Australia Can And Must Do More About The Migration Crisis

This crisis is far too big for any one country to solve alone.

19/08/2016 5:35 AM AEST | Updated 19/08/2016 5:37 AM AEST
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This is no normal life: a young syrian child plays in the dirt at Za’atari refugee camp.

In one of the world's biggest refugee camps in the middle of a dusty desert in Jordan, life takes on a surreal normality for about 80,000 people who have been thrust together after fleeing the brutality of war in Syria.

Babies are born, wedding gowns are hired, districts have been established and children -- who make up more than half of the Za'atari refugee camp's population -- play in the dirt.

But this is no normal life.

As the violent conflict continues to rage across the border, refugees do their best to get on with daily life while they wait for the fighting to end so they can go home. In Za'atari, infrastructure is stretched as aid agencies work to provide life's basic necessities. For most, home is a demountable. Work and education opportunities are limited. A plastic bag tied to a stick is no longer rubbish, rather a make-shift toy.

Many children are losing parts of their lives that they will never be able recover.

Tragically, too little has changed since I learnt of these realities on a visit to the Za'atari camp three years ago. The conflict in Syria has deepened, leaving hundreds of thousands of families in a desperate search of refuge.

And those whose lives are trapped in interminable limbo at Za'atari have become part of an unprecedented global crisis -- 65 million forcibly displaced people. It is the highest number of people driven from their homes -- fleeing poverty, human rights abuses, persecution, conflict, violence and torture -- since World War II.

It is a deeply sad milestone and one that ironically coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Refugee Convention -- an agreement triggered in the aftermath of two world wars.

Today, as World Humanitarian Day is celebrated under the banner of 'One Humanity', Oxfam is calling for Australia to provide a safe haven for its share of the staggering number of people in search of dignity, safety and hope.

We know millions of ordinary men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes in a desperate plight for protection. Nearly 5 million people have had to flee Syria alone to escape the civil war, another 2.7 million people have fled from Afghanistan and 1.1 million have left Somalia.

The situations they face, the trauma and horror to which they are subjected, go beyond anything that most of us could imagine.

Australians are known for their natural inclination to pitch in and help, especially when others are in danger. One of our best qualities is our willingness to treat fellow humans with respect, compassion and dignity -- like we'd want to be treated -- because it is the right thing to do.

We cannot ignore the capacity of our nation to do more. We cannot turn our backs on the suffering of millions. There are 40.8 million people displaced inside their countries, 21.3 million refugees worldwide and 3.2 million asylum seekers -- equalling 65 million and counting.

In the face of this crisis, Oxfam is calling on the Australian Government to triple its humanitarian intake to 42,000 people within five years.

Given our prosperity and our privileged status as one of the richest nations on earth, it is shameful that we host just 0.2 percent of the world's refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2015, Germany hosted 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers -- 1.36 percent of its population. We are asking Australia to take 42,000 people -- which is 0.18 percent of our population.

This financial year, the Australian Government has only allocated 13,750 places to refugees and people seeking humanitarian protection and committed to marginally increasing its permanent places each year from now up to 18,750 in 2018/19.

Australia can and must do more.

Oxfam modelling has shown that based on Australia's economy and population, and the ever-increasing number of people in need of protection, we as a nation can accept 42,000 under our humanitarian program by 2020/21.

We must lift our humanitarian intake to 20,000 this year, then meet targets of 25,000, 30,000, 36,000 and 42,000 in subsequent years. This increase would also enable the Australian Government to easily resettle the refugees currently in Manus Island and Nauru.

In stepping up to its duty and capacity, Australia will alleviate some of the responsibility which is being shouldered by a handful of poorer countries which are stretched beyond their limits.

Eighty six percent of the world's refugees are in developing countries. Countries such as Turkey, which hosts 2.5 million refugees, Pakistan accommodating 1.6 million people and Lebanon with 1.1 million refugees -- equal to a quarter of its population.

Australia must also increase its aid funding to those countries which are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with an urgent need to reverse cuts which have left our humanitarian budget at its lowest level in our history.

At a time when the UN is calling for its largest ever humanitarian appeal to deal with crises like that in Syria -- and when the world is dealing with more displaced people than ever before -- Australia is just too far away from lifting its weight.

This crisis is far too big for any one country to solve alone.

We must stand as one with those who desperately need our help -- to do less will simply fail our moral obligation.

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