CANBERRA, July 29 (Xinhua) -- The number of Muslim immigrants being accepted into Australia is slowing to a trickle, according to new figures.
There are now more Buddhists (2.5 percent of total population) living in Australia than Muslims (2.2 percent), and the number of Muslim migrants arriving from countries such as Lebanon and Iran is way down on previous years.
While the federal government says Australia's migration program is non-discriminatory, an analysis of data by The Australian newspaper on Friday suggests that the migration of Muslims has dwindled noticeably.
Immigration officials told The Australian that the low number of Muslim immigrants from the Middle East has nothing to do with their religion, since applicants are not asked to state their faith when they apply to settle. Instead, it is an unintended consequence of a migration policy that is almost entirely focused on attracting skilled and family reunion migrants from countries such as India and China.
Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed that an average of 2,000-4,000 Lebanese people migrate to Australia each year but that number has dropped to 1,242 in 2015, with only 550 of them following Islam.
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton defended Australia's immigration policy insisting that the system is non-discriminatory and is focused on skills and family reunion.
"We don't focus on religion. We focus on skills," Dutton told News Limited on Friday.
However an eminent immigration expert, James Jupp, from Canberra's Australian National University (ANU), said the trends were a result of innate bias in the Department of Immigration.
"There are officials and politicians who openly favor Christians including Orthodox Christians (and Jewish migrants over Muslims)," Jupp told News Limited on Friday.
Mehmet Ozalp, director of the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia, said he believed the fall in Islamic migrant numbers could be attributed to the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in Australia.
"The Muslim population from the Middle East was at one point growing fast, but that was about 10 years ago, and now it is slowing whereas the Buddhist and Hindu population was pretty low but has increased dramatically," Ozalp said on Friday.
Muslim migration was thrust into the national spotlight recently when controversial Senator-elect Pauline Hanson called for a complete ban on Muslim immigration to Australia and a royal commission into the religion.