JOURNALIST: Julie Bishop joins us now from Canberra.
Minister congratulations on the decision. I think it is important to mark that. This will be I understand our largest intake of refugees in any financial year since World War 2. It was a really important thing that we stepped up and we did, so that is fantastic.
It is also a pretty swift turnaround though from four days ago when the Prime Minister seemed resolute that the cap, or the amount of refugees we would be taking would not go up. Why the change of heart?
JULIE BISHOP: Well it is not a change of heart. We didn’t want to make an announcement that hadn’t been considered, that hadn’t been run past experts and that we couldn’t deliver upon. So we had to be sure that we had the right advice, that our Immigration Minister met with the experts, the UN authorities, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organisation of Migration. That’s why he went to Paris and Geneva and when we had all of the information and the expert advice and assistance from our own officials we were able to say with confidence that we could offer 12,000 permanent resettlement places.
These are not temporary safe haven places like other countries have been offering, these are actual permanent resettlement places for 12,000 Syrian refugees, plus provide enough funding to support up to 240,000 people who are in the camps on the border of Syria and Iraq, particularly in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. This is a big announcement so it did take some time for us to put this package of measures together.
JOURNALIST: It is great news. There are some people who are worried that members of ISIL will slip through the system here. What assurances can you give them?
JULIE BISHOP: We are working with the UNHCR, who have experience in these matters, but we are also sending a team of our officials, who will work with the officials in Syria, in camps to identify the people that would fit our requirements in terms of health checks, security checks and the like, and character checks and then we will work with those organisations to bring families, women and children in particular to Australia under this program.
We are focussing on persecuted minorities, ethnic and religious minorities because they are the ones who will have nowhere to return to if peace ever comes to Syria and Iraq. They have been persecuted by the Assad regime, by the terrorist organisations. There is a high degree of religious intolerance and ethnic persecution and they are the most vulnerable, they are the most needy so that is what we will be focussing upon.
JOURNALIST: Minister can I just clarify something on that point because you are talking about persecuted minorities and it is definitely true they need our help. There is also too in Syria a persecuted majority in that there are the Sunni Muslims there who are being persecuted selectively, and Human Rights Watch have made this point, by the Assad Government. Am I to infer from what you’ve said that we are not helping them?
JULIE BISHOP: Last year, and this year, when we took Syrian refugees under our humanitarian program, 2200, we again focussed on ethnic minorities. And there were Sunnis, there were Shias but there were also Yazidis, Drews, Assyrians, Armenians, there are Christians, there are Maronites, a whole range of persecuted ethnic and religious minorities so they can be Muslim, they can be non-Muslim. The point we are making is that those that are unlikely to have a home to return to will be offered these places in Australia as Australian residents.
JOURNALIST: Okay thank you for the clarification Minister. Thanks for your time.
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