• Syrian Refugees (Supplied) ((Image: Supplied))Source: (Image: Supplied)
Australians should reconsider our quota for accepting migrants from conflict zones, which is low compared with our high intake of immigrants from stable countries, a First Nations human rights expert says.
By
Andrea Booth

7 Sep 2015 - 2:43 PM  UPDATED 7 Sep 2015 - 3:27 PM

Australia needs to ask itself why its migrant program quota, which takes many people from stable countries, is 14 times higher than its humanitarian visa quota, an Indigenous human rights expert from Amnesty International said.

Tammy Solonec, a proud Nigena woman from Derby in the Kimberley and the Indigenous rights manager at Amnesty International Australia, said she believed many Indigenous Australians would not agree with the structure of Australia's migrant intake. 

"More people come to Australia on planes from Europe than anywhere else and that’s not a choice of Aboriginal people"

"More people come to Australia on planes from Europe than anywhere else and that’s not a choice of Aboriginal people, that’s never been a choice, that’s been something that has been imposed upon us," Ms Solonec told NITV.

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Australia's migration program was at 190,000 for 2014-2015, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection says. This compares to 13,750 humanitarian visas designated for refugees during the same period.

Ms Solonec said her perspective was influenced by her father's background. He was born in a refugee camp outside of Perth, WA, after his parents fled Europe after WWII. "We'd be a little bit more open minded about who comes here if we were allowed to talk and be part of the conversation," she said.

The main source of Australia’s immigrants contributing to net overseas migration in 2010-11 was New Zealand at 37,147 followed by the United Kingdom at 24,000 and China (17,804), a 2015 Productivity Commision Issues Paper states

What the rest of the world is doing to accommodate refugees

Citizens, billionaires and politicians alike around the planet are attempting to lessen the burden of the incomprehensible pain and desperation of those fleeing their war-torn countries, especially from Syria and Iraq where their civil crises are in an unforgiving surge.

Refugees arrive at the central train station in Munich on Sept. 5 (AAP)

Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris suggested he buy an island to make a country for migrants to live in. "Greece or Italy sell me an island, I’ll call its independence and host the migrants and provide jobs for them building their new country," he tweeted last week.

"Good morning people with a [conscience]. thank you to all who offered to help and supported my Refugee Island idea.. May God help me realize it," he wrote.

The people of Iceland have collectively opened their doors to receive those seeking asylum in the face of their government's harsher migrant policy.

Last week UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was increasing the quota of migrants fleeing Syria and Iraq into the territory by "thousands" and over the weekend Finland’s PM offered his house to refugees.

Parts of western Europe are opening their borders to refugees from across the Middle East, Africa and other regions, such as Austria, which says it has recently helped 12,000 people seeking refuge, and Germany, which says it expects 800,000 refugees and migrants this year, although their movement west has been restricted upon reaching Hungary.

Developing regions are accommodating 86 percent of the world’s refugees, the UNHCR said. Turkey was the top hosting country for refugees, which took 1.59 million in 2014. 

The Russian Federation was the largest single recipient of new individual asylum claims around the world in 2014 with 274,700 registered requests. Germany followed with 173,100 new individual asylum claims then the US with about 121,200 individual applications.

How is Australia responding to the refugee crisis?

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would announce his government's response to the growing pressure for Australia to open its arms to refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq over the coming days.

"We have always been a country that shoulders its responsibilities, that pulls its weight globally," he told reporters in Canberra on Monday. 

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Immigration Minister Dutton departed for Geneva on Sunday evening to consult with the United Nation’s Human Rights Commissioner about what more Australia can do.

This move comes after NSW Premier Mike Baird on Saturday said he would assure Mr Abbott that the country’s richest state would do "whatever is needed" for Australia to provide refuge for those in need.

"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," Mr Baird said in a post on his Facebook page on Saturday.

"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."

Trade Minister Andrew Robb said Sunday stating that Australia should allocate more places for those needing refuge from countries in the Middle East. "I would suspect that given the circumstances, we'll look very favourably at that," Mr Robb told ABC TV.

Between 2013 and 2014, approximately 35,000 people lodged offshore refugee visa applications and 6,500 humanitarian visas were granted.

"Currently world leaders, including Australia’s, are condemning millions of refugees to an unbearable existence and thousands to death by failing to provide essential humanitarian protection," Amnesty International said in a statement to NITV through email.

It called for the Australian government to show it is a "leader in the Asia Pacific region" by increasing its overall humanitarian intake of refugees to 20,000 in 2015 from 13,750.

"The Australian government should also release all asylum seeker children from detention on Nauru into an environment that protects their rights both as children and as asylum seekers," the statement said. 

People and NGOs have begun developing initiatives in Australia such as Enough Room, a website that connects refugees with people able to offer a spare bedroom to them. 

Vigils are scheduled across the country on Monday evening using the hashtag #LightTheDark.

Key facts about the refugee crisis: Amnesty International

  • 1 million refugees are in desperate need of resettlement.
  • 4 million Syrian refugees are struggling to survive in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt.
  • There are more than 3 million refugees in sub-Saharan Africa, and only a small fraction offered resettlement since 2013.
  • 3,500 people drowned while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in 2014. So far 1,865 have drowned in 2015.
  • 300 people died in the Andaman Sea in the first three months of 2015 due to starvation, dehydration and abuse by boat crews.

(Source/Amnesty International Australia)

Follow Andrea on Twitter @andreasbooth