Australia will take 12,000 extra refugees and join coalition air strikes on ISIS in Syria

A Syrian refugee is helped by others moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sept 8, 2015.
A Syrian refugee is helped by others moments after arriving on a dinghy on the Greek island of Lesbos on Sept 8, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

CANBERRA (AFP) - Australia will take an extra 12,000 refugees in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Wednesday (Sept 9), confirming that Canberra would join coalition air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Under growing pressure to increase Australia’s refugee intake, Abbott said the government would also pay to support 240,000 displaced people in countries neighbouring Syria and Iraq.

“Australia will resettle an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria/Iraq conflict,” Abbott told reporters in Canberra.

He said the emphasis would be on providing protection for women, children and families from persecuted minorities who have sought temporary refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

The prime minister said Australia’s involvement in strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which already take place in Iraq, could extend to Syria within days.

“Destroying this death cult is essential, not just to ending the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East but also to ending the threat to Australia and the wider world,” he said.

The government said the legal basis for extending air operations into Syria was the collective self-defence of Iraq as the militant group did not respect national borders.

“We are exercising the right to collective self-defence under Article 51 of the UN charter in striking Daesh (ISIS) in Syria,” Abbott said, adding that the focus of the campaign would be on ISIS, and not the Assad regime.

“We have no legal basis at this point in time for wider strikes in Syria and we don’t intend to make wider strikes in Syria,” he said.