CANBERRA -- NSW Premier Mike Baird has made an extraordinary intervention into Europe’s refugee crisis promising to try to get the Abbott Government to do more immediately to help Syrian refugees.
Baird took to his Facebook page on Saturday to declare, “Stopping the boats can’t be where this ends.”
He described how he felt “sick with overwhelming sorrow. And despair. And anger” on seeing the image of three year old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless on a Turkish beach.
He wrote that the image will never leave him and “somehow it changes everything.”
“I found that as the feeling of anger dulled, my next response was…. surely we can do more. But what is “more” and what does it look like?”
“Stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.”
Calls are growing, including from within the Liberal Party, to do more to help the millions of displaced of people fleeing deadly conflict in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Europe’s borders and world TV screens are bursting with an “endless” flow of migrants. Germany expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers this year -- four times more than in 2014.
Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce and Liberal backbencher Craig Laundy have made impassioned pleas to their leaders to increase Australia’s annual number of humanitarian visas.
But Prime Minister Tony Abbott has been unmoved.
The government last year expanded the number of visas granted to Syrian refugees within a humanitarian visa program capped at 13,750 places annually.
On Friday, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop said the Government “was considering” whether to increase the number of humanitarian visas, but on Saturday, Abbott said the government was already meeting its international obligations.
Immigration Department figures show more than 2,200 offshore Humanitarian visas were granted to Syrians in 2014–15.
In addition, the government has committed to accept at least 4,500 Syrians in total over the next three years.
The NSW Premier says his state “remains ready and willing to do more than our fair share.”
“Last week we saw that the NSW economy is the strongest in the nation. But that means absolutely nothing if we can’t use that economic strength to help the vulnerable both within and beyond our state boundaries,” he wrote.
“Over the coming days I will be having discussions with the Federal Government to see what “more” looks like and how we can work together to act. I will assure the PM that he can count on NSW to do whatever is needed.”
“We cannot see the images we have seen, and feel the things we have felt, and then go back to business as usual.”