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Australia to Resettle 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi Refugees

FILE - Syrian refugees walk in an informal settlement in Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Oct. 16, 2014.
FILE - Syrian refugees walk in an informal settlement in Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, Oct. 16, 2014.

Australia has offered to resettle 12,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria and Iraq. Prime Minister Tony Abbott says those from “persecuted minorities,” including Christians, Yazidis and Muslims, will be given priority. Australian warplanes have also been authorized to hit Islamic State targets in Syria.

Abbott said the refugees will be allowed into Australia to escape what he called a conflict “soaked in blood.” The resettlement program will be in addition to Australia's existing annual intake of almost 14,000 refugees.

Abbott called it a “generous response” to a humanitarian emergency.

“Our focus for these new 12,000 permanent resettlement places will be those people most in need of permanent protection; women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. I do want to stress - women, children and families – the most vulnerable of all,” he said.

The commitment has been broadly welcomed by opposition parties, although the Australian Greens are urging the government to allow even more Syrians into the country.

Canberra will also contribute around $28 million to the United Nation’s refugee agency to help fund emergency camps and other essential services.

The Abbott government is to extend Australian airstrikes from Iraq into Syria, although critics insist the move will worsen the migrant crisis and "aggravate extremism."

There are also concerns about the legality of airstrikes over Syria, given that the government of President Bashar al-Assad has not requested Australia’s military intervention, unlike the authorities in neighboring Iraq.

Canberra insists bombing missions targeting Islamic State will be lawful because the territory occupied by the Sunni militants is lawless and ungoverned.

Ministers insist that military action in Iraq and Syria is vital for Australia’s national security. It is estimated that more than 100 Australians have joined militant groups in the Middle East.