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The migrant crisis: Australia can do more

Zaatari 2

This crisis is far too big for any one country to solve alone, writes Helen Szoke (pictured), Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia,  and former Federal Race Discrimination Commissioner with the Australian Human Rights Commission.

In one of the world’s biggest refugee camps in the middle of a dusty desert in Jordan, life takes on a surreal normality for about 80,000 people who have been thrust together after fleeing the brutality of war in Syria.

Babies are born, wedding gowns are hired, districts have been established and children — who make up more than half of the Za’atari refugee camp’s population — play in the dirt. But this is no normal life.

As the violent conflict continues to rage across the border, refugees do their best to get on with daily life while they wait for the fighting to end so they can go home. In Za’atari, infrastructure is stretched as aid agencies work to provide life’s basic necessities. For most, home is a demountable. Work and education opportunities are limited. A plastic bag tied to a stick is no longer rubbish, rather a makeshift toy. Many children are losing parts of their lives that they will never be able recover.

Tragically, too little has changed since I learnt of these realities on a visit to the Za’atari camp three years ago. The conflict in Syria has deepened, leaving hundreds of thousands of families in a desperate search of refuge.

And those whose lives are trapped in interminable limbo at Za’atari have become part of an unprecedented global crisis — 65 million forcibly displaced people. It is the highest number of people driven from their homes — fleeing poverty, human rights abuses, persecution, conflict, violence and torture — since World War II.

It is a deeply sad milestone and one that ironically coincides with the 65th anniversary of the Refugee Convention — an agreement triggered in the aftermath of two world wars.

Oxfam is calling for Australia to provide a safe haven for its share of the staggering number of people in search of dignity, safety and hope.


We know millions of ordinary men, women and children have been forced to flee their homes in a desperate plight for protection. Nearly 5 million people have had to flee Syria alone to escape the civil war, another 2.7 million people have fled from Afghanistan and 1.1 million have left Somalia.

The situations they face, the trauma and horror to which they are subjected, go beyond anything that most of us could imagine.

Australians are known for their natural inclination to pitch in and help, especially when others are in danger. One of our best qualities is our willingness to treat fellow humans with respect, compassion and dignity — like we’d want to be treated — because it is the right thing to do.

We cannot ignore the capacity of our nation to do more. We cannot turn our backs on the suffering of millions. There are 40.8 million people displaced inside their countries, 21.3 million refugees worldwide and 3.2 million asylum seekers — equalling 65 million and counting.

In the face of this crisis, Oxfam is calling on the Australian Government to triple its humanitarian intake to 42,000 people within five years.

Given our prosperity and our privileged status as one of the richest nations on earth, it is shameful that we host just 0.2 percent of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers.

In 2015, Germany hosted 1.1 million refugees and asylum seekers — 1.36 percent of its population. We are asking Australia to take 42,000 people — which is 0.18 percent of our population.

This financial year, the Australian Government has only allocated 13,750 places to refugees and people seeking humanitarian protection and committed to marginally increasing its permanent places each year from now up to 18,750 in 2018/19.

FULL STORY:  Australia Can And Must Do More About The Migration Crisis (The Huffington Post)

MAIN IMAGE: Children in the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan (Wikicommons)

SMALLER IMAGE:  Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan (Wikicommons)

PORTRAIT: Dr Helen Szoke (

RELATED COVERAGE:  First Person: Five Things I Learned in Syrian Refugee Camps