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Interview: Leonard Doyle, International Organisation for Migration. -

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EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: The International Organisation for Migration is the world's leading inter-governmental agency, with 157 member states including Australia. It provides services and advice to governments and migrants.

Leonard Doyle is their spokesman and he joins us now from Brussels.

Leonard Doyle, many thanks for joining us.


EMMA ALBERICI: Now, the Australian Government is yet to decide how many Syrian refugees it will take. Some say it should be 10,000; others say 30,000 or 50,000. How does a country best determine what is the right number?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, it's not really for the government to decide at the end of the day. It's really a protection issue and this goes back to the 1951 treaty - convention, rather.

So we have to look to the needs of the people, look to the absolute desperation of people who are fleeing Syria. The families that we see in these rubber dinghies, the people we see struggling across the borders of Europe: they need a future. And it's fantastic news that Australia appears willing to extend its welcome.

EMMA ALBERICI: And so is it on a per capita basis? Is it on the relative wealth of a country? I mean, how do you decide the number when you are a government? I mean, you provide advice to governments on these issues?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, in the European Union context, there is a "distribution key" as they're calling it. Some countries are not part of that. The UK is deciding separately. But they're collaborating together and they're getting guidance on it. And indeed, the Australian Government is doing that as well. They're consulting widely.

So I think it has to be just a mature choice by the Government to see how can they best look after the maximum number of refugees and ensure that they are properly integrated into society.

Refugees make fantastic new citizens and it's just a question of making sure that there's an adequate welcome for them. It's certainly to be welcomed.

EMMA ALBERICI: Ministers in the Australian Government now believe Christian refugees should be given priority. What's your view?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, I think this is probably not the best track. At the end of the day, people are in need of protection. What religion they come from, what belief system they have is irrelevant. It's a protection issue.

And if we try and cherry-pick out Christians or Muslims or vice versa, I think it's really a road to perdition. It's not the right way to approach this issue because it leads you to decide who you think are deserving of protection, rather than who are really deserving of protection.

EMMA ALBERICI: But of course, ministers in our Government are saying it should be, as you say, on the basis of need. And on that basis one minister in particular today said Christians are the most persecuted group in that region.

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, indeed, Christians have been heavily persecuted. And that's true and they need to be given all the support that is possible.

But to suggest for a minute that Muslims are not persecuted is frankly at odds with the facts. And it's not at the end of the day the - it's not a policymaker's or a government's decision at the end of the day: it's a protection issue. And we have to look at the core issues behind every individual case. Otherwise you will have countries around the world deciding who they're going to take in on the basis of religion or colour, for that matter. And that's hardly the way to run a protection policy.

EMMA ALBERICI: You were quoted in a New York Times editorial this week cautioning other countries not to adopt Australia's "Stop the Boats" policy. Why?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, I think that's a mischaracterisation of what I said to the New York Times. What I said to the New York Times is that politicians love fences - and that is indeed true. Politicians need and like to show that they're hard at work and doing things in the community. And one good way and easy way to do that is a fence.

And what I said was that a fence drives migrants into the hands of smugglers. It creates a market. And we know this: just go to Europe; just go to eastern Europe today and you will find this to be true. That's why that poor Syrian family, that poor Syrian boy died on the beach in Turkey: because they were driven into the hands of smugglers by this issue of fences.

And fences can be used as a term for the lack of access to cross border for people in need. It does not literally have to mean a fence.

EMMA ALBERICI: Well, you would understand the Australian policy of turning boats around. And our Government would say that has helped save lives. Twelve hundred people had died on the ocean crossing from Indonesia to Australia in previous years under the Labor government.

And since our new Government came to power and turned boats back to Indonesia, instead of allowing the passage to Australia, 1,200 lives have potentially been spared?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, we're talking about Syrian refugees here. And the idea that you employ a specific policy that has been used in Australia, in the content of Australia, is frankly not relevant to Europe.

There are 28 countries here in the European Union. There is no way, with the number of access points into Europe, that you can simply say that this tough love policy that Australia has applied so well could be practical in this case. So I think it's a false comparison. It's apples and oranges.

And we need to stick to the issue that vulnerable refugees, vulnerable migrants from war-torn countries are flocking to Europe and they need to be able to get in here in something better than a rubber raft.

It's all very well saying, "Push them back." But in this particular case, in this particular context, with a transmigration flow unprecedented since the Second World War, the idea that one policy that one country has successfully adopted or not is going to work is just not going to fly.

EMMA ALBERICI: We certainly know the scale of the response from countries like Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon. But what about the wealthy Gulf nations in the region? Are they also taking their share of refugees - and I'm thinking of countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, they will say that they are; that they've taken a large number. And they've certainly paid a vast amount of money for humanitarian aid. But there's a very good point to be made here: is that those who are brought into these Gulf countries typically do not get protection and do not get put on a road to citizenship. So there's a lot of room for improvement here.

And I think this point has been very well made and taken onboard by these Gulf countries over the last couple of weeks: that it's all very well to take people in under a temporary issue, but at the end of the day they need a future.

And you don't want to create a ghetto in your country. And certainly the way to avoid creating a ghetto is to integrate people properly, as indeed happens in Australia, which is a beacon among the countries of the world of how to well integrate people into your society.

EMMA ALBERICI: Within the next 24 hours Australia is expected to announce its intention to join the US in bombing Syria from the air. How concerned are you about the impact that bombing campaign will have on refugee flows?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, hopefully they will be bombing ISIS and hopefully they will be reducing the push factor for refugees to leave their country.

At the end of the day, the Syrians don't want to leave their country any more than you want to leave your country. They have ties of family, they have ties of country and they want to stay there. They're leaving for a very good reason which is that they're being pushed by a very sharp stick in the form of a fascist entity called ISIS.

So if the military action has some impact on that, that's to be welcomed, of course. But we have to make sure that it's done in a coherent way, through international collaboration, through the auspices of the UN, for that matter.

EMMA ALBERICI: What are you hearing about the impact of air strikes so far on civilians in Syria?

LEONARD DOYLE: Well, we know that the barrel bombs that have been used by the regime have had a disastrous impact on civilians. And we certainly hope that any further use of air power is targeted and sufficiently carefully calibrated; that it does not directly impact innocent civilians. That is what any country, any armed force in any war should be trying to do. And of course we fully expect that to be the case.

EMMA ALBERICI: Leonard Doyle, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

LEONARD DOYLE: Thank you, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for having me