ANDREW HARPER, UNHCR: It’s obviously a great honour to have the Australian Foreign Minister come to Jordan today and to see first-hand what Jordan has been doing in relation to providing protection and assistance to over 600,000 Syrian refugees. I’ll not take too much time other than to welcome the Minister both very warmly to the Anmar Hmoud Refugee Centre in Amman, Jordan; but also to all of you who have come today. And on that note, I’d like to pass over to the Australian Foreign Minister.
MINISTER BISHOP: Good afternoon. I am the first Australian Minister of the new Abbott Government to visit Jordan since our election last September, and the purpose of my visit is to underscore the value that we place on our relationship with Jordan; it is a warm and longstanding friendship. But it’s also to see firsthand the situation here in Jordan as a result of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and I’m visiting this UNHCR registration center to gauge for myself the full impact of the Syrian crisis on Jordan, given the number of people seeking asylum here, and the numbers that are being registered as asylum seekers and refugees here. This country is about 6 million people yet there are some 600,000 people registered as refugees here at this Centre. And with no end in sight to the Syrian crisis, the international community must support countries like Jordan who have been so generous in hosting such vast numbers of people.
Today I will be spending time with my counterpart the Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh. I’ll also be meeting with the Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour and shortly I will be meeting with His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein at the Palace. On each occasion I will affirm Australia’s strong support for the work that Jordan is doing as a result of the worsening humanitarian crisis in Syria. Australia has in recent times contributed to the international effort to assist the Syrian humanitarian crisis. Indeed, to date we have provided about $110 million dollars, but we have also provided $2 million to assist in the dismantling of the chemical weapons that have been located and are being accounted for in Syria.
Australia and Jordan are both non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, and in that capacity we have worked closely together to support resolutions on the humanitarian crisis in calling for an international response - and we will continue to work closely with Jordan in that regard.
I am also here today to announce that the Australian Government will support the United Nations’ ‘No Lost Generation’ strategy and we will provide $20 million to support this strategy that’s aimed at supporting the children of refugees. The funding will be provided to both Lebanon and Jordan and the funding will be distributed to UNHCR, to UNICEF and to Save the Children Australia. Not only are the immediate needs of the asylum seekers and the refugees important, but it’s the long term impact that we must face. That’s why we’re assisting by providing money for education purposes because, of the 2.7 million refugees that have left Syria, we understand about half of them are children and about 70 per cent of those children are not attending school. So together with other donor countries – Canada and the United Kingdom, Australia is providing $20 million to ensure that we can invest in some way in the future of young people who have been devastated by the crisis in Syria.
So thank you for attending today. I’m happy to take any questions.
SYRIAN ORIENT NEWS: What is the stance of the Australian Government on the Syrian Opposition? And how do you see a resolution to the Syria crisis?
MINISTER BISHOP: The Australian Government’s support is humanitarian and so we are focusing on getting the international community to combine to support the humanitarian effort such as we see here in Jordan and being carried out by the UNCHR. And I do take this opportunity to commend UNHCR and Andrew Harper and his team on the outstanding work that they are doing in extraordinarily difficult circumstances with such a significant number of people who are turning up here every day seeking support.
You ask what we see as the outcome. Clearly there has to be some kind of political solution but tragically I can’t see an end in sight. The Geneva II talks have stalled; we haven’t seen any progress. This shocking crisis runs the risk of being off the front page of newspapers because there is no potential solution in sight. That’s why I’m here: to remind the international community that the Syrian crisis is affecting not only the people of Syria but countries in the neighborhood and I do pay tribute to the Jordanians for the magnificent effort that they are putting in in trying to support these people who are fleeing from the most tragic of circumstances.
SYRIAN ORIENT NEWS: Will Australia host any Syrian refugees as part of its humanitarian role?
MINISTER BISHOP: Yes the Australian Government has announced that we will accept a first 500 Syrian refugees. That’s recently been announced as an increase to 1000 refugees and we’ll be working closely with UNHCR to see that that process can be put in place as soon as possible.
AL JAZEERA NEWS AGENCY: How is Australia handling cases of Australian Jihadists that are fighting in Syria? Do you have a solution?
