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Migrant crisis: Refugee Council welcomes Government's Syria commitment -

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DAVID MARK: The Refugee Council of Australia has welcomed the Government's decision to take an extra 12,000 refugees.

The Council's Tim O'Connor spoke to our reporter Naomi Woodley in Canberra.

TIM O'CONNOR: Australia could immediately absorb that amount of refugees from Syria; we think it's argent that we do so; we applaud the Prime Minister's leadership on this. As soon as the shift happened in the community, he's acted very quickly. We think this is a very important first step in bringing Syrian refugees who need shelter and protection urgently.

NAOMI WOODLEY: There's been a lot of speculation over the past couple of days about the sorts of numbers that Australia could accept; one back bencher put it up to 50,000 - is 12 at the upper or lower limit of what Australia could contribute in this way?

TIM O'CONNOR: We think 12,000 is a crucial first step; it helps build support in the community, because we know these people need urgent protection; they need safety and we have the capacity in the Australian community to do it. We've reduced our intake over the last four years by one third; there is the capacity in settlement services, and over the last few days there's been an incredible outpouring from the Australian community in support of supporting vulnerable people from Syria, and we applaud the Australian community in showing such great leadership.

NAOMI WOODLEY: How should the Australian Government go about choosing which refugees from Syria are able to come to Australia under this intake? We know there are so many people who require help, how should they choose which ones get Australia's assistance?

TIM O'CONNOR: Australia should absolutely prioritise the most vulnerable. Need to be the only issue we discriminate upon, we shouldn't be discriminating on religion or ethnicity, it should be absolutely upon need. We know there's many many children, women, pregnant women are an obvious place to start.

But anyone who is in specific need should be given priority for Australia in the first step of bringing in 12,000 refugees.

NAOMI WOODLEY: And is it people who've registered with the UNHCR, how much will international agencies need to help Australia in going down this route?

TIM O'CONNOR: Well the UNHCR is desperately underfunded in responding to the crisis. We know just 7 per cent of the 4 million people who've fled Syria are in camps at the moment and we need to certainly increase the support from around the world to UNHCR. They are just 30 per cent funded in the amount they need to respond to the crisis. And that's what we're seeing so many people flee to Europe and other places seeking safety.

NAOMI WOODLEY: Should the refugees that Australia accepts under this 12,000 intake only come from camps, or is that the only way to feasibly offer assistance in an organised way?

TIM O'CONNOR: Well we need to bring people who are registered with UNHCR as refugees. Just 7 per cent of the people who are fleeing Syria are in camps today, we can't just be focusing on camps, many of the most vulnerable are part of that 93 per cent who are spread across Jordan, Libya, Turkey, Iraq. They're in desperate need of safety and protection and we should be looking to those places to ensure that they are able to be resettled as well.

DAVID MARK: That's Tim O'Connor, from the Refugee Council of Australia and he was speaking to Naomi Woodley.

And we'll hear from the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, very shortly.