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Emergency accommodation the priority as WA prepares for Syrian refugees, Colin Barnett says

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Western Australia’s government agencies have begun planning for the arrival of Syrian refugees, with Premier Colin Barnett saying WA would be prepared to provide more than the 1,000 places he originally offered.

Mr Barnett has welcomed the one-off increase in Australia’s refugee intake announced by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to help respond to the Syrian crisis.

He said WA was well-placed to provide comprehensive support to traumatised people fleeing the region.

Mr Barnett said the State Government had already spoken with Federal counterparts, and was identifying facilities, services and support required to receive and host the refugees.

“I’m not sure when these people will arrive but we will certainly be ready to look after them, and I see the commitment of Western Australia to do all that we can to care for this 1,000 or so people who are likely to come to our state,” he said.

The State Government had originally said it wanted to welcome 1,000 additional refugees to WA, but Mr Barnett said with the higher-than-expected jump in the national intake, that figure could rise.

“I said I could see Western Australia taking up to 1,000. Well, if it means up to 1,200, so be it,” he said.

“We expect most of them to be children, including many young children, who may well be traumatised and will need special support.”

Timing of arrivals unclear, Barnett says

The Federal Government has committed $700 million over five years to fund the response.

“We will spend a significant amount of money on it too,” Mr Barnett said.

Mr Barnett said while the timing of the first arrivals was uncertain, early planning was focused on finding suitable accommodation.

“The most practical issue is the immediate short-term emergency accommodation, and we’re looking at what’s available and how that can be used,” he said.

“We don’t know what the numbers will be but it’s not going to be 1,000 at any one time. It’s probably going to be 100 or 200 coming through, so I’m quite confident that we’ll be able to manage it.”

Mr Barnett said refugees may initially be housed in some institutional or central facilities.

“We’ll make sure they’re well looked after,” he said.

Mr Barnett has been outspoken in his calls for Australia to offer help to the Syrian refugees, but acknowledged there may be a small minority of people who resent their arrival in WA.

“But this a humanitarian crisis and Australia, Western Australia, countries and states and provinces around the world are sharing the burden, and I think that’s a very good thing and something we should feel proud of,” he said.

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