Immigration

'Persecuted minorities' pledge delivers Christian refugee boom

While Australia has a non-discriminatory immigration program, Christians are starting to dominate humanitarian visas.

Christians have claimed their largest share of Australia’s humanitarian visa grants in a decade, despite the recent arrival of thousands of refugees from majority-Muslim nations Iraq and Syria.

The new figures have prompted Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to say he ultimately wants to bring people to Australia who can integrate into the community, while the Labor Party has declared it remains committed to a "non-discriminatory" immigration program.

Just one in five (19 per cent) humanitarian visa grant recipients marked Islamic faiths on their applications in 2016-17, according to indicative figures for the year to February. That figure is down from 30 per cent in 2015-16 and 39 per cent in 2014-15.

According to the figures, sourced from documents released under Freedom Of Information and the Department of Social Services Settlement Reporting Facility, the proportion of Christians has grown to 71 per cent in 2016-17.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told SBS News in a statement that the government is concentrating on persecuted minorities, "which would (and) does include Christians”.

“(Mr Dutton) has stated there will be a lot of Christians who come under the program, but ultimately we want to make sure that we’re bringing the right people; people who can integrate into our community, that can get a job, can speak English, can give their kids the opportunity to go to school,” the statement read.

"That’s what we want from people that come under these programs and he is going to make sure that’s what we achieve.

"However while an individual’s religion may be a relevant and, in some cases, primary factor in their humanitarian claims, it is not a requirement that applicants declare their religion on their application form.”

In announcing that Australia would take 12,000 additional refugees from Syria and Iraq, then Prime Minister Tony Abbott declared in 2015 the scheme would focus on "women, children and families of persecuted minorities”. 

Labor immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said a non-discriminatory immigration program is an Australian tradition.

“Our cultural diversity can be attributed to Australia’s non-discriminatory immigration program; a policy that has been in place for the last 40 years,” he said.

“Australia’s refugee and humanitarian intake must be fair and respond to humanitarian issues as they arise.”

In comparison to the Australian figures, 46 per cent of refugees to the United States in the 2016 fiscal year were Muslim, according to the Pew Research Centre.

Syria (12,486) and Somalia (9,012) accounted for more than half of those Muslim refugees. The Syrian refugees were 99 per cent Muslim. 

Among the 7342 people from Syria who arrived in Australia on a humanitarian visa in 2016, just over 2000 were Muslim - 28 per cent.

In 2010, Syria’s religious composition was estimated by Pew to be 93 per cent Muslim. Approximately three-quarters of the population is made up of Sunni Muslims.