Australian government defends plans to take 12,000 Syrian refugees

Published November 23rd, 2015 - 07:31 GMT

Australia is sticking to its plan to take 12,000 Syrian refugees, the government said Monday, despite pressure to abandon it from the ruling party's own right wing.

Justice Minister Michael Keenan, who is responsible for counter-terror policy, said there were comprehensive checks in place against terrorists posing as refugees.

"Taking 12,000 people from Syria was the right thing to do several months ago and it's still the right thing to do today," Keenan said on Sky TV.

"We're doing everything we can to give an appropriate and proper risk assessment and make sure that nobody who is coming in would be of a security concern to our country."

Earlier Monday, Senator Cory Bernardi, an arch-conservative from South Australia who wants the burqa banned in public places, said on ABC TV that terrorists could try and enter Australia pretending to be refugees.

"We have extremist elements at work in this country. Why would we risk bringing in more to add to their ranks, even potentially, and bear the financial and social burden that comes with that?" Bernardi said.

The first five refugees from the special intake arrived in Perth last week and more are expected to arrive on east coast states before Christmas. The bulk will arrive in 2016, Keenan said.

The 12,000 from Syria would be on top of Australia's intake of nearly 14,000 refugees, ABC reported.

Meanwhile police said Monday they are watching 12 men and boys living in the community who were deemed capable of committing an act of terror such as killing a random member of the public.

Another seven are being held in prison, part of a group of 30 people who have faced terror-related charges.

Federal Police chief Neil Gaughan told ABC TV the dozen people who are free have been under surveillance for more than a year.

"I think there can be no doubt that there's a small group in Sydney that are engaged in activity which wants to upset the Australian way of life," Gaughan said.


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