SYDNEY – Australia’s Immigration Minister Peter Dutton sparked controversy Monday after telling parliament members the Australian government made a mistake by resettling Lebanese refugees in the 1970s.
Dutton said former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser “did make mistakes in bringing some people in,” as part of his immigration policy. He said crime statistics in the country show a large number of Lebanese Australians are involved in terror incidents.
“The advice I have is that out of the last 33 people who have been charged with terrorist-related offenses in this country, 22 of those people are from second and third generation Lebanese Muslim background,” he said.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Lebanese immigration peaked at 4,906 in 1977, with a smaller peak of 2,600 in 1987. The Bureau estimates Australia has about 196,000 citizens of Lebanese descent, including people whose parents were born in Australia.
Since this controversy, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull praised Dutton and called him a “committed and compassionate immigration minister.”
“There is no question that there are lessons to be learned from previous immigration policies and the minister was reflecting on,” Turnbull said. “He’s entitled to do that.”
Some Lebanese Australians said they’re upset by the comments.
“It’s ill thought of and the purpose, I think, is solely to try to appeal to a nationalistic sense — that’s to provide a sense of exclusion rather than one of inclusion,” Jihad Dib, a Lebanese Australian Muslim, told ABC News Australia.
This is not the first time the Australian government singles out the Lebanese population. In February, a cabinet document called the Lebanese community the “most prominent ethnic group amongst Australian Sunni extremists.”
The document points to “lessons learned” after the wave of immigration to Australia as a result of the Lebanese civil war.
“Australia’s historical experience with the Sunni Lebanese community illustrates potential community safety and national security risks associated with unsuccessful integration,” the document added.