Monthly Archives: August 2010

Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #7: To stop the boats, we need to make sure people smugglers have no product to sell

In recent days I have discussed with President Ramos Horta of East Timor the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing of the irregular entrants to the region. The purpose would be to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell. Arriving by boat would just be a ticket back to the regional processing centre.[1]

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, 6 July 2010

Labor’s policies are giving people smugglers a product to sell. One hundred and forty three illegal boat arrivals do not lie. Labor cannot be trusted to implement policies that secure Australia’s borders and protect the integrity of [the] immigration programme.[2]

Coalition Action Plan on refugees, 6 July 2010

Reality:
The major parties may disagree (somewhat) about how to “stop the boats”, but there is bipartisan support for the view that this boat people issue is really all about branding. Australia is a product, and boat people are just everyday consumers shopping around for the best deal.

But is it that simple?

To answer this, it is necessary to consider what factors are relevant when asylum seekers chose product Australia. There is a large body of (market) research that has been conducted in the past decade by migration experts, demographers and economists into the reasons for boat arrivals. One such report conducted by ANU notes that while tougher policies do have a deterrent effect, they account for only one third of the decline in applications since 2001.[3] Instead, violence and terror in host countries was cited as a significant “push” factor.[4]

Let’s take Afghanistan and Sri Lanka; two of the key source countries for the most recent wave of boat arrivals.[5] The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on their website note the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (Tamil Tigers) by government forces in May 2009 and the occurrence of particularly politically charged presidential and parliamentary elections on 26 January 2010 and 8 April 2010 respectively.[6] According to the UNHCR, the military operations in the lead up to May 2009 alone displaced some 280,000 people, this figure added to an already sizable number of internally displaced persons.[7] The DFAT website also cites the recent elections as “catalysts for violence and civil unrest”.[8] This fresh wave of internal unrest and military violence is clearly at least one significant factor in the increase in Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

Turning now to Afghanistan, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade itself, issues the highest level of security warning in respect of Afghanistan.[9] AusAID note that “almost three decades of conflict have devastated much of Afghanistan’s human, physical and institutional infrastructure, and insecurity remains a critical challenge to development efforts.”[10] The UNHCR estimate that there are 2,887,123 refugees originating from Afghanistan[11] who have fled their country in recent years due to violence, persecution and internal unrest. And with ethnic conflict still rife, it is simply not a safe place for many to live. In fact, DFAT issue some rather prudent advice on their website; “if you are in Afghanistan, you should consider leaving.”[12] So clearly what is happening in Afghanistan is just as important as what is happening in Australia in identifying reasons why boats arrive on our shores.

Based on a little market research, we can see that boat arrivals are caused by a number of factors.[13] It seems like a bit of an over simplification to put this all down to PR. But even if we do, let’s think about the Australian product. Lets call it a Grill’d burger.[14] Everyone loves Grill’d burgers. They are delicious and nutritious and overflowing with fillings of the highest possible quality. They are everything anyone could want in a sandwich. The idea behind offshore processing is that instead of a Grill’d burger, you get some sort of pathetic slap-dash home-made concoction; made with that decaying plant matter that collects at the bottom of crispers wedged between a couple of stale bits of bread. No one wants that product right? Well, not unless you were dying of starvation.

Perhaps in some cases, it’s not so much about the product on offer, but more about how much it’s needed.


[1] Julia Gillard, ‘Moving Australia Forward’ (Speech delivered at the Lowy Institute, Sydney, 6 July 2010), p. 7.

[2] The Coalition’s real action plan for restoring integrity and fairness to refugee decision making, 6 July 2010 at http://www.liberal.org.au/Latest-News/2010/07/06/The-Coalitions-real-action-plan-for-restoring-integrity-and-fairness-to-refugee-decision-making.aspx at 19 August 2010

[3] Hatton, T. J. (2009), The Rise and Fall of Asylum: What Happened and Why?. The Economic Journal, 119: F183–F213. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0297.2008.02228.x

[4] Ibid.

