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Australia Will Take 12,000 Refugees And Join Airstrikes In Syria

Prime minister Tony Abbott announced that the government will take 12,000 permanent refugees as a one-off increase.

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The Australian government has announced that it will resettle 12,000 refugees fleeing Syria and Iraq.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

Prime minister Tony Abbott announced that there would be 12,000 permanent places in addition to the existing humanitarian intake of 13,750 this year.

Making the announcement on Wednesday, the prime minister said the refugees accepted would be from persecuted minorities.

"Our focus for these new 12,000 permanent resettlement places will be those people most in need of permanent protection – women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey," he said.

Addressing comments from government MPs that they should give priority to Christian minorities, Abbott said he expected that the refugees would come from a variety of religious backgrounds.

"If you look at the persecuted minorities of the region," he said, "there are Muslim minorities, Druze, Kurds, there are non-Muslim minorities, Christians, various sorts, Jews, Yazidis, Armenians, so there are persecuted minorities that are Muslim, there are persecuted minorities that are non-Muslim and our focus is on the persecuted minorities who have been displaced and are very unlikely ever to be able to go back to their original homes."

The department of finance expects that this will come at a cost of $700 million.

Australia will also contribute $44 million to the UNHCR to assist displaced people in neighbouring countries.

The humanitarian announcement was coupled with a military one – Abbott confirmed that Australia would join US-led airstrikes in Syria focusing on ISIS targets.

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"There can be no stability and no end to the persecution and suffering in the Middle East until the Daesh death cult is degraded and ultimately destroyed," he said. "That's what our armed forces are doing in Iraq and we need to do it in Syria too.

"As we all know, Daesh does not respect borders and its onslaught in Iraq is supported from bases in Syria. We cannot defeat Daesh in Iraq without defeating Daesh in Syria too."

The prime minister said the Syrian government would not be a target.

"I emphasise that our aircraft will be targeting Daesh," he said, "not the Assad regime, evil though it is."

Labor on Monday proposed that Australia take in 10,000 Syrian refugees and give $100 million to the UNHCR.

Bill Shorten welcomed the government's decision on Twitter on Wednesday afternoon.

But Labor said the $44 million pledged to the UNHCR falls short of what is needed in response to the crisis.

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Labor welcomes the Abbott Govt’s announcement to provide 12,000 additional places for people fleeing persecution in the Middle East. #auspol

The Greens have described the announcement as "bittersweet".

Every person we welcome is another person w a chance. We welcome that, but bombing #Syria will only create more refugees & more suffering.

Greens leader Richard Di Natale applauded the government for "making a real difference to the lives of 12,000 people" but said airstrikes in Syria would just make a bad situation worse.

Earlier this week, the decision on refugees divided moderates and conservatives in the party.

Sam Mooy / AAPIMAGE

Backbencher Ewen Jones proposed taking up to 50,000 refugees, saying Australia must act as a "good global citizen", while conservative MPs Eric Abetz, Cory Bernardi, and George Christensen have urged caution and suggested Australia should prioritise Christian refugees.

Rob Stott is a news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Rob Stott at rob.stott@buzzfeed.com.

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

Contact Alex Lee at alexandra.lee@buzzfeed.com.

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