Australia will take in 500 Syrian refugees in response to a global call to assist people fleeing the bloody conflict in the Middle Eastern country.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Australia would join 16 other countries in a resettlement program driven by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR.

"The Australian government will work with the UNHCR to identify those offered the resettlement places, which will be targeted for highly vulnerable people in urgent need of protection," he said in a statement on Thursday.

Syria's neighbours - Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and Iraq - have absorbed the majority of the refugees, but as numbers grow to more than two million, the influx has strained resources and caused tensions.

Of the 17 countries, including the United States, signed up to the UNHCR program to offer 10,000 a total resettlement places, France has agreed to accept 1200 Syrian refugees.

The first refugees are expected to arrive in Australia before the end of 2013.

Mr Morrison says the coalition's crackdown on asylum seeker boat arrivals means the federal government is better positioned to help those "most in need".

But Australia's offer of assistance to Syrian refugees should not be misinterpreted.

"The Australian people's generous support should not be interpreted as an encouragement to those seeking to enter our country illegally," he said.

Australia has provided more than $100 million in humanitarian assistance to the Syrian crisis, including some $45.5 million to support humanitarian activities in neighbouring countries.

"Our funding has supported UNHCR and other agencies to provide shelter, food and clean water to refugees and host communities," Mr Morrison said.

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