Governments, churches and charities seem to be edging towards a consensus that the nation needs to accept more refugees amid the crisis in Europe, but factions are sharply divided on just who and how many could make it here.
The Catholic Church is calling for preference to be given to Christian refugees, while aid agencies Oxfam, World Vision and Save the Children want the country’s humanitarian intake to increase to 30,000, after the federal government announced it would increase its intake of Syrian refugees without increasing the total number of humanitarian visas available.
Asylum seeker advocates have also backed calls for Australia to do more as Europe grapples with its worst migration crisis since World War II.
The Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, commended the government’s announcement, but he called the overall intake to be “very substantially increased” and for preference to be given for Syrian Christians.
"We should also keep in mind the minorities within the Muslim community in these countries who are persecuted by Islamists and other Muslims,” the Archbishop said.
”We cannot leave this to government alone.”
He said he is committing the Archdiocese’s welfare agencies, parishes, religious communities and families to respond “generously to assisting any such refugees whom the Commonwealth allows to come to Sydney.”
Oxfam Australia Acting Executive Director Pam Anders said it was heartening to see politicians focussing their attention on those affected by the conflict in Syria, but they were still failing to see the big picture.
“Australia can, and must, do more,” Ms Anders said.
“No single country can solve the global refugee crisis, but as one of the world’s richest countries, Australia has a moral obligation to act, and to act now.”
The world’s poorer countries currently host 86 per cent of the world’s refugees, and they are stretched to their limits, World Vision said in the joint statement with other agencies.
More than 4 million people have had to flee Syria to escape the civil war. Globally the number of people displaced by conflict is almost 60 million.
World Vision Chief Executive Tim Costello said that the image of drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, whose tiny, lifeless body washed up on a Turkish beach, had touched many.
“They, as well as refugees from other countries, will continue to embark on perilous journeys as long as they face the daily threat of being abused, tortured or killed,” he said.
On Monday thousands rallied around the country to call for action on refugees, with a 10,000-strong crowd holding a candle-light vigil in Sydney's Hyde Park.