Syria: Should Christian refugees be given priority?

Migrants struggle to enter a bus which takes them further into Austria at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, eastern Austria.
Migrants struggle to enter a bus which takes them further into Austria at the Hungarian-Austrian border in Nickelsdorf, eastern Austria. Vladimir Simicek

POLITICAL debate over Australia's role in global efforts to resettle refugees caught in Europe's migration crisis has turned to whether Christians should be given special treatment over other asylum seekers.

As Prime Minister Tony Abbott waited for a report from Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on what Australia could do, politicians have called for varying targets.

After Labor on Monday called for 10,000 refugees to be resettled in Australia, Independent MP Andrew Wilkie urged 30,000 be the target and Liberal backbencher Ewen Jones called for 50,000 to be resettled in Australia.

Mr Dutton was in Geneva meeting with officials at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and was expected to report back to Mr Abbott on Australia's contribution late on Tuesday.

However, conservative Liberal backbencher Cory Bernardi also sparked vehement response from his political colleagues after he placed the blame for three-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi's death on his father.

Senator Bernardi had claimed on Monday night in the Senate that Aylan's father was not a genuine refugee, instead seeking dental services in western Europe.

Labor frontbencher Anthony Albanese branded Senator Bernardi an "embarrassment to the parliament", while Mr Jones asked: "What would you expect from (him)?".

Leader of Government in the Senate, Eric Abetz, also suggested Christians facing persecution should be given priority over other refugees because, on the basis of need, "Christians are the most persecuted group in the world, and especially in the Middle East."  Minister Malcolm Turnbull also has argued for more Syrian Christians to be accepted, while Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had backed a host of minority groups including the Yazidis fleeing Syria.

A likely option could include expanding Australia's current 13,000-odd refugee places immediately to the planned 2018 cap of about 18,000.

The debate in Canberra came ahead of an expected decision in the national security committee of Cabinet on whether Australia would join air strikes against Islamic State in Syria.

Topics:  christians muslims refugees religion syria tony abbott

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