Canberra, Sep 9 (IANS) Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday that the country will permanently take 12,000 refugees from war-torn Syria and will expand its bombing mission against IS into Syria “within days”.
Abbott said Australia would accept 12,000 Syrian refugees on top of Australia’s annual commitment to take in 13,750 refugees from around the world, Xinhua news agency reported.
“Australia will re-settle an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria/Iraq conflict,” Abbott announced at a media conference on Wednesday.
“These will be permanent resettlement places over and above Australia’s existing humanitarian program of 13,750 this year, which rises to 18,750 in 2018-19, the prime minister said.
Abbott said “Our focus for these new, 12,000 resettlement places will be those most in need of permanent protection… women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey… the most vulnerable of all.”
Abbott said while he would like the resettlement to occur “as quickly as possible”, background checks would be taking place.
The decision is in stark contrast to the prime minister’s position from Sunday, when he said Australia would only increase the percentage of Syrian refugees within the existing 13,750 quota.
At the same press conference, the government also said it would allocate $30.1 million to aid agencies working in the Middle East just a day after the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) slammed Australia for its lack of contributions in 2015.
“We will directly pay for the support of 240,000 displaced people in countries neighbouring Syria and Iraq through the UNHCR and other agencies,” Abbott said.
Meanwhile, Australia has also signed off on expanding air force operations into Syria.
Abbot said Australia’s national security committee had rubber-stamped the Royal Australian Air Force’s (RAAF) expansion into Syria, saying operation could begin “within days”.
Australia already runs bombing mission against IS forces in Iraq, but Abbott said it was time to defeat IS at its source in Syria.
“We cannot defeat Daesh in Iraq unless we defeat Daesh in Syria,” Abbot said.
“I emphasise that our aircraft will be targeting IS, not the Assad regime, evil though it is,” the prime minister said.