Australia new shift on refugees

The federal government will set a new course for the nation's refugee program by putting a higher priority on migrants from South America amid a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Immigration officials have been told to open the door to more refugees from South America in a formal directive that is likely to change the make-up of the annual 18,750 humanitarian intake from next month.

Australia accepted 4630 refugees from Iraq and 3227 from Syria in the year to June 2018, with another 2043 from Myanmar, 1355 from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 1130 from Afghanistan. This followed a one-off intake of 12,000 refugees from Iraq and Syria, announced by former Prime Minister in 2015.

While there is no public target on the intake from South America, it is expected to amount to several hundred people and could mean Venezuela joins the list of top 10 countries of birth for humanitarian visas in the year ahead.

This is a significant departure from decades of practice in which almost all the humanitarian intake came from Africa, Asia and the Middle East. No Latin American country has been named on the list of the top 10 countries of birth for the Australian humanitarian intake in the years since the 2016 agreement. In the year to June 2017, the 10th nation on the list was Somalia with 162 refugees. The 10th nation on the list last year was Tibet with 200.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has called this "the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America" and warned of a 4000 per cent increase in Venezuelans seeking refugee status since 2014.

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