SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA —
In the center of Australia’s biggest city, protesters Saturday had a clear message for the government – do much more to help those fleeing the conflict in Syria.
One of the last acts of ousted Prime Minister Tony Abbott was to announce plans to grant asylum to 12,000 members of "persecuted minorities." And it seems that the new man at the top, Malcolm Turnbull, will be unwilling to offer sanctuary to more migrants.
The first of 12,000 Syrians should be in Australia by Christmas, but activists believe the wealthy, multicultural nation should be willing to offer a haven to more refugees.
“We are a country that was built on refugees and people who were from other countries. Yeah, for us not to welcome people in when that is predominantly the background of everybody who lives there is just abominable,” said a young woman.
Pro- and anti-refugee campaigners have clashed in recent weeks in Australia. In certain quarters there is vehement opposition to Middle Eastern asylum-seekers.
So, will there be any major changes under new Prime Minister Turnbull to a hardline stance on immigration, where the military turns migrant boats away from Australia, or where detainees are sent for processing in remote camps in the South Pacific?
Experts said major policy changes are not likely, after Turnbull had earlier praised his predecessor’s efforts to stop asylum-seekers breaching the nation’s maritime frontiers.
"Restoring the security on our borders has been an extraordinarily important step enabling us, for example, to offer the increased and generous arrangements for Syrian refugees last week,” Turnbull said.
Immigration remains one of Australia’s most divisive issues, and Turnbull, who is known for his progressive views, will be aware that tough asylum policies helped the conservatives to a landslide win at the last election in 2013.