NSW premier Mike Baird has taken a public stance against Prime Minister Tony Abbott on the refugee crisis in Syria after calling for humanitarian assistance beyond Abbott’s “stop the boat” policy in an emotional post on Facebook last night.
Baird took to social media shortly after a haunting photo of a drowned three-year-old Syrian toddler, who washed up on a Turkish beach after trying to reach the Greek island of Kos, was posted online.
Baird challenged Abbott’s hardline policies on border protection saying that “stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins”.
The prime minister remains unmoved by calls to lift Australia’s refugee intake in response to the growing Syrian refugee crisis across the Middle East and Europe.
Abbott maintains that Australia “takes our international obligations seriously (and) on a per capita basis we actually take more refugee humanitarian intake than any other country”.
In a press conference in Canberra today, Abbott would not put a number to Australia’s future refugee intake but did say he would consider taking more Syrian refugees.
“We saw yesterday on our screens a very sad and poignant image of children tragically, tragically dead at sea in illegal migration,” he said in an interview with ABC radio.
“And thankfully we’ve stopped that in Australia because we’ve stopped the illegal boats, we’ve said to the people smugglers, ‘your trade has closed down’.
“As long as people think that if they can get here they can stay here, we’ll have the illegal trade, we’ll have the people smugglers in business and we’ll have the tragedies at sea.”
Meanwhile, the Greens are calling for the immediate resettlement of 20,000 Syrian refugees with Greens leader Richard Di Natale saying accepting 20,000 people into the community would be an “honourable and dignified” response to the worsening civil war.
Here’s Baird’s post:
Sometimes you can know all the facts and statistics surrounding an unfolding tragedy, but it somehow remains an intangible or external problem. A problem that is almost too hard to get your head around.
And then you see a photo. And somehow it changes everything.
I don’t know how you felt when you saw the image of 3 year old Aylan Kurdi lying lifeless, face down in the sands of a Turkish beach. I felt sick with overwhelming sorrow. And despair. And anger.
I turned away, but that image will never leave me. That photo isn’t just a story of one tragedy. It is the story of thousands of real people in a fight for life itself.
On one hand, none of this was new information. The crisis unfolding in Syria has been apparent for a while. The plight of the persecuted and the poor, seeking a better life in a different land, and the migration challenges that it brings to Europe and beyond… well, this has been well documented.
But that photo. That little boy.
I found that as the feeling of anger dulled, my next response was…. surely we can do more. But what is “more” and what does it look like?
The scourge of illegal people smuggling has been well covered, and I won’t rehash it all now. But I will say, it is a great thing that we don’t have children drowning at sea trying to get to our shores. That has been a significant humanitarian achievement.
But stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.
I have said in the past that not only are we a lucky country, we are a great country – and the thing that makes us great is our willingness to share our luck.
I am deeply encouraged by the Federal Coalition Government’s commitment to increase our humanitarian intake over the coming years.
But I believe we should do even more. And we should do it now.
NSW remains ready and willing to do more than our fair share.
We cannot see the images we have seen, and feel the things we have felt, and then go back to business as usual.
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.
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. I will assure the PM that he can count on NSW to do whatever is needed.
The unfolding tragedy has a long way to run but my hope is that these terrible events will bring out the best in humanity — our humanity. In the meantime, my prayers remain with little Aylan’s family, with all those suffering persecution, and with our world leaders as they seek to address this growing crisis.
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