JOURNALIST Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is in Canberra and she joins us now.
Minister, we heard there from the Prime Minister saying that we will step up. The situation is clearly very dire. Surely the decision to take more refugees right now is actually a pretty easy one?
JULIE BISHOP In fact, that's why we sent our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Geneva to meet with the UNHCR face to face, and with other agencies and other countries so that we can be part of an international response. Clearly, a humanitarian crisis at this level requires an international response. No one country, no one region can resolve this, and so we want to be part of that international response, as we have been for many years now.
This crisis first began in 2011. When we went on to the Security Council under the previous government, Australia took the lead in resolutions for greater humanitarian access into Syria. We carried on that work when we came into government and in 2014 alone, Australia authored and led the discussion in the Security Council on three resolutions in relation to the humanitarian response in Syria. We also contributed to the effort to stop the Assad regime using chemical weapons on its own people. Now we have these terrorist organisations, ISIL, known as Da’esh, Al Nusra Front, the Khorasan Group, all committing violent acts against civilians.
I visited Jordan and Lebanon last year where I visited some of the registration centres where people fleeing Syria were registering as refugees and talked to the UNHCR in detail about it. Many of them want to wait out the conflict and go home again. Syria is their home so they are in refugee camps on the borders in Lebanon, Jordan, now Turkey.
JOURNALIST Julie, I'm sorry, we just have to interrupt there, we’ve got some audio issues. Apologies to people at home if that is cutting in and out.
Yesterday the PM was resolute that we wouldn't be increasing overall numbers. Is he not out of touch with the rest of the party on that?
JULIE BISHOP The Prime Minister was pointing out that we have a Refugee and Humanitarian program that currently take approximately 13,750 people. And we had announced that it will increase over time to 18,750 and that's a fact and that does mean that per capita ours is one of the more generous resettlement programs.
JULIE BISHOP Hang on. That's why we have sent Peter Dutton to Geneva so we can talk to the authorities, to the UNHCR, about the global response. And I have put in calls to my counterpart foreign ministers, not only in partner countries, like the United States, United Kingdom, but the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, what can we do to help relieve this situation, and Australia will play its part.
JOURNALIST I appreciate that process Minister, but even where you say we have been increasing our intake, you must surely acknowledge that that is less than the intake we had before you were in government. The initial move was to reduce it. Doesn't it have to go significantly higher than that now?
JULIE BISHOP Well, 18,750 will be the highest it's been in 30 years. But I think this is specific situation we're dealing with. I raised the issue of the Kosovo resettlements over the weekend with the Prime Minister. We talked about this, that's why we're talking to our counterpart foreign ministers overseas because Kosovo was an international response and if there is going to be this kind of global response, well then Australia should try and be part of it.
JOURNALIST Julie, a big focus in his language has been persecuted minorities. Is that just a code for Christians? Will there be a focus on Christian refugees over Muslims for example?
JULIE BISHOP There are a number of persecuted minorities. I've met with representatives of these groups in Iraq in particular. The Yazidis, remember they were all captured on a mountain top? There are persecuted minorities in both Syria and Iraq. They are the ones in camps who are fearful for their lives if they return, whereas others are not fearful for their lives, they want to wait out the conflict.
We're focusing on women and children, persecuted minorities, but again we'll take advice from the UNHCR and work with them. We have provided about $40 million in extra funding to the UNHCR in relation to the Syrian conflict, so we'll continue to cooperate, take their advice on the people that we can, realistically, resettle here, or those that might want safe haven. That's something else that we should look at, another option.
JOURNALIST We'll keep our eye on the process and see what the Immigration Minister comes back with later in the week by way of announcements.
Thanks very much for your time.
JULIE BISHOP Thank you.
- Minister's office: (02) 6277 7500
- DFAT Media Liaison: (02) 6261 1555