Australia's National Security Committee met on Tuesday night to discuss a two-pronged action plan in response to the Syrian refugee crisis, that will see an additional 12,000 Syrian refugees permanently resettled in Australia on top of the existing humanitarian program. After a special party room meeting on Wednesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott publicly confirmed this commitment as well as an extra $44 million boost to foreign aid.
"Our focus for these places will be those people most in need of permanent protection: women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey," said Mr Abbott, speaking from Canberra.
The Prime Minister stressed that all refugees would be subject to mandatory security, health and character checks, which are standard for those seeking asylum in Australia.
"These checks are absolutely necessary," emphasised Mr Abbott.
"We must play our part in this humanitarian crisis but as Prime Minister, I must always act in our nation's interest to promote community safety."
"I've worked closely with senior ministers and officials here to develop a response that reflects Australia's proud history as a country with a generous heart," said Mr Abbott.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton added that the additional $44 million aid package would provide crucial support for refugees fleeing the conflict.
"These are desperate people," he said of the 11 million Syrian people who have been displaced during the largest refugee crisis since World War II.
An expected 240,000 Syrian and Iraqi people will benefit from the recent boost to Australia's financial aid package. Australia's total contribution to the crisis now stands at $230 million.
"It's not just about accommodation. It's about food. It's about education for young people as well," Mr Dutton pointed out, highlighting the critical nature of the situation.
Though the current crisis is a continuation of events beginning as early as 2011, public attention has recently centred upon the plight of refugees, spurred on by poignant images such as those of 3-year old boy Aylan, whose body was washed ashore in Turkey.
However Christine Hanna, President of the Australian Christian Syrian Association, said that many of those in most urgent need were stuck in Syria with no means of escape. Minority groups such as Christians in Iraq and Syria were finding it extremely difficult to find safe routes to flee, as Islamic State targets them.
"We are telling our families back home to get out, but when they get out they cannot register with the United Nations due to overwhelming numbers... There's no guarantee they can get a refugee visa and get to Australia," Ms Hanna shared.
Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher echoed Ms Hanna's concerns.
"There are concerted campaigns to drive Christians from the Middle East," he told The Australian. "It is estimated 11 [Christians are] killed for their faith every hour".
Syrian priest Father Dergham urged decisive action. "Someone has to stand and fight to recover the territory Islamic State has taken," he urged, noting that a combination of allied airstrikes and ground fighting could help quell the tide of ISIS fighters.
On Wednesday Prime Minister Tony Abbott indicated that RAAF bombers will enter Syrian airspace to target Islamic State operations.
"There can be... no end to the persecution and suffering in the Middle East until the Daesh death cult is degraded and ultimately destroyed," he announced.
The Prime Minister's announcements were welcomed by refugee advocates, including those from Oxfam, Amnesty International and the Greens.
"He has made a difference to the lives of 12,000 people," declared Greens party leader Richard di Natale.
Grace Mathew is a Sydney-based writer, graduate of International and Global Studies at the University of Sydney and recipient of Goldman Sachs Global Leadership Award. For contact, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Grace Mathew's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/grace-mathew.html