[5] The Guardian, Australia stops accepting refugee claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, 9 April 2010 at http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/apr/09/australia-refugees-afghanistan-sri-lanka at 19 August 2010

[6] DFAT, Travel Advice – Sri Lanka at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Sri_Lanka

[7] UNHCR, 2010 UNHCR country operations profile – Sri Lanka at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e4878e6 at 19 August 2010

[8] DFAT, Travel Advice – Sri Lanka at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Sri_Lanka

[9] DFAT, Travel Advice – Afghanistan at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Afghanistan at 19 August 2010

[10] AusAID, Afghanistan at http://www.ausaid.gov.au/country/country.cfm?CountryID=27886219&Region=AfricaMiddleEast

[11] UNHCR, 2010 UNHCR country operations profile – Afghanistan at http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/page?page=49e486eb6 at 19 August 2010

[12] DFAT, Travel Advice – Afghanistan at http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Afghanistan at 19 August 2010

[13] Hatton, T. J. (2009), The Rise and Fall of Asylum: What Happened and Why?. The Economic Journal, 119: F183–F213. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-0297.2008.02228.x

[14] Partly because I like analogies, mostly because I’m a smidge peckish.

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Some facts & figures

In response to your feedback, we have compiled some comparative statistics on the number of boat arrivals by (financial) year.

This table from the Refugee Council of Australia shows the composition of ‘unauthorised arrivals’ between 1997-98 and 2007-08 financial years.

Year No. overstayers Total no. unauthorised arrivals No. unauthorised arrivals by sea (and boats) No. unauthorised arrivals by air
97 – 98 50,950 1,715 157 (3 boats) 1,558
98 – 99 53,150 3,027 921 (42) 2,106
99 – 00 58,748 5,870 4,175 (75) 1,695
00 – 01 60,000 5,649 4,137 (54) 1,512
01 – 02 60,400 4,842 3,649 (23) 1,193
02 – 03 59,800 987 0 987
03 – 04 50,900 1,323 82 (3) 1,241
04 – 05 47,800 1,632 0 1,632
05 – 06 46,400 1,654 56 (4) 1,598
06 – 07 46,500 1,523 135 (5) 1,388
07 – 08 48,500 1,476 25 (3) 1,451

Note: The number of overstayers is estimated by DIAC at 30 June of each year.

Source: Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s Refugee Program – facts and statistics[1]

In the 2008-09 financial year there were 1033 arrivals by boat, and 4916 in 2009-10 (as at 13 May 2010).[2]








Source: Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks, ‘Boat Arrivals in Australia since 1976’ (2010)

While 4916 people seeking asylum in Australia have arrived by boat since 1 July 2009, a significant increase from the previous year, it is still minor when compared to the number of people estimated to be residing in Australia who have unlawfully overstayed their visa.[3] The majority category of unlawful overstayers are those on tourist visas.[4] This comparison can be seen in the graph below (figures used from table 1).

Note: due to insufficient data, the 2008-09 figure for the number of unlawful ‘visa overstayers’ has been used for the 2009-10 financial year. This will be updated when the data is available.








As demonstrated below, the relatively tiny number of arrivals to Australia by boat is even clearer when seen alongside net overseas migration.[5]









[1] Refugee Council of Australia, Australia’s Refugee Program – facts and statistics <http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/arp/stats-02.html&gt;

[2] Janet Phillips and Harriet Spinks, ‘Boat Arrivals in Australia since 1976’ (2010) Background Note, Appendix A <http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/BoatArrivals.htm&gt; at 14 August 2010.

[3] See comments by Australian Immigration Minister Senator Chris Evans: Australian Visa Bureau, ‘Most Australian visa overstayers ‘are English lads’ (Media Release, 22 October 2009).

[4] Ibid.

[5] Data sources:

  1. DIAC (2009) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2008-09 Edition, p 2.
  2. DIAC (2008) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2007-08 Edition, p 2.
  3. DIAC (2007) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2006-07 Edition, p 3.
  4. DIAC (2006) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2005-06 Edition, p 3.
  5. DIAC (2005) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2004-05 Edition p 3.
  6. DIAC (2004) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2003-04 Edition, p 3.
  7. DIAC (2003) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2002-03 Edition, p 3.
  8. DIAC (2002) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2001 Edition, p 3.
  9. DIAC (2000) Population Flows: Immigration Aspects 2000 Edition, p 2.
  10. ABS, ‘Overseas migration makes up half out population growth’ (Media Release, 24 February 1999).

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Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #6: ‘Boat people’ are queue jumpers

But moving forward also means we must agree on the organising principles for developing policy. I submit we can agree on these principles: […] That no one should have an unfair advantage and be able to subvert orderly migration programs[1]

Prime Minister Julia Gillard, 6 July 2010

[Before you read this post, click here for a graphic that attempts to explain the onshore and offshore components of Australia’s refugee program.]

Reality:
The perception of boat people as ‘queue jumpers’ is the most pervasive and flawed discourse shaping public opinion of, and public policy responses to, unauthorised boat arrivals in Australia. This FQI appears to stem from the misinterpretation of the onshore and offshore components of Australia’s refugee program. The policy of successive Australian governments to retain the link between the onshore and offshore components of the refugee program, has served to perpetuate this misinterpretation.

A good starting point is an explanation of the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker. A refugee is a person who, ‘owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of [her] nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail [herself] of the protection of that country’.[2] Recognition of someone as a refugee confers upon that person legal status under Australian law in the form of a permanent (protection) visa. An asylum seeker is a person outside her home country seeking protection. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker. Australia has a domestic procedure for recognising asylum seekers as refugees through the grant of a protection visa.[3] In Australia, an asylum seeker is someone whose protection visa application has not been finalised. The definition of a refugee requires a person seeking protection to have crossed an international border. Therefore, the refugee protection regime is necessarily ‘international’.

The Refugee Convention is the agreement, which Australia has signed and implemented in its domestic law, that sets out the basic principles of state responsibility vis-à-vis the protection of refugees. Asylum, which is the mechanism that allows an individual to enter a signatory state, authorised or unauthorised, and seek protection, was the system of protection envisaged by this agreement. The prohibitions against (a) returning a refugee to a country where she might be persecuted[4] and (b) punishing the refugee for seeking asylum without authorisation (i.e. showing up inconveniently, unannounced, uninvited, without a visa)[5] are the core principles of this mechanism. Each signatory state retains responsibility for determining its own procedure for determining who is a refugee within the meaning of the Convention. In Australia, the onshore component of the refugee program is the equivalent of asylum. It is the original refugee protection mechanism and it represents an important exception to the rule of ‘orderly migration’. Onshore processing is the fulfillment of the responsibilities Australia agreed to by signing the Refugee Convention.[6]

Because it receives comparatively few asylum seekers, Australia goesbeyond its international obligations to protect the refugees throughresettlement – the offshore component of Australia’s refugee program.[7]Resettlement is a ‘voluntary contribution to the sharing of international responsibility for refugees for whom there is no other durable solution available’[8] usually upon the recommendation of UNHCR.[9] In 2009, out of 15.2 million refugees worldwide, 10.4 million fell within the operational mandate of UNHCR.[10] Of these 10.4 million, UNHCR recommended 128 000 for resettlement. Ultimately, only 84 000, or 0.8% of the refugees in UNHCR’s care, were actually resettled. It is unclear how many of these refugees were resettled in Australia.[11] As an indication, in 2008-2009, Australia resettled 6 499 refugees.[12]

Australia’s resettlement program is generous and deserves praise. Nevertheless, unlike seeking asylum, resettlement is not a right of the individual.[13] A refugee cannot compel a country to resettle her (from abroad) and cannot generally exercise any choice about which country she will go to or when. Moreover, assuming it were possible (and desirable) to resettle every refugee that fell within the mandate of UNHCR,[14] on last year’s figures (number of ‘UNHCR refugees’ and ‘rate’ of resettlement’), it would take approximately 124 years to achieve this goal.[15] Furthermore, resettlement criteria (i.e. who should be resettled) are determined and strictly prioritised by UNHCR.[16]

Since 1996, the Australian government has linked the quota for resettlement (offshore) to asylum (onshore) applications.[17] This policy, peculiar to Australia, encourages divisive rhetoric about “good”, “patient” (offshore) refugees and “bad”, “queue jumping” (onshore) refugees.[18] The policy was intended to ‘improve program management’[19] but it has been widely criticised for undermining the system of asylum and inciting anti-asylum seeker sentiment and community tensions.[20] The fact that the “queue jumper” discourse at least partly finds its basis in government policy is hardly ever recognised in public debate. Lastly, it is worth stating that the government does plan to receive onshore applications – it is neither a “surprise” nor an inconvenience. The oft-cited quota of 13 750 refugees actually represents the total number of refugees Australia will absorb in 2009-2010.[21] Out of this total, the government has only set aside 6 000 places for the resettlement program.[22] It is expected that almost 1/3 of the remaining places will go to asylum seekers.[23]

In summary, asylum (onshore component) and resettlement (offshore component) are distinct expressions of the international protection regime for refugees. Australia’s onshore component is the fulfillment of our international obligations under an agreement we have respected since 1954.[24] Resettlement is a reflection of Australia’s voluntary commitment to collective responsibility for refugee protection. As a liberal, democratic nation[25] Australia can and should implement policies that respect the unique character of asylum and resettlement. Practically, this means that the Australian government should delink the quota for resettlement (offshore) from asylum (onshore) to stop perpetuating the false assumption that asylum seekers are ‘queue jumpers’.


[1] Julia Gillard, ‘Moving Australia Forward’ (Speech delivered at the Lowy Institute, Sydney, 6 July 2010), p. 6.

[2] Migration Act 1958 (Cth) s 36 incorporates the definition of a refugee enshrined in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 28 July 1951, 189 UNTS 137, art 1A(2) (entered into force 22 April 1954), incorporated by reference in the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 31 January 1967, 606 UNTS 267, (entered into force 4 October 1967).

[3] Migration Act 1958 (Cth) s 36. See also, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Seeking Protection’ <http://www.immi.gov.au/refugee/seeking_protection.htm> at 18 August 2010.

[4] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 28 July 1951, 189 UNTS 137, art 33 (entered into force 22 April 1954), incorporated by reference in the United Nations Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, opened for signature 31 January 1967, 606 UNTS 267, (entered into force 4 October 1967).

[5] Ibid, art 31.

[6] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Refugees and Humanitarian Issues: Australia’s Response (2009), p. 16.

[7] Ibid, pp. 16-17.

[8] Paul Power, ‘Which way forward? Refugee, security and the Asia-Pacific’ (Speech delivered at the ALP National Conference Fringe Event, 31 July 2009), p. 3.

[9] There are certain “Special Humanitarian Visas” under which a person can apply from within their home country if they are at risk of persecution or be sponsored by an eligible person from within Australia for resettlement. These visas will not be considered in this post. For more information, see Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Application for an Offshore Humanitarian visa – form 842’, p. 1 <http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/pdf/842.pdf> at 17 August 2010.

[10] UNHCR, 2009 Global Trends: Refugees, Asylum-seekers, Returnees, Internally Displaced and Stateless Persons (2010), p.1. [hyperlink] All the UNHCR figures that follow are drawn from this source.

[11] UNHCR calculates its figures based on a calendar year whereas Australia calculates its figures on a financial year basis.

[12] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Fact Sheet 60 – Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program’ (Last reviewed 4 November 2009) <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm> at 18 August 2010.

[13] UNHCR, ‘Chapter 4: UNHCR Criteria for Determining Resettlement as the Appropriate Solution’ in UNHCR Resettlement Handbook (2004), p 2.

[14] It is not possible to make this assumption because UNHCR envisages several ‘durable solutions’ to crises of displacement of which resettlement is one. The others are voluntary repatriation and local integration. For more information, see UNHCR, ‘Durable Solutions’ <http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49c3646cf8.html> at 18 August 2010.

[15] This calculation was inspired by the Refugee Council of Australia, ‘Myths and Facts About Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ (2010) p. 2 <http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/news&events/rw/2010/3%20-%20Myths%20and%20facts%20about%20refugees%20and%20asylum%20seekers%20media%202010.pdf> at 18 August 2010.

[16] See UNHCR, above n 13.

[17] Power, above n 8, p.3.

[18] Mary Crock, Ben Saul and Azadeh Dastyari, Future Seekers II: Refugees and Irregular Migration in Australia (Leichhardt: The Federation Press, 2006), p18.

[19] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, above n 6, p. 23.

[20] Ibid. See also, Katharine Gelber, ‘A Fair Queue? Australian Public Discourse on Refugees and Immigration’ (2003) 77 Journal of Australian Studies 19.

[21] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, above n 12.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. This forecast is based on the numbers in the first table under Humanitarian Program Figures.

[24] Australia acceded to the 1951 Refugee Convention in 1954 and the 1967 Protocol in 1973.

[25] Savitri Taylor, ‘Liberalism’s asylum dilemma’, Inside Story, 28 October 2009 <http://inside.org.au/liberalisms-asylum-dilemma/> at 18 August 2010.

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Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #5: Refugees receive more welfare benefits than Australian citizens

It is interesting that the Federal Government provides a Single Refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can also get an additional $580. 00 in social Assistance, For a total of $2,470.00. Family of 4 receive $9,880.00 per month. Family of 4 receive yearly $118,685

A single Australian pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Australia for 40 to 50 years, receives only a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees! [1]

Reality:
Refugees (those whose have been recognised by DIAC as refugees and given permanent residency), are entitled to the same benefits as other permanent residents and citizens of Australia, however the normal waiting periods between the granting of permanent residency and eligibility for some benefits are waived.[2] Assistance with finding accommodation and information about services in Australia as well as some  short term trauma counselling in Australia is provided through the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy, which aids refugees for approximately six months, although that can be extended in special circumstances.[3]

For an excellent, and short, report on this topic, see Media Watch’s episode entitled Refugees and Welfare.


[1] An e-mail circulated throughout Canada, Australia and the United States. For examples, see: http://www.topix.com/forum/world/australia/TM0545U0G2M9E5PKO; http://forum.craftmagazines.com.au/showthread.php?t=2172&page=174.

[2] Luke Buckmaster, ‘Australian Government assistance to refugees: fact v fiction’ (2009) Parliamentary Library Background Note, p. 2. <http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/AsylumFacts.pdf> at 17 August 2010.

[3] Ibid.

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Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #4: Asylum seekers receive more welfare benefits than Australian citizens

It is interesting that the Federal Government provides a Single Refugee with a monthly allowance of $1,890.00 and each can also get an additional $580. 00 in social Assistance, For a total of $2,470.00. Family of 4 receive $9,880.00 per month. Family of 4 receive yearly $118,685

A single Australian pensioner who, after contributing to the growth and development of Australia for 40 to 50 years, receives only a monthly maximum of $1,012.00 in old age pension and Guaranteed Income Supplement.

Maybe our pensioners should apply as refugees! [1]

Reality:
The claim that asylum seekers and refugees receive more government assistance than Australian citizens has no basis in fact. The particular argument made above was originally based on one man’s misunderstanding of the support provided by the Canadian government to refugees, and therefore the figures referred to are from Canada, and not Australia.[2]

For asylum seekers (those whose claims for refugee status have not yet been finalized) awaiting claim processing in the community on a bridging visa, the Australian government provides limited support through the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.[3] Generally, an asylum seeker must have been waiting more than six months for resolution of their claim to be eligible.[4] The Scheme is administered by the Red Cross and provides health and welfare services, including income support. In 2008-09, this Scheme cost approximately $2,615.16 per client.[5] By way of comparison, a single Australian student living out of home in a share house in 2010 is eligible for a minimum of $13,067.00 per year,[6] and (excluding the pension supplement) a single age pensioner is eligible for $ 16,749.20 per year.[7]

This group of asylum seekers may also be eligible for professional assistance with preparing a protection visa application, while work rights and temporary eligibility for Medicare depend on the type of bridging visa granted to an asylum seeker as they await resolution of their claim. The benefits are not automatic.

No financial or health assistance (apart from the medical services provided in the detention facilities) is available to those who arrive in Australia without a valid visa (by boat or otherwise) and are in mandatory detention. Limited immigration advice and application assistance is available for ‘disadvantaged persons’.[8]


[1] An e-mail circulated throughout Canada, Australia and the United States. For examples, see: http://www.topix.com/forum/world/australia/TM0545U0G2M9E5PKO; http://forum.craftmagazines.com.au/showthread.php?t=2172&page=174.

[2] Luke Buckmaster, ‘Australian Government assistance to refugees: fact v fiction’ (2009) Parliamentary Library Background Note, p. 2. <http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/bn/sp/AsylumFacts.pdf> at 17 August 2010.

[3] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Commonwealth of Australia, “Fact Sheet 62 – Assistance for Asylum Seekers in Australia”, updated 1 March 2010.  <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/62assistance.htm> at 17 August 2010.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Centrelink, Commonwealth of Australia. Last updated 1 July 2010. <www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/internet.nsf/payments/ya_rates.htm> at 17 August 2010.

[7] Centrelink, Commonwealth of Australia. Last updated 5 July 2010.  <http://www.centrelink.gov.au/internet/internet.nsf/payments/age_rates.htm> at 17 August 2010.

[8] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Commonwealth of Australia, “Fact Sheet 63 – Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme”. Last updated 23 June 2010. <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/63advice.htm> at 17 August 2010.

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Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #3: Asylum seekers are a threat to national security

If you wanted to get into Australia and you have bad [terrorist] intentions, what do you do? …You insert yourself in a crowd of 100 for which there is great sympathy for the other 99.

Wilson Tuckey MP, 22 October 2009

Reality:
The claim that terrorists pose as asylum seekers in order to gain entry into Australia has, unfortunately, become a feature of the political rhetoric on the issue since the MV Tampa Affair in 2001. It is a claim that ignores key facts in making an automatic link between terrorists and refugees. Some of these are:

  • modern terrorists groups have significant resources and capabilities;[1]
  • the Refugee Convention definition, required to be met by asylum seekers to obtain a protection visa specifically excludes persons in respect of whom there are serious reasons for considering they have been involved in serious crimes[2];
  • The Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC)[3] and the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation (ASIO)[4] perform extensive security checks in addition to the long and complex process of assessing asylum seekers’ claims for protection;
  • all asylum seekers who arrive without a valid visa, including all asylum seekers arriving by boat and some who arrive by plane, are subject to mandatory detention.[5]

Terrorists would not likely submit themselves to rigorous, complex and lengthy scrutiny by the governments of countries they may be seeking to attack. Nor would a terrorist likely endure long periods of mandatory detention or dangerous sea voyages in leaky boats. Indeed, Australia’s national strategic blueprint for counterterrorism does not even mention the possibility of terrorists posing as asylum seekers.[6] The automatic association of asylum seekers and terrorists ignores these important facts.


[1] In the United States, the bipartisan 9/11 Commission charged with investigating the 2001 attacks in Washington and New York described ‘the enemy’ as “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal”. None of the 9/11 attackers entered the U.S as asylum seekers; they either had legitimate immigration documents or forged documents.

[2] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as amended by the 1967 Protocol, opened for signature 31 January 1967, art 1F, (entered into force 10 April 1967).

[3] DIAC, ‘Character and Penal Clearance Requirements’ <http://www.immi.gov.au/allforms/character-requirements/> at 14 August 2010.

[4] ASIO, ‘What we do’ (2010) <http://www.asio.gov.au/About-ASIO/What-We-Do.html> at 14 August 2010.

[5] DIAC, ‘Fact Sheet 82 – Immigration Detention’ (2010) <http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/82detention.htm> at 14 August 2010.

[6] Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Counter-Terrorism White Paper: Securing Australia – Protecting our Community (February 2010) <http://www.dpmc.gov.au/publications/counter_terrorism/index.cfm> at 14 August 2010

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Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #2: Australia is being swamped by ‘boat people’

If I could just say a few words on border protection. The Rudd Government has completely lost control of our borders. We’ve had more than 100 boats, we’ve had over four thousand unauthorised arrivals. Before Mr Rudd changed the Government’s policy, there were three boats a year. Now we are getting three boats a week.[1]

Keeping people in detention, turning around boats, holding people overseas and denying refugees permanent residency are hardly high-minded polices but they might be necessary to prevent a form of peaceful invasion.[2]

Tony Abbott, Leader of the Opposition

Reality:
The fear of a “peaceful invasion” by ‘boat people’ is unsupported.

In 2008-09, there were 13 507 visas granted under Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program.[3] According to the DIAC, “[t]he vast majority of these people came to Australia on valid visas as part of our dedicated offshore refugee resettlement program or were proposed as special humanitarian program entrants – largely, they were not asylum seekers onshore in Australia or irregular maritime arrivals.”[4]

The rate of arrival of ‘boat people’ is a mere trickle compared to the “tsunami” forecast by some.[5] At the current rate of arrival, it would take 30 years to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground with asylum seekers who arrive by boat.[6] Furthermore, the Australian government strictly controls the number of refugees it accepts from UNHCR for resettlement. The overwhelming majority of people who arrive in Australia by boat are assessed as legitimate refugees and are therefore incorporated into Australia’s annual refugee quota of 13,750.[7]

This graphic was created by Tim Bennett: http://electronsoup.net/

The number of asylum applications lodged in Australia remains incredibly small in comparison to other industrialised countries. Of the 377 160 asylum applications received in 2009 across 44 industrialised countries analysed by the UNHCR, Australia received 6 170 applications (1.6 per cent).[8] This number is small in comparison to the USA (49 000), France (42 000) and Canada (33 300).[9] Of the countries in the study, “Australia was ranked 16th overall and was 21st on a per capita basis.”[10]

The largest number of new asylum seekers between 2005 and 2009 were received by the USA, France, the UK Canada and Sweden.[11] The first three of these countries received one-third of all asylum requests.[12] By region, Europe has consistently received the largest number of asylum claims (286 700 in 2009) followed by the USA and Canada (82 300 in 2009).[13] Australia and New Zealand received only 6 500 claims combined in 2009.[14] These figures indicate that due to the geographical position of the region the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia and New Zealand will always be small compared with refugee migration in other parts of the world.


[1] Tony Smith MP, Interview with Tony Abbott (Joint Doorstep Interview on “CCTV cameras and crime; Kevin Rudd’s failed border protection policies”, 31 March 2010).

[2] Tony Abbott, The Australian Peaceful Asylum Invasion (16 October 2009) [Blog] <http://www.tonyabbott.com.au/LatestNews/Blog/tabid/91/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/7140/THE-AUSTRALIAN-PEACEFUL-ASYLUM-INVASION.aspx> at 14 August 2010.

[3] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Annual Report 2008-09 (2010) 85 <http://www.immi.gov.au/about/reports/annual/2008-09/pdf/outcome1.pdf&gt; at 14 August 2010.

[4] Email from Cian Manton (National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Citizenship) to Sashka Koloff (Journalist, ABC) (22 October 2009).

[5] Leigh Sales, Interview with Joe Hockey (Television Interview, 13 July 2010).

[6] Julian Burnside, ‘Abbott ignorant on boat arrivals’, The Age (Melbourne), 9 April 2010.

[7] Peter Van Onselen, Who’s afraid of 4500 boatpeople? (3 April 2010) The Australian <http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/whos-afraid-of-4500-boatpeople/story-e6frg6zo-1225849056560> at 14 August 2010; Mary Crock et al, Future Seekers II: Refugees and Irregular Migration in Australia (2006), p. 63 note that “In 1999-2000, for example, 84% of primary application for protection by those in detention were successful. In contrast, only 5% of people who sought refugee status from within the community – these are people who arrived in Australia on a valid visa – succeeded in their primary claims.”

[8] Janet Phillips, Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts? (2010) Parliament of Australia: Parliamentary Library <http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/BN/sp/AsylumFacts.htm#_Toc260732952&gt; at 2 August 2010.

[9] UNHCR, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries 2009: Statistical Overview of Asylum Applications Lodged in Europe and Selected Non-European Countries (23 March 2010), < http://www.unhcr.org/49c796572.html >

[10] Refugee Council of Australia, ‘Australia Makes Modest Contribution to Protecting Victims of Persecution’ (Media Release, 24 March 2010) < http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/releases/2010/100324%20RCOA%20response%20to%20UNHCR%20stats.pdf >

[11] UNHCR, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries 2009: Statistical Overview of Asylum Applications Lodged in Europe and Selected Non-European Countries (23 March 2010) < http://www.unhcr.org/49c796572.html >

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

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