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Médecins Sans Frontières urges Australia to do more in response to the worst global refugee crisis since the Second World War

09 Sep 2015

Executive Director of Médecins Sans Frontières Australia denounces the current debate about numbers as far too little too late, saying Australia needs to shoulder its fair share of the global burden.

The Australian government’s announcement yesterday that it would take more Syrian refugees as part of its existing humanitarian program is woefully inadequate, said the international medical-humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) today.

“We urge the government to recognise the huge scale of the challenge and act accordingly. Even the calls for 10,000 or 20,000 additional humanitarian refugees would represent a small, if nonetheless welcome impact on the crisis,” said MSF Australia Executive Director Paul McPhun.

While Germany is expecting over 800,000 refugees in 2015 and has placed no upper limit on their humanitarian intake, Australia isn’t even prepared to increase its current humanitarian intake that is set at 13,750.

The world is currently witnessing the largest movement of people since WWII, with 60 million people displaced, of which at least 20 million are refugees, according to the UNHCR.

With a crisis of this magnitude, countries like Australia are in a strong position to dramatically increase their humanitarian programs to meet this unprecedented need to resettle more refugees.

“Given the numbers of refugees worldwide – not just Syrians - who cannot find long term safety and security, any increase will have to be very large to come close to shouldering a fair share of the global burden,” McPhun said.

“We are sickened when rescuing people crammed into boats at sea to find them full of those who have died of asphyxiation. It has taken one tragic image of a life lost in Greece to finally humanise a reality the Government have been choosing to ignore for years now in the debate in Australia,” said McPhun.

Of the 2.4 million people who have fled Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey continue to host the majority. Syrians now make up more than a quarter of the population of Lebanon and Jordan and entry of new arrivals is already restricted as a result. Turkey, which is hosting the largest number of refugees worldwide, recently said it is at its limit and cannot cope with any additional refugees.

Médecins Sans Frontières is involved in all significant conflict states worldwide where people are fleeing from and thus see first-hand the terror and dangers that lead people to risk their lives in the pursuit of safety. “We have been dealing with this tragedy on the front line inside Syria, in refugee camps, in search and rescue operations and in reception centres. Our teams are reaching breaking point from piecing children together in our operating theatres after aerial bombings of civilian neighbourhoods in Syria and Yemen,” said Paul McPhun.

Médecins Sans Frontières is involved in responding to the global refugee crisis, from all the states bordering Syria to the migration routes via the Mediterranean, the Balkans and throughout South East Asia.

“This is not a Middle Eastern or European problem but a global responsibility and Australia should have a significant role to play,” Mr McPhun said. “As with the Ebola crisis last year, we see Australia as a well resourced country capable of being a key responder however it is putting more priority on its own border protection than on the lives of millions of acutely vulnerable people, forced from their homes and seeking protection.”

This is not just a problem of Syrian refugees, with 20 million refugees deemed highly vulnerable by UNHCR and deserving protection – Australia can think beyond reducing people’s lives to a discussion of just Syrians and increases to quotas in the thousands, Australia should and could do more.

“Beyond Australia’s humanitarian immigration intake much more must be done globally to reduce the barriers and obstacles people face when forced to flee their homes. Australia’s first step would be to end its punitive offshore detention and turn-back policies and instead build safe alternatives for those seeking asylum in Australia,” said Mr McPhun. 

Photo: © Anna Surinyach/MSF.