By Jill Fraser
MELBOURNE, Australia (AA) – A wide-ranging Amnesty International survey ranking Australia as the fifth most welcoming country to refugees flies in the face of the immigration minister’s recent statement that more refugees would be burdensome.
"Australia has a long history of welcoming refugees and the overwhelming approval of the decision to accept 12,000 Syrian refugees is testament to that," the rights group’s refugee coordinator Graham Thom said, referring to Australia’s announcement last year of an emergency intake.
The Refugees Welcome Index, released Thursday, surveyed 27,000 people worldwide to measure public levels of acceptance of refugees in 27 countries.
The survey, carried out by strategy consultancy GlobeScan, ranks countries based on people’s willingness to let refugees live in their countries, towns, neighborhoods and homes.
It found that 71 percent of Australians believed that the federal government should do more to help refugees fleeing war or persecution, while around four in five Australians agree that people should be able to take refuge in other countries to escape war or persecution.
“This Refugee Welcome Index is further evidence that the Australian Government should reconsider its current refugee intake policy,” Thom said.
“Amnesty continues to call on the Government to increase the annual humanitarian intake to at least 30,000, prioritising UNHCR-approved refugees and for the resettlement of the 12,000 Syrian refugees to be completed fairly and efficiently.”
These findings contrast starkly to Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s comments earlier this week describing many refugees as illiterate and innumerate.
Dutton also stated -- in back-to-back remarks many perceive as contradictory -- that more refugees would take away Australian jobs and that they would languish in unemployment queues.
The comments and statistics provided by him and those who came to his defense Wednesday have been questioned by critics.
The Department of Social Service found in 2015 that fewer than 20 percent of humanitarian arrivals were illiterate in their own language, while a “rich list” published in Australian business magazine BRW in 2000 shows that five of the country’s eight billionaires came from refugee backgrounds.
The Amnesty survey, based on a national phone poll of 802 people over the age of 18 during the month of February and the first half of March, showed that one in 10 Australians would welcome a refugee living in their home.
China, Germany, Britain and Canada were ranked as the world's most welcoming to refugees.
Russia, Indonesia and Thailand were deemed the least welcoming.
Australia accepts 13,750 refugees annually, and announced an emergency intake of 12,000 additional people from war-torn Syria last year.
Under its harsh immigration policy, the country also detains asylum seekers who arrive by boat, in processing centers on the Pacific islands of Manus and Nauru, where conditions have been described as appalling by rights advocates.