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Church welcomes PM’s decision on Syrian refugees

Syrian refugees on boat

Safe ground: Syrian refugees jump off a boat as they arrive on the Greek island of Lesbos on September 3.
Photo: CNS photo/Dimitris Michalakis, Reuters

By Peter Bugden

CHURCH leaders and agencies have welcomed the Federal Government’s decision to permanently resettle 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced the one-off humanitarian intake on September 9 in response to the refugee crisis engulfing the Middle East and Europe.

Mr Abbott said this would be in addition to the previously existing humanitarian program of 13,750 refugees for this financial year.

He said priority would be given to those most in need – the women, children and families of persecuted minorities who had sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

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

Others welcoming the decision included Catholic Social Services Australia and St Vincent de Paul Society.

CSSA chief executive officer Marcelle Mogg said the Government’s response and scale of it was welcome and encouraging.

“Catholic social service agencies across Australia stand ready to assist in the reception and settlement on a permanent basis of the additional 12,000 people that will join us in building a strong, compassionate Australia,” Ms Mogg said.

“Many of our agencies currently provide settlement services and we have the capacity and expertise to ensure that people arriving in Australia are assisted to adapt to local customs, learn about life in Australia, and forge strong relationships among their new communities.”

CSSA also welcomed Mr Abbott’s announcement of about $44 million in aid to Syrians and Iraqis seeking refuge in neighbouring Middle East countries.

In welcoming the Prime Minister’s announcement on the refugee intake, St Vincent de Paul Society’s national chief executive Dr John Falzon said the society hoped the Government would consider expanding on the number of refugees welcomed.

The organisation’s national president Graham West said for the Syrians being resettled in Australia, the society was willing to do everything it could to help them join the community.

“Our members operate refugee and asylum-seeker services including providing financial and information support to migrants and refugees, for example through home visitation, food and financial help, visits to detention centres, and homework centres,” Mr West said.

“We hope that this welcome announcement will signal a new path forward for Australia in welcoming all who seek a safe haven.”

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