What is happening in Syria ?
The Syrian civil war began in March 2011 amidst the Arab Spring, when a wave of democratic protests spread throughout the Middle East. Protests began after the arrest, torture and killing of two teenage boys who had written anti-government graffiti.
Some governments in the Middle East responded to protests with compromise and democratic reforms. The Syrian government under Bashir Al-Assad responded by killing hundreds of protesters and jailing many more.
The war has now gone for over five years and become much more complex. Syria is now a place where rebel groups, terrorist organisations such as the so-called Islamic State, and international forces all struggle for power.
There are now 6.5 million people who have been forced to move within Syria. Over 270,000 people have been killed since July 2011, including 79,589 civilians. The situation has been made worse by environmental change, and conflict over food and water supplies.
Torture and chemical weapons have been used against people opposing the Assad regime and ethnic and religious minorities.
Kurdish people in northern Syria have experienced extreme hardship as an ethnic minority campaigning for independence from Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Kurdish civilians have faced persecution by the al-Nusra Front and ISIL as well as the Turkish government.
The international coalition led by the United States supports various rebel groups and conducts air strikes. The Russian government has remained loyal to its historical ally Syria and the government of Bashir al-Assad. The result is that war is prolonged by military aid from world superpowers while Syrians remain desperate for aid. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), less than half of those internally displaced in Syria have gotten basic relief.
The Syrian civil war has created one of the world’s greatest humanitarian crises. There is, unfortunately, no reason to believe that it will be resolved soon.
The Australian Government has express concern over the rise in people smuggling practices due to western countries not resettling enough Syrian refugees through official UN channels.
What is happening in Iraq?
In Iraq, sectarian violence has continued since the removal of Saddam Hussein in 2003. This conflict has become worse since US forces left Iraq in December 2011, with the number of civilians dying continuing to rise. In 2014 there was a surge in radical Islamist movements such as ISIL which soon spread throughout Syria.
97% of the 250,500 Syrian refugees living in Iraq are based in Kurdistan, the northern Kurdish region of Iraq. There are currently 4.4 million people internally displaced in Iraq.
Recently the Iraqi government, with help from the US, successfully recaptured various major cities. ISIL have extended their area of control dangerously close to Iraq’s three major oil refineries in Irbill, Baiji and Baghdad, and destroyed some of Iraq’s most popular tourist attractions. This continues to have a devastating impact on the Iraqi economy, which is strained after more than a decade of conflict. The government remains in turmoil and the people of Iraq continue to struggle to live.
How has the Australian government responded?
As announced by the Australian government in September 2015, 12,000 places have been made available for people displaced by conflict in Syria and Iraq in addition to others who are coming as part of the existing annual quota of 13,750 within the Refugee and Humanitarian Program.
The 12,000 people resettled in Australia can get the same benefits as other permanent humanitarian entrants, including employment services, Medicare, income support payments, English language tuition, torture and trauma counselling and settlement services.
The first families granted visas as part of the allocated humanitarian places began arriving in Australia in November 2015 and there is now a regular flow of visa grants for Syrians and Iraqis. There is a gap between when visas are granted and when they arrive, because of the time taken to complete checks and finalise travel arrangements. Before a visa is granted, applicants for resettlement in Australia are required to meet all criteria for a Refugee and Humanitarian visa, including health, character and security checks.
Factors taken into account on when deciding on where to settle people include where their family or community are, and the size and composition of potential settlement communities.
The wider Australian community continues to show generosity of spirit towards our newest arrivals. It is important that our new arrivals are given time to adjust to their new life in Australia and that the community and media respect their privacy.
The Australian government has so far provided $258 million to the humanitarian crisis in Syria and Iraq.
Oxfam has analysed what would be the ‘fair share’ Australia should make to the refugee crisis. This report calculated the amount of aid expected of each nation based on GDP in order to reach the estimated $8.9billion required to control the crisis.
Australia’s expected ‘fair share’ for 2015 totalled $119.2 million. It has donated $44.3 million (37% of Australia’s fair share). Australia’s fair share for 2016 is expected to total $125.1 million.
In contrast, Norway contributed $158.1 million, or 385% of Norway’s fair share.