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Sun 6 Sep 2015 11:43 AM

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Australia to take more Syrian refugees

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says a "strong security response" was needed for the region

Australia to take more Syrian refugees
Prime Minister Tony Abbott (Getty Images)

Australia will
accept more refugees from camps bordering Syria and Iraq and "is
open" to providing more financial assistance, Prime Minister Tony Abbott
said on Sunday, while adding that a "strong security response" was
needed for the region.

The Australian
government is due to make a decision within the week on whether to join air
strikes against ISIL fighters in Syria, having been part of the operation in
Iraq since last year.

"It is
important that there be a humanitarian response, but it's important that there
be a strong security response as well," Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

Immigration
Minister Peter Dutton will travel to Geneva to meet with the UN High
Commissioner for Refugees to ask what further assistance Australia could
provide, Abbott said.

"We are
disposed to take more people from this troubled region," Abbott said.
"We are open to providing more financial assistance to the UNHCR."

The
government's announcement comes as a refugee crisis in Europe intensifies, with
many senior Australian politicians calling for an immediate intake of 20,000
Syrian refugees.

While showing
willingness to take more refugees from Syria and Iraq, Abbott refused to say
whether the country's overall humanitarian intake, currently set at some 14,000
people, would increase, or the door would be shut on others from elsewhere in
the world.

He argued that
on a per capita basis, Australia continues to accept more refugees through the
UNHCR that any other nation.

Australia's
tough stance on asylum seekers, which includes a policy of turning back boats
and offshore processing of refugee claims, had stopped the people smuggling
trade to Australia and opened up more places for those in genuine need, Abbott
said.

Australia's
immigration policy was the subject of harsh criticism in a New York Times
editorial published on Thursday.

The newspaper
described Australia's strategy of turning away boats as "inhumane, of
dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country's tradition of
welcoming people fleeing persecution and war."

In the year
ending June 30, 2014, about a third of the 13,750 people allowed to settle in
Australia hailed from Syria and Iraq. The government has plans to gradually
increase the annual total intake to 18,750 places by 2018-19.

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