARK: And obviously the debate in Australia is all about the numbers. The Government has said it may take some extra Syrian refugees, but that would come at the expense of places for other refugees from other countries. Is the Government within its right to take that approach?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well the question really is the obligation to take those who seek protection and finite numbers do not really meet that obligation.

I think it's also true to say that Australia takes a very tiny number of refugees annually and, as you know, reduced that number to about 14,000 so I think that one could say that the humanitarian crisis would indicate that a larger number would be required and I think that's where the discussions with the High Commissioner for Refugees will be so very important in giving some sort of dimension to the help that's needed.

DAVID MARK: What number do you think would be fair then?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well you know it's very hard for me to put a precise figure on it and of course different numbers have been put by different groups in the community as part of a political debate, and that's very helpful.

But I think- let me say that I think it has to be significantly beyond the 14, 000 that are currently or could be currently admitted under the policy. I think that number should be very, very significantly increased and I think that it will be increased with the generosity of spirit of most Australians.

DAVID MARK: Well for instance the New South Wales Premier Mike Baird says 10,000 Syrians should come to Australia; is that the sort of number you're talking about when you say significant increase?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well I think at least that number and possibly more. And the judgements have to be made, and they should be made by a sovereign nation like Australia: What can we reasonably absorb, what are the costs, what are the logistics, what are the needs of refugees.

As you may well know, most refugees actually want to go home, and it might be that some want to temporary refuge, some want more than that because they are the minority group that's been persecuted so one would have to take an individual approach to these refugees but it's quite proper for the Government to look at what it can reasonably absorb and what a reasonably humane response is going to be in the view of the High Commissioner for Refugees.

DAVID MARK: The UNHCR is calling for European countries to adopt a compulsory quota system; is that something that could be taken up more broadly outside of Europe?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well I think it could, I mean it's very interesting that the European Union and through the commission and council can operate this way because they are a group of 27 states have agreed certain values and policies and laws, so it's easier for them to reach some sort of consensus - although even on this issue it's not proving to be particularly easy.

And that gives one some sort of an answer to your question: it's not easy to translate what's achievable in the European Union into say the region like the Asia Pacific where we don't have a charter of rights; we don't have a court or commission; we don't have a governance structure to impose a quota, so I think it would have to be said that we are a very long way from anything like that in our region.

But I think in the longer term we need to be looking to a much more global and then regional approach to managing this movement of peoples which has been - which is unprecedented at least since the Second World War.

According to the secretary general, we have about 50 million people displaced and refugees in the world today. So this is in Africa, Latin America, throughout the Middle East, Asia and of course the crisis that we are talking about at the moment in Syria.

DAVID MARK: Professor Triggs, on another, though related, matter the Security Committee of Cabinet is discussing whether to joining the Coalition in bombing IS targets in Syria. How would that affect the situation in Syria and the refugee crisis in Europe?

GILLIAN TRIGGS: Well I think any person could foresee that by engaging in increasing a bombing campaign against ISIS we will of course increase the refugee crisis. One thing inevitably leads to the other, and we've seen this in global politics generally.

So there's nothing surprising about what an almost inevitable consequence is going to be, which is more refugees. Which of course calls into question the value of these bombing campaigns; we know that they in fact kill far more civilians than they do targets; they're extremely dangerous and they do lead to civilians panicking and leaving their homes which creates another round of refugees.

So I think we need to consider this extremely seriously before embarking on further military intervention particularly intervention through a bombing campaign, where I think the analysts are saying, if anything is needed, it's on the ground troops to deal with the threat that ISIS clearly presents.

DAVID MARK: That's the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs.