“Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are illegals.”
It is not a crime to enter Australia without authorisation for the purpose of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation.
Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly states that refugees should not be penalised for arriving without valid travel documents. Australian and international law make these allowances because it is not always safe or even possible for asylum seekers to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels.
Permitting asylum seekers to enter a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency – the action may ordinarily be illegal but, in order to protect lives at risk, an exception is made.
“Asylum seekers are queue jumpers. They should apply through the proper channels, rather than applying onshore.”
This myth is based on misconceptions about how Australia’s onshore refugee program and the international refugee resettlement system actually work. Seeking asylum is not a way of “jumping the queue” or bypassing the “proper channel” for applying for protection. In fact, seeking asylum is standard procedure. Ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in countries of origin may prevent refugees from being able to return home safely.
It is not a matter of resettlement being the only “proper channel”, or even the preferred channel, through which to find protection – it is simply a different solution based on different circumstances. In fact, it doesn’t make sense to argue that refugees should apply for resettlement from overseas rather than seeking asylum, because seeking asylum is a prerequisite for resettlement.
Moreover, resettlement is the exception rather than the rule. There are currently 15.4 million refugees in the world but only around 85,000 resettlement places are available annually, meaning that less than one per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled each year. At this rate, it would take over 180 years for all of the world’s refugees to be resettled. Even for refugees who are in need of resettlement, there is no orderly resettlement “queue” to join. In reality, the resettlement system works more like a lottery than a queue.
“Asylum seekers take places away from refugees who are waiting patiently for resettlement overseas.”
Asylum seekers are not trying to rort the system or “jump the queue” – they have a right to seek asylum and Australia has a responsibility to process their claims.
Australia’s refugee program has two components – the onshore component, for people who or people who apply for refugee status after arriving in Australia; and the offshore component, through which Australia resettles recognised refugees and other people in need of protection and assistance from overseas. The onshore and offshore components are numerically linked, which means that every time an asylum seeker is recognised as a refugee and granted a visa, a place is deducted from the offshore program.
No other country in the world links its onshore and offshore programs in this way and Australia did not do this prior to 1996.
“Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are economic migrants.”
It is impossible to say one way or the other whether their protection claims are credible until they have been assessed. Historically, however, the vast majority of asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat have been found to be refugees. According to figures compiled by the Australian Parliamentary Library, around 97 per cent have typically been found to be refugees. In 2012-13, 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be refugees.
“Tough border protection policies will save lives and stop people smugglers.”
Everyone agrees that we should stop people smuggling ventures which exploit asylum seekers and place them in danger. No one wishes to see asylum seekers board unreliable vessels and risk their lives to reach Australia. However, penalising desperate and vulnerable people, who have not committed any crime and are in need of protection and assistance, is not the answer. Policies which put people at risk, inflict harm on asylum seekers or deliberately impede access to effective protection are not acceptable ways of addressing the problem.
Australians should be proud that Australia has enjoyed an international reputation for respecting human rights . Attempting to change this reputation by treating asylum seekers inhumanely would make us little better than the countries from which they are fleeing.
In any case, the “push” factors that compel refugees to flee their homes will always be more compelling than the “pull” factors in countries like Australia. Refugee flows are primarily affected by war, unrest, violence and human rights violations. Most people do not wish to leave their homes, families, friends and everything they know and hold dear. They do so as a last resort.
“People who seek protection in Australia are ‘country shopping’. They could have stopped in other safe countries along the way.”
The countries which happen to be closest to a refugee’s country or origin or which are easiest for refugees to reach are not necessarily countries which are able or willing to provide effective protection.
In the Asia-Pacific region, for example, few countries provide effective protection to refugees and conditions for people seeking protection are very difficult. Many countries in the region have no domestic asylum process
“We need to discourage irregular movement so that we can establish an orderly asylum process.”
The idea that there is, or can be, an orderly process for seeking asylum ignores the reality that forced displacement is anything but orderly. When fleeing persecution, violence and human rights violations, refugees are most often not able to obtain travel documents or arrange travel through authorised channels. Moreover, Australia has very restrictive policies which work to prevent citizens of countries where persecution is widespread from getting access to temporary visas of any kind. These policies leave many people seeking to flee to Australia with no way of entering in an authorised manner.
“Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are a security threat. They could be criminals or terrorists.”
The vast majority of asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat have been found to be refugees. According to figures compiled by the Australian Parliamentary Library, in 2012-13, 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be refugees.
It is very rare for a refugee to receive an adverse security assessment. Since 2009, ASIO has issued adverse security assessments to 63 refugees who arrived by boat. By contrast, between 2009-10 and 2011-12, 9,636 refugees who arrived by boat passed the security checks required for the grant of a Protection Visa. This means that fewer than one per cent of refugees who arrived by boat over this period received an adverse security assessment.
“Asylum seekers who arrive by boat threaten Australia’s border security.”
Asylum seekers who arrive by boat without authorisation do not threaten Australia’s border security or the integrity of our immigration processes. This is not only because the numbers arriving are small compared to overall movement of people across Australia’s borders – 24,173 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat in 2012-13, while around 4.7 million permanent and temporary visas were granted – but also because asylum seekers arriving by boat are not trying to enter Australia unnoticed. On the contrary, they willingly present themselves to Australian authorities so that they will have a chance to apply for protection.
