Tony Abbott Pledges More Help On Syrian Refugee Crisis

06/09/2015 3:27 PM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
Stefan Postles via Getty Images
CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA - AUGUST 11: Prime Minister Tony Abbott announces a 26-28% carbon emissions target by 2020 during a press conference at Parliament House on August 11, 2015 in Canberra, Australia. Tony Smith was elected Speaker on 10, August following the resignation of Bronwyn Bishop. (Photo by Stefan Postles/Getty Images)

Tony Abbott says Australia will "step up to the plate" to help more in the Syrian refugee crisis but would not be drawn on increasing the overall intake of refugees.

Mr Abbott held a press conference this afternoon to announce that he was sending Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to Geneva "urgently" to ask the UNHCR what more Australia could do.

"Australia is a country that has always taken its international obligations seriously, and Australia is a country that has always done what we can to assist when people are in trouble around the world and we are certainly not going to change our character now," he said.

Mr Abbott said Australia was disposed to take more people from the troubled region under the refugee and humanitarian program and offer more financial assistance.

When asked if Australia would be offering to take over and above the current targets of 13,750 rising to 18,750 over three years, he said no.

Australia had, he said, done more than any other country on a per capita basis and last financial year had taken 4,500 refugees from the region.

Mr Abbott said that Australia was only in the position to be able to help more because of the success his government had in stopping the boats.

"Australia will step up to the plate, we always will," he said. "We have never let the world down and we are certainly not going to stop now. We can't save the world single-handedly... but nevertheless we will be a significant part of international efforts to help in this very difficult situation."

Mr Abbott said he was responding to the "absolutely awful imagery" of the young boy, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on a Turkish beach, and that Australia's focus would be on persecuted minorities, families, women and children in the refugee camps of Eastern Syria.

"This is a very grave situation in the Middle East, people are caught between the mass executions of the Daesh death cult on the one hand and the chemical weapons of the Assad regime on the other," he said.

Mr Abbott's announcement follows calls from within his own party, and from Opposition Leader Bill Shorten to do more to help in the Syrian crisis.

Mr Abbott said that while a humanitarian response was important, a strong security response was important as well. He said he would "have more to say on that matter" later in the week.

The Government is widely expected to approve joining coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets in Syria.

Mr Abbott refuted a suggestion that the best way to halt the humanitarian disaster would be to seek a ceasefire with our enemies.

"Well, I am not sure that it is possible to have a ceasefire with people like the death cult. There is no evidence whatsoever that this death cult is capable of any mercy, any compassion," he said.

"The message of the death cult is 'submit or die' and that is why so many people are fleeing from it. On the other hand, in Syria the alternative to the death cult is the Assad regime and the Assad regime is pretty brutal, so, while I think there is an argument for the establishment of safe havens in Syria we are certainly, I think, kidding ourselves if we think that there is the possibility of negotiation with the death cult which is interested in nothing except its own bloody success."

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