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

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:

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] <> at 14 August 2010.

[3] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Annual Report 2008-09 (2010) 85 <; 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 <> 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 <; 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), < >

[10] Refugee Council of Australia, ‘Australia Makes Modest Contribution to Protecting Victims of Persecution’ (Media Release, 24 March 2010) < >

[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) < >

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.



Filed under Frequently Quoted Inaccuracies (FQIs)

27 responses to “Frequently Quoted Inaccuracy #2: Australia is being swamped by ‘boat people’

  1. Naomi Dusheiko

    Well done, but will the ignorant read these?

  2. Danielle

    Thank you for this website! I have been waging my own small war on the lies spread about this issue with family and friends and this is just fantastic information presented clearly and concisely. Well done!

  3. Nick

    Please post Aust Gov cost per person to ‘manage’ refugee arrivals vs costs per ‘management’ of overstayers etc – I am interested in what the political ‘boat people’ agenda is costing the tax payer – the various coast watch contracts, customs, Navy, Dept of immigration off shore processing, detention etc vs ‘registration and release’ – do not include health check costs as they are applied to all applicants (if poss to seperate) – to quote Obi Wan ‘I have a bad feeling about this’

  4. Nina

    What a great initiative! Finally someone being calm and compassionate!

    • Mish

      This is an amazing initiative and I applaud you in your efforts.

      I, for one, am tired of the inaccurate statements about so called “boat people” that Tony Abbott and his colleagues continue to use in their desperate attempt to win votes.

      The people of Australia deserