A leaked government document calling for enhanced screening of Australia’s humanitarian refugee intake from Syria and Iraq has attracted widespread criticism from opposition parties and members of the Lebanese community, who were singled out as being prone to “extremism”.
The sensitive Cabinet document, which was leaked to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Thursday, recommends that the government applies “additional screening criteria” to 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees who are set to resettle in Australia as part of the country’s response to the refugee crisis in the Middle East.
“It is expected that some refugees from this conflict will bring with them issues, beliefs or associations that lead them to advocate or engage in politically motivated or communal violence,” the leaked document said, explaining why additional screening was required.
“This new framework will introduce … an enforceable integration framework to assess migrants’ suitability for life in Australia, a revamped citizenship test and citizenship pledge to strengthen [refugees’] accountability … and enhanced access, use and protection of sensitive information to strengthen intelligence-led risk-based decision-making [when assessing refugees],” the document said.
Prepared by the Department of Immigration, the draft document also recommended that enhanced screening processes should be extended to other areas of the humanitarian resettlement programme, on a “risk basis”.
Australia announced in September that it would accept 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq, in addition to its 2015 humanitarian intake of 13,750 refugees.
So far, only 20 Syrian refugees have been resettled under the programme.
Both Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said on Friday they have not read the leaked document.
“I can just say that we will continue as a government to ensure that we do everything we can to keep Australians safe at home … and we will do everything we can to ensure that we maintain control of our borders,” Turnbull told Adelaide’s 5AA radio station.
The opposition Labor Party’s immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the proposals were an “enormously regressive step”.
“This verges dangerously down the path of putting in place a discriminatory immigration policy,” he told the ABC. “If this is where the government wants to take us, we are returning to a very dark past indeed.”
The smaller opposition Greens party went further, with Senator Sarah Hanson-Young saying the leaked document was a “direct attack on people seeking asylum and … designed to stop them from permanently resettling in Australia”.
While not the focus of the new recommendations, the document also riled members of Australia’s large Lebanese community, who were singled out as evidence of why the government should adopt tougher screening standards.
“The most prominent ethnic group among Australian Sunni extremists are the Lebanese,” the document said.
“The majority of this cohort can be linked to the wave of humanitarian migration to Australia as a result of the Lebanese civil war.”
Australia’s Lebanese Muslim Association issued a statement on Friday rejecting the accusations, saying the leaked document “further isolates and vilifies the Muslim community”.
“These accusations do nothing more than fuel division within communities and create obstacles to community cohesion,” said Samier Dandan, the association’s president.