“Australia is being swamped by asylum seekers.”
Compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications. In 2012, Australia received 29,610 asylum applications, just 1.47 per cent of the more than two million claims lodged across the world through individual application and group recognition processes. Moreover, the number of people granted permanent residency under Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program is well under one-tenth of Australia’s annual migration intake.
In 2013, 20,587 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. In 2012, a large number of countries had vastly greater boat arrivals, for example, Yemen had 107,500 people and 385,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Turkey. Moreover, all of these host countries are far less wealthy than Australia. Turkey has a GDP per capita of around $US11,800, Yemen just over $US1,500 and Cameroon around $US1,300, compared to Australia’s GDP per capita of close to $US70,900.
“Australia takes more than its fair share of refugees.”
The overwhelming majority of the world’s refugees are residing in the developing world in countries neighbouring their own. At the end of 2012, Pakistan was hosting over 1.6 million refugees, Iran was hosting 868,242 and Kenya was hosting 564,933 – dwarfing the 13,750 refugees granted permanent residency by Australia each year. In 2012,
“Refugees should only be granted temporary protection until it is safe for them to go home.”
Temporary protection can sometimes be used to meet urgent protection needs in exceptional circumstances. For example, temporary protection may be granted to asylum seekers during a mass influx situation, to allow time for their applications to be assessed individually on a case-by-case basis. However, temporary protection should not be considered a substitute for refugee status and should never be applied arbitrarily without regard for the conditions in a refugee’s country of origin.
UNHCR states a refugee remains a refugee unless their status is terminated by their own actions (e.g. through voluntary repatriation) or if there has been fundamental, durable and comprehensive change in their country of origin which allows them to return home safely.
“If someone can afford to pay a people smuggler thousands of dollars to travel to Australia, they cannot be a ‘genuine’ refugee.”
Economic status has no impact on refugee status. A refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. It makes no difference whether a refugee is rich or poor – the point is that they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution.
Most refugees who come to Australia are educated middle-class people whose advocacy work, political opinions or profession (e.g. journalists, lawyers) has drawn them to the attention of the authorities and resulted in their persecution.
“Refugees and asylum seekers receive higher social security payments than Australian age pensioners.”
A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian citizen or eligible permanent resident in the same circumstances. Refugees apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else.
“Charity begins at home. We should be helping disadvantaged Australians first, rather than refugees and asylum seekers.”
Solving problems such as poverty and homelessness is not simply a matter of resources. The most significant barriers to addressing these problems are often structural issues, such as discrimination, lack of political will and the way government systems work. Unless these barriers are addressed, such problems will be very difficult to resolve even if there are plenty of resources available.
Organisations – such as Anglicare, the Brotherhood of St Laurence, Life Without Barriers, Lutheran Community Care, the Salvation Army, the Sisters of Charity, the Sisters of Mercy, St Vincent de Paul Society and UnitingCare – work directly with some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia. They also support fair and humane policies towards refugees and asylum seekers. It is very telling that these organisations clearly do not see helping disadvantaged Australians and helping refugees and asylum seekers as being mutually exclusive.
It is also important to note that refugees are not simply a “drain” on resources. In fact, people from refugee backgrounds and their descendants make important contributions to Australia’s economy and society.
“Refugees don’t contribute to Australian society in any meaningful way.”
Research has shown that refugees, once they have the opportunity to establish themselves, make important economic, civil and social contributions to Australian society. Australia’s refugees and humanitarian entrants have found success in every field of endeavour, including the arts, sports, media, science, research, business and civic and community life. Former refugees are very entrepreneurial, being more likely to set up their own businesses than other migrant groups. They play an important role in facilitating the development of trade and other links with their countries of origin. Former refugees value the education of their children very highly, with the proportion of young refugees attending an educational institution being higher than other migrants and even than people born in Australia. They make substantial social contributions to Australia through volunteering, promoting community development and engaging in neighbourhood activities and events.
Just some of the many Australian high achievers who once were refugees include scientists Sir Gustav Nossal and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, 2009 Victorian of the Year Dr Berhan Ahmed, painter Judy Cassab, comedian Anh Do, filmmaker Khoa Do, author Nam Le, academic Associate Professor My-Van Tran, Dr Anita Donaldson, poet Juan Garrido-Salgado, painter and restaurateur Mirka Mora, actor Henri Szeps, broadcasters Les Murray and Caroline Tran, Australian Rules footballer Alex Jesaulenko, footballer Atti Abonyi, swimmers John and Ilsa Konrads, newspaper editor Michael Gawenda, architect Harry Seidler, business people Sir Peter Abeles, Larry Adler, Ouma Sananikone and Judit Korner, public servant Tuong Quang Luu and politicians Jennie George and Nick Greiner.
By definition, refugees are survivors. They have survived because of their courage, ingenuity and creativity. These are qualities, which we value in Australia. If we assist newly arrived refugees to recover from the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia, we will reap the benefits of the qualities and experiences they bring to our society.