An Australian legislator has called for a sharp reduction in the number of immigrants allowed in the country, along with more rigorous background checks on new settlers. The intent is to determine whether immigrants from Africa or the Middle East have links to fundamentalist groups.
Last week, several Australians of Somali and Lebanese backgrounds were charged with plotting a suicide attack on a military base.
The arrests have raised concerns among some that extremist groups may be seeking to establish themselves in Australia through immigrants from Muslim or predominantly-Muslim nations.
Australian lawmaker Kelvin Thomson has called for a sharp reduction in the number of immigrants allowed in the country and more rigorous background checks on new settlers. He says the intention is to determine whether immigrants from certain nations in Africa or the Middle East have links to fundamentalist groups.
"Given time, it would be possible to get to the bottom of the background of applicants from Somalia and elsewhere and work out whether they have any association with fundamentalist groups and make a rational assessment of whether they pose a risk," said Thomson. "Reducing our rates of immigration intake to the rates prevailing back in the 1990s would provide authorities with much more time in which to assess applications, and thereby improve Australia's security."
Refugee advocates, however, believe that such an approach would be short-sighted and biased.
They make the point that in the past most terror suspects here have been born in Australia to white, European families.
"Often the majority of suspects in terrorism cases, they're often born in Australia and often they're from Anglo-Saxon backgrounds, as we've seen with some of the high profile cases over the last few years," said Peter van Vliet, the director of the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.
Last year more than 400,000 new settlers arrived in Australia. Among them were foreign students as well as temporary and permanent migrants. The number of skilled migrant workers has recently been reduced due to the global economic slowdown.
Official figures show that the new-comers came from more than 200 countries, with the largest groups arriving from Great Britain, New Zealand, China, India and Italy.
Australia also re-settles around 13,000 refugees every year under official humanitarian schemes.