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Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Page: 9642


Ms JULIE BISHOP (CurtinMinister for Foreign Affairs) (15:26): The scale of the dislocation of people in Syria and northern Iraq and the unfolding crisis in the Mediterranean is deeply troubling. The world has been shocked by the sheer numbers of people fleeing from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Ensuring that refugees can access humanitarian assistance and protection in their own country or in the region would of course reduce the need for refugees to make dangerous journeys elsewhere or be exploited by people smugglers.

The cause of the exodus is the conflict in Syria and in Iraq, and the choice facing many communities is stark. In Syria it is the brutality of the Assad regime or the Islamic extremists, and Daesh has been the most egregious in its persecution of minorities in Syria. These terrorist activities continue to pose a grave threat to regional security, including the safety of civilian populations. To solve the humanitarian disasters we must focus on the cause. So defeating the terrorist organisation Daesh requires both military and political action. We will continue to advocate a political solution that can bring an end to the conflict in Syria, for we must deal with the case of this humanitarian crisis and not just the consequences.

The Australian government announced today that Australia's military air operations against Daesh in Iraq will be extended to target Daesh spaces and supply lines in Syria. Under article 51 of the UN charter and the legal principle of collective self-defence of Iraq, we will take action. This decision follows Iraq's request for international assistance to strike at Daesh strongholds and it follows a formal request from the United States, the leader of the coalition of countries supporting the Iraqi government's efforts to defeat terrorism and protect its people. Australia joins other nations—the United States, Canada, Turkey, the UAE and others—already conducting airstrikes against Daesh strongholds in Syria.

These efforts to combat Daesh are supported by our humanitarian assistance in Syria and in Iraq in particular but also in neighbouring countries of the region, many of which are carrying the burden of refugees and displaced people. All parties to the conflict in Syria must provide safe an unimpeded humanitarian access to those in need in that war-torn country. I commend the generosity of neighbouring countries, in particular Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, for their role in providing protection for Syrian refugees.

Australia has for many years operated the most generous, on a per capita basis, UNHCR referred refugee resettlement program in the world. Australia consistently ranks in the top three resettlement countries, along with the United States and Canada—collectively providing over 80 per cent of global UNHCR resettlement places. Last financial year Australia settled more than 4,400 people from Syria and Iraq, accounting for 30 per cent of the 13,750 places under the humanitarian program. This number will increase to 18,750 places by 2018-19.

Over the last few days, after consulting with the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration and others and the report from immigration minister Peter Dutton, the government has announced today that we will offer permanent resettlement places to 12,000 UNHCR registered refugees. These people will be resettled in Australia as soon as possible. Priority will be given to those most in need, and we know these are women, children and families, and those among the persecuted minorities, who have sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, in particular.

Religious minorities in Syria are targeted by rebel groups for perceived loyalty to the Assad regime. The terrorist groups in turn attack there religious communities. The choice, as one Lebanese Christian community leader living on the border with Syria said, is between the bitter and the more bitter.

In Syria and Iraq, the terrorist organisation Daesh has told Christians they must convert, pay 'jizya'—the tax on non-Muslims—or be killed. Many of Iraq's Christians were living in the north, much of which is now controlled by Daesh. Other minority groups, including the Yazidis, have been subject to extreme attacks by Daesh—so the ethnic and religious minorities and the most vulnerable. They have no safe place to which they can return.

Today we have also announced that Australia will provide additional humanitarian assistance to directly support more than 240,000 Syrian and Iraqi people who have been forced to flee their homes or seek refuge in neighbouring countries. This additional $44 million in assistance will help families prepare for the upcoming winter through the provision of shelter kits, winter clothes and food. It will provide people with life-saving food, safe drinking water and cash; and there will be special and specific support for women and girls.

The funding will be provided through the UNHCR, the World Food Programme, UNICEF and other trusted humanitarian partners. We will support both internally displaced people within Iraq and Syria as well as those seeking refuge in countries of the region. This assistance will bring Australia's overall humanitarian assistance to Syria since the outbreak of fighting in 2011 and to Iraq since 2014 to around $230 million. This additional funding package will build on the $20 million Australia provided in response to the Syrian crisis in March, which included $3 million to support Australian NGOs assisting refugees in Lebanon. The Australian government has provided $18 million to Australian NGOs and the Red Cross to help people affected by the crises in Syria and Iraq.

Today's measures focus on assisting UN humanitarian partners to meet their mandates of providing protection and assistance to refugees and people displaced by the conflict in Syria and Iraq. We are advised that directly 240,000 people will be supported.

The Australian Council for International Development has commended the Australian government's announcement of additional assistance saying, we 'understand the scale of the need in Syria and the many overburdened and underresourced refugee camps in the region'. The Australian government will continue to work with Australian NGOs to support Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

I am aware that a number of Australian people have donated to this cause and are wanting to do more. I encourage the Australian public to donate to Australian NGOs who are providing assistance to refugees in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

This government has long been concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Syria and we have long been committed to assisting. During my visit to Jordan and Lebanon last year, I witnessed both the plight of refugees forced to flee from their homeland and the overwhelming burden placed on countries, including Jordan and Lebanon, which currently house millions of refugees.

In Jordan, which is host to around 630,000 registered Syrian refugees, I was provided a firsthand insight into the human toll of the ongoing crisis. I visited a UNHCR refugee registration centre, which receives thousands of refugees on a daily basis. While there, I sat down with children—boys and girls no older than Alan Kurdi—as they played quietly with their toys, but their childhood innocence was not enough to shield them from the horrors they had fled.

I was told horrific stories of indiscriminate and barbaric violence and persecution, of family members who had died or were missing. I was told of futures, once bright and full of promise, that no longer existed. In a world crumbling around them, they clung closely to loved ones who were with them.

In Lebanon, where over one million registered Syrian refugees make up 25 per cent of the country's total population, I met with representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and UNICEF to discuss how Australian support would assist those affected by the Syrian crisis. During this particular visit, I announced $20 million in funding from an Australian government initiative to support the United Nations No Lost Generation program that is providing educational and schooling support for those children in the camps to help build better futures for them when the conflict is over, but taking note of the fact that they had otherwise no access to schooling.

There has been much said about our focus on the ethnic and religious minorities in our measures announced today. The persecution of minorities in Syria and Iraq is deeply troubling. Religious and ethnic groups are severely impacted by the increase in violence. In the Middle East, there is a clear increase in religious and ethnic intolerance in the region.

This is a period of increasing sectarianism in the region and, through our contribution to international efforts to defeat Daesh, our humanitarian intake and our aid program, Australia is doing its part to support the people of Syria and Iraq in these darkest of times.