Yesterday in wartorn Syria, a man called Abdullah Kurdi wept for his drowned wife and sons, having failed in his desperate bid to find them a better home than Turkey; they’d been living there in limbo for three years, on $17 a day.
A world away, spurred on by images of Abdullah’s drowned son, politicians in Canberra debated over what religious and ethnic groups would be OK if we increased our intake of refugees.
Christian minorities like Maronites were considered, as were Yazidis and Druze; Muslim groups, however, weren’t mentioned.
The intensified debate over refugee intake has been sparked by the heart-wrenching images of Abdullah Kurdi’s three-year-old son Aylan, whose body washed up on Turkey’s shore last week.
The Kurdi family had been on a boat headed for Greece, from where thousands of illegal immigrants are currently trekking north to Germany.
The boat sank and Abdullah’s wife Zahin and two sons Aylan and Galip drowned, despite his efforts to save them.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the Kurdi family had fled civil war in three different cities of Syria before coming to Turkey.
Abdullah is just one of 4 million people who’ve fled the Syrian conflict, with a further 7.6 million who were displaced but still living inside the decimated nation’s borders, according to the UNHCR.
He has become a voice for the refugees and displaced people of the world, who now number over 52 million.
The Daily Mail reported that Mr Kurdi said to his sister in Canada, “Now the whole world is going to watch my story, where was the whole world before when my kids were hungry, when I didn’t have a job?”
He wishes he had drowned along with his family, and told his sister “my kids have to be the wake-up call for the whole world.”
Canberra Debates Over Middle Eastern Minorities
If the drowned children have got anyone up and talking, it’s Australia’s politicians.
The question of which Middle Eastern ethnic group and religion Australia should accept has been voiced this week by government ministers including Malcolm Turnbull, Senate Leader Eric Abetz, and foreign Minister Julie Bishop.
According to an ABC report, Mr Turnbull said on Monday he was concerned for the Christian communities in Syria that have survived “since the time of Christ”.
The same report said Eric Abetz believes Christians should be high on the priority list for resettlement as they are “the most persecuted group in the world, and especially in the Middle East”.
The Christians in the Middle East are among the most persecuted people on Earth. ~ Cory Bernardi
Julie Bishop told ABC Radio’s AM she believed the government would focus on providing sanctuary for Christian and other minorities that “will have no home to return to even when the conflict is over”.
She said these include Maronites, Druze, and Yazidis – the religious minority with Zoroastrian, Christian and Muslim roots, who were forced onto Mount Sinjar by an ISIS genocide campaign in 2014.
Sydney Morning Herald writer Paul Sheehan joined the call for Middle Eastern Christians to be given refuge in his column on Saturday.
Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi told the Senate that Prime Minister Tony Abbott holds the same view.
“The Christians in the Middle East are among the most persecuted people on Earth,” he said. “If we can provide safe haven to them, then I say we should do it. And that is what the Prime Minister has said.”
Politicians’ Motives Are Questioned
Some believe the push is not founded in compassion for Christians as much as a desire to avoid importing Muslim idealists with a potential to bring tensions into Australia.
According to the ABC, one backbencher said the unwritten message is “no more Muslim men”.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten disagreed with the idea of a religious and ethnic approach to asylum.
“If you’re a woman facing terrible crimes… if you’re a child…potentially drowning at sea, I’m not interested in their religion, I’m interested in their safety,” he said.
A Competition Of Compassion
The ALP has called for 10,000 more Syrian refugees to be accepted into Australia in a one-off intake, while the Archbishop of Sydney Dr Glenn Davies has joined the Greens and the Refugee Council of Australia in pushing the Government to make room for 20,000.
The Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton has also joined the call for a rise in numbers, while the leaders of West Australia, Tasmania, South Australia and New South Wales have all put their hands up to help house more asylum seekers.
And according to the ABC, government backbencher Ewen Jones even raised the bar to 50,000 before fellow backbencher Andrew Nikolic called for a scientific approach rather than a debate in which ministers try to “out-compassion each other.”
“Stopping The Boats Is Not Enough” Says Mike Baird
NSW Premier Mike Baird weighed into the discussion on Saturday via a post on his Facebook page.
His post implied that while the Coalition’s border protection policy had successfully “stopped the boats” to Australia, we now needed to open the way for people to come here safely.
“It is a great thing that we don’t have children drowning at sea trying to get to our shores,” he wrote.
“That has been a significant humanitarian achievement. But stopping the boats can’t be where this ends. It is surely where humanitarianism begins.”
UK And USA Not Doing Enough, Says Columnist
World leaders overseas are also under intense pressure to raise their refugee intake in the light of the Syrian crisis.
British columnist Piers Morgan of the Daily Mail wrote on Friday that “just a few hundred” Syrian refugees had been taken into Britain since the horrors of the Syrian conflict began four years ago, and in the USA, only 1,234.
“They’re fleeing the very mayhem which America and Britain helped create” ~ columnist Piers Morgan
While the US plans to increase its target to 8,000 people next year, that figure is dwarfed by Germany’s pledge to take in 800,000.
Morgan condemned the two superpowers, saying they “stirred up the hornet’s nest out of which ISIS and it’s barbaric ilk have emerged and thrived”, with their war on Saddam Hussein and Iraq.
“These people are fleeing the very mayhem which America and Britain helped create,” he wrote. ”Yet neither the UK nor U.S. governments seem to give a damn about them.”