KARL STEFANOVIC A huge show of Aussie support last night for Syrian refugees across Australia. Thousands turned dark into light. Vigils calling for more action to help those caught up in Europe’s growing humanitarian crisis. For more we are joined now by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
Foreign Minister, good morning to you.
JULIE BISHOP Good morning Karl.
KARL STEFANOVIC As you saw last night there is a clear appetite for us to do more. Have you made a decision yet?
JULIE BISHOP I have been in contact with our Immigration Minister Peter Dutton overnight. He is in Paris at present, meeting with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Guterres and he is also meeting with UN officials and the International Organisation for Migration today and discussing the international response and what part Australia can play in that response.
No one country can do this alone. It will require many countries, not only in the region but also around the world, to assist because we are dealing with people who are seeking temporary safe haven, who want to return home when the conflict is over, but also those who would be persecuted even if the conflict were over, so we are focusing on women and children and families of persecuted minorities who are currently in camps on the borders between Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq.
KARL STEFANOVIC So we will raise our aggregate refugee intake though?
JULIE BISHOP These are details we will work through with Peter Dutton as part of an international response but we are taking this issue very seriously. Australia has been leading the international debate on this through the Security Council in 2013 and again in 2014 when we were a temporary member. We co-authored and led the debate on three resolutions to do with humanitarian access and the humanitarian disaster in Syria. So we have been very much involved in this issue for many years and we will continue to play our part. We have provided funding of about $156 million in relation to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and we are considering what more we can do.
KARL STEFANOVIC It is a pretty simple question, we will raise our aggregate refugee intake, won't we?
JULIE BISHOP These are matters for the Prime Minister to announce not me on morning TV. This is obviously something that has to be discussed.
KARL STEFANOVIC With respect Foreign Minister, you are on our program and people have an appetite to find out what is going on. How long is it going to take him to make up his mind?
JULIE BISHOP There are a number of issues that need to be determined. When you resettle people permanently you have to ensure that you have the services in place, the housing, the facilities, the education, the health facilities and so these are matters we are working through.
Some countries have just made announcements. We had made an announcement previously that we would increase the intake by 4400 last financial year and again that would have been announced this year. But now, because of this crisis, we are reconsidering those figures and we will do what we can but the Prime Minister will announce this once Peter Dutton reports back to him on the detail.
KARL STEFANOVIC There would be an announcement today, wouldn’t there? You’d have to think, if Peter Dutton is working hard over there surely there would be an announcement today.
JULIE BISHOP In the next few days at least.
KARL STEFANOVIC Alright, so what we are looking at here is, and I get that logistics are not easy, relocating that many people from Europe is not going to be an easy thing to do just logistically, and then all those other issues that you mentioned but this is more than just a Kosovo solution isn’t it? These people, some of them will be here permanently.
JULIE BISHOP That's why we have been talking about the persecuted minorities. In the case of Kosovo, people wanted to escape Kosovo because of the conflict but wanted to return home. Now, there are many people in the camps in Lebanon and Jordan. I was in Lebanon and Jordan last year, I went to the registration centre, I talked to the people there, I talked to officials. Many want to go back to Syria when the conflict is over but this is a very complex conflict given there is the Assad regime and people are fleeing the Assad regime. ISIL has taken over swathes of land in Syria, the al-Raqqa Province, so there are people fleeing from ISIL. When this conflict is over people will want to return but there are some, some persecuted ethnic and religious minorities, who will not want to go home and so they are the ones we are focusing on as are other countries as well.
KARL STEFANOVIC Are you ruling 10,000 more out?
JULIE BISHOP Well, people can pluck figures out of the air. I have heard many figures over the last few days but we will do what is appropriate, what we can do, well. That is, resettle people permanently as opposed to just taking people temporarily. But there is also this idea of a Kosovo solution. That's why I am in contact with my counterpart Foreign Ministers from the UK and US but also from the Gulf countries - the Saudi Arabians and the United Arab Emirates, other countries in the region who we believe could be part of this international solution.
KARL STEFANOVIC So they should be. They have been dropping the ball for a long time, haven't they?
JULIE BISHOP They can do more. That's why I'm in discussion with my counterpart Foreign Ministers.
KARL STEFANOVIC Okay, so what you are saying this morning is it could well be more than 10,000, you just haven't made up your mind yet?
JULIE BISHOP It is not a question of me making up my mind, it is a question of being able to assess what Australia can do as part of this international response. We must consider the resettlement process and we are taking the advice of the UNHCR and the International Organisation of Migration and other countries working with the other European countries who are taking some as temporary safe haven refugees, others permanently, and in the case of Germany, Germany has agreed to process the applications. Germany hasn’t agreed to resettle 800,000 people. Germany has agreed to process the applications for resettlement in other parts of the world.
KARL STEFANOVIC They have agreed to take in 20,000 though, haven’t they, just on the weekend?
JULIE BISHOP That's right, that's for permanent resettlement.
KARL STEFANOVIC That's a lot.
JULIE BISHOP 20,000 is a lot. Germany is a country of about 80 million people, of course it is a lot. Britain has also offered to take a number over a few years, France as well, so Belgium about 300 people, I think.
KARL STEFANOVIC If they can agree to take in 20,000 just like that, maybe more over the next few weeks, why can't we agree just to a number that is significantly more than what we are doing now?
JULIE BISHOP Karl, a number of these Foreign Ministers have been at a meeting over the weekend to discuss precisely their response. We sent our Immigration Minister to Paris, to Geneva, to be part of the discussions and when we are ready to make an announcement we will.
KARL STEFANOVIC What about the regime itself? When will attacks resume, air strikes resume?
JULIE BISHOP The Coalition is already carrying out air strikes over Syria targeting the terrorist organisation’s military bases and their supply lines. It is very focussed, very targeted. Great Britain took part in the air strikes. I understand the Canadians are taking part in these air strikes and our National Security Committee will consider that during the course of this week.
KARL STEFANOVIC Okay so we could be making decisions on that this week as well?
JULIE BISHOP These are all part of the one issue because of course people are fleeing a conflict. If we can attack the root cause of the refugee problem, which is the conflict in Syria between the Assad regime and civilians and the minorities that are being persecuted by that regime, the terrorist organisations which include, not only ISILor Da’esh, but also Al Nusra Front - it is a very diabolical, complex situation in Syria - but we will play our part to ensure that the conflict ends. There must not only be a military but political solution. We are backing what is called the Geneva Communique which is looking at a solution, a transnational government in Syria so the country can return to some sort of peace and stability.
KARL STEFANOVIC One final question, do you feel for these people?
JULIE BISHOP Absolutely. It is heart-breaking. I have been there, I have been in Lebanon, I’ve been in Jordan, I’ve met with people in these camps, people who were registering for asylum, some who were registering for temporary safe haven. A number of people in Lebanon are staying with family and friends. Lebanon has about 1.2 million people claiming refugee status, many of them are living in the communities. So it is an ever-present problem in both Lebanon and Jordan and we are very conscious of doing our part.
KARL STEFANOVIC Foreign Minister, it is a big issue, big problem.
Thanks for your time today, really appreciate it.
JULIE BISHOP My pleasure.
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