Australian Government Wants To Prioritize Christians Fleeing Syria Over Muslims

    Australian government is yet to announce extra refugee numbers, but looks set to give priority to persecuted Christians.

    Government MPs have expressed a desire to take persecuted Christian minorities over Muslim refugees fleeing Syria as pressure mounts on the government to respond to the crisis.

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    Prime minister Tony Abbott committed to an increase in Syrian refugees over the weekend, but put off deciding how many Australia will take until immigration minister Peter Dutton returns from consultations with the UN in Geneva.

    Sam Mooy / AAP

    But coalition meetings have been dominated with discussions over what type of refugees will be considered. Senator Eric Abetz told reporters that Australians would expect the government to prioritise Christians.

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    He acknowledged that Muslims have been killed in the conflict and said the intake should be determined on the basis of need but added, "given the plight of Christians I think a very strong case can be made that Christians should be prioritised."

    Religious leaders have described the persecution of Iraqi Christians by ISIS as a "human catastrophe", warning that it was becoming a genocide.

    Jean-francois Monier / AFP / Getty Images

    Prominent world leaders, such as British PM David Cameron, German chancellor Angela Merkel and Pope Benedict XVII have made similar claims about Christians in the middle east.

    ISIS have also destroyed churches and ancient Christian artefacts in Syria and Iraq.

    But Sufi and Shiite Muslims have also been killed by ISIS. The Assad regime has deliberately targeted Sunni Muslims in Syria.

    A Pew Centre study on religious hostility found that Christians and Muslims faced the most harrassment by government or social groups.

    Christians were harrassed in 102 of the 198 countries included in the study (52%), while Muslims were harassed in 99 countries (50%), the study found.

    Senator Cory Bernardi was labelled an "embarrassment" by Labor after warning that many people have already fled to safety in other countries, and would try to exploit the system.


    "Of course there is a problem, but you cannot just open your borders and allow any number of people come through without the checks," he said.

    "This seems to me to be becoming an opportunistic cycle which is masking the true humanitarian need which is the responsibility of western nations."

    Bernardi drew ire from the Greens after saying that the father of drowned asylum seeker child Aylan Kurdi was to blame for his death, because the family had been living in Turkey for years.

    "The father sent them on that boat so the father could get dental treatment," he told the senate.

    MP Andrew Nikolic told his colleagues that they shouldn't get carried away with the whole compassion thing.

    Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

    The ABC reports another backbencher put it much more bluntly in a party room meeting, saying, "No more Muslim men".

    Not all government MPs felt that way. Backbencher Ewen Jones told reporters that he wanted to see the coalition accept up to 50,000 people from Syria.

    Facebook: ewenjonesmp

    He called for Australia to be a "good global citizen" and to think about the long-term consequences of the crisis.

    Labor wants the government to take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, as a one-off expansion to the annual refugee intake of 13,750.


    “It is time for Australia to dig a little deeper and be the compassionate nation we know we are,” said Bill Shorten on Monday.

    Labor immigration spokesperson Richard Marles was asked on Tuesday whether the government would prioritise Christian refugees, and said that they should seek guidance from the UN.

    The government is expected to announce that it will launch air attacks targeting ISIS in Syria this week.

    Alexandra Lee is a politics reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

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