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Australia Offers to Resettle Thousands of Iraqi and Syrian Refugees

FILE - Syrian refugee families wait to be registered with the UNHCR services, during the Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's visit to the compound, to meet with the UNHCR representative to Jordan, Andrew Harper, regarding the Syrian refugee situation, in Amman, Jordan, April 21, 2014.

Australia's immigration minister, Scott Morrison, said the country will offer to resettle almost 4,500 refugees from Iraq and Syria. This will be part of Canberra's formal refugee intake of about 14,000 people each year. Morrison insists the places are available because of the government's success in stopping asylum-seeker boats.

Iraqi Christians and others from the Yazidi faith will be eligible for Special Humanitarian Visas in Australia. Canberra has set aside 2,200 places for refugees fleeing violence in Iraq and a similar number from Syria.

Applicants will have to undergo standard health, security and identity checks before resettlement.

Morrison said that tough border control measures are allowing Australia to offer refuge to some of those displaced by fighting in the Middle East. The government in Canberra has deployed the navy to intercept vessels carrying asylum seekers, and is refusing resettlement to anyone arriving on unauthorized boats. Boat arrivals are being transferred to Australian-sponsored camps on the tiny South Pacific republic of Nauru, and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea.

But Ian Rintoul, from advocacy group the Refugee Action Coalition, said the government’s offer to resettle Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities from Iraq and Syria is confusing, coming while the asylum claims of other Iraqis are still to be assessed.

“There is an immediate contradiction with the government’s attitude and that is they have got 700-800 people from Iraq who are either in detention centers, living in limbo in the community or in offshore detention centers like Nauru and Manus Island that they are not proposing to do anything about. They have denied even people - Iraqi people - who arrived by boat the right to family reunions. So it is an extremely selective offer when there are already so many people in the community or in detention in Australia that the government is doing nothing about,” said Rintoul.

Last year, Australia granted humanitarian visas to more than 1,000 people from Syria, more than 2,000 from Iraq and almost 3,000 from Afghanistan.

Refugee campaigners say Australia’s commitment to global resettlement programs has slipped into reverse since the conservative government took office in September last year, cutting the overall refugee intake from 20,000 to under 14,000.

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