MINISTER BISHOP: This is an issue that is of deep concern to the international community. Australia is a very long way from Syria, yet we are concerned by the number of dual citizens, Australian-Syrian dual citizens, who we understand are travelling to Syria to take part in the fighting. It is against the law in Australia for an Australian citizen and a dual citizen to take part in the fighting in Syria on either side – it’s against the law. So it’s a matter of deep concern to Australia, it’s a matter of concern to other countries, and I don’t know the answer to how we resolve this. But we’re trying to work with other like-minded countries to convince people that they should not be leaving Australia to take part in the fighting and run the risk of being radicalised and taking up with extremist groups; learning skills and practices that they could utilise elsewhere. So it’s a deeply troubling situation and we will continue to work through the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member. We will continue to work with Jordan, likewise a non-permanent member at present, and other members of the Security Council to see if some kind of international solution can be found.
THE JORDAN TIMES: My question is about Australian coordination with other countries to work together for a political solution to the crisis. And what are the other issues that you are going to discuss with the Jordan Prime Minister? Thank you.
MINISTER BISHOP: Thank you. The purpose of my visit is two-fold – first to see the impact of the Syria crisis on Jordan and announce the further support that the Australian Government is providing, specifically in Jordan and Lebanon as two countries who are bearing a considerable burden in hosting refugees. Secondly to meet with the Jordanian Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and other members of the Government here, because I believe that the Australian/Jordanian relationship is already strong but there are other areas where we can cooperate even more deeply than previously. For example in counter-terrorism we have worked closely with Jordan in the past and will continue to do so. In relation to Afghanistan, I intended to raise matters about post-2014 with the Jordanian Foreign Minister in relation to Afghanistan. But also the Middle East Peace Process; a number of contemporary issues that are affecting the Middle East and Jordan’s stance in particular. I also hope to have an opportunity to focus on some positive aspects including our trading relationship, which while small, does have the potential to be a more significant source of bilateral strength between our two nations.
AL ARABIYIA NEWS AGENCY: How does Australia view the UNHCR role in hosting the Syrian refugees?
MINISTER BISHOP: I think UNHCR is doing an extraordinary job in an extraordinarily difficult circumstances. As I understand from Mr Harper, about 600,000 people have been registered here, and they are processing the claims in a very orderly way using relatively sophisticated technology. And this means that people seeking help can get assistance as soon as possible. The task appears almost overwhelming but there’s such a measured calm about the Centre here. The UNCHR staff are processing claims methodically, purposefully. And while it must be very frustrating for the people that are waiting for support, it’s quite apparent that UNCHR has managed to process hundreds of thousands of claims in a short period of time. The daunting aspect of this is that there is no end in sight, and that more people are arriving on a daily basis. So the capacity of the UNHCR will continue to be tested. That’s why the United Nations has called for more support from the international community for the work that they are doing here.
CHANEL 7: You spoke quite rightly about the incredible job being done by the Jordanian Government for more than 600,000 people fleeing persecution. Do you think the attitude of the Jordanian Government is something we can learn from or take duty from in terms of a refugee response?
MINISTER BISHOP: Well, Jordan is right next door to Syria, and so when people leave Syria they go to the neighbouring country, which is Jordan, and that’s why I’m here lending our support to Jordan, because as a neighbouring country with a border that adjoins Syria, they clearly are having to host so many of the people leaving Syria. So I believe that we will have a lot to discuss and as much as Australia has to learn from Jordan, no doubt Jordan will want to learn from Australia. This is an international problem and I’m here to lend my support to the work that the Jordanian Government is doing here, but also to deepen our bilateral relationship. It’s important for us to have a like-minded friend in this part of the world, and it is a warm and longstanding friendship, and I hope that through my visit we can broaden and deepen that relationship. Australians have great affection for Jordanian people and I hope that that is the case with Jordanian people and Australians.
ANDREW HARPER: Certainly.
MINISTER BISHOP: Well Mr Harper tells me that’s the case and I’ll believe him. We’re certainly very keen to continue to work closely with Jordan in a range of areas from, as I said, defense cooperation and counter-terrorism, through immigration matters, and hopefully through a stronger trade and investment relationship.
CHANEL 7: Are you proud that Jordanian charge the job here to an Australian?
MINISTER BISHOP: I’m very proud of Mr Harper I know he is a former public servant of the Australian Government so I’m delighted to see Australians around the world, working in such tragic situations, yet doing such an amazing job.
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