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Australian Melkite bishop makes plea on behalf of people of Syria

By Peter Bugden

Syrian refugees

Desperate: A young Syrian refugee girl cries after arriving at the Turkish-border city of Sanliurfa on June 10.
Photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA

A LEADER of Melkite Catholics in Australia has urged the Church to pressure Western governments to help solve the crisis in Syria and Iraq at its source.

Bishop Robert Rabbat, leader of the Melkite eparchy of Australia and New Zealand, said Islamic State militants were “getting money and weapons from somewhere” and governments of the West should exert pressure on whoever was supplying the fighters.

Bishop Rabbat, whose flock includes Catholics from Syria and Iraq, said governments should also increase donations to help countries who had received millions of refugees.

“The refugees who left Syria are in Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, and most refugees entering Europe left from Turkey,” he said.

“I think Turkey may be fed up; it’s not easy to accommodate one to two million people overnight.”

Bishop Rabbat said if Western governments increased aid to Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon to help support the huge numbers of refugees then “at least (the people there) won’t feel they have to face death (and risk a dangerous sea journey to Europe)”.

“We also need to put pressure and say enough is enough, especially Christians,” he said.

“I believe we Christians need to tell the world we’re standing beside those being hurt and crucified.”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday (September 9) announced Australia would permanently resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees on top of the previously existing humanitarian intake of 13,750.

Earlier in the week, he had said the increase of Syrians would be within the 13,750.

ABC Radio reported that Australia would prioritise displaced women, children and families from camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey, and there would be a focus on persecuted minorities.

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council chairman Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen welcomed Mr Abbott’s latest announcement.

“This is a generous response to suffering that demonstrates the compassion of the Australian people,” Bishop Long said.

He was speaking at the launch of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ 2015-16 Social Justice Statement – “For Those Who’ve Come Across the Seas: Justice for refugees and asylum seekers”.

Mr Abbott also committed about $44 million in aid to Syrians and Iraqis seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.

He announced Australia was set to begin airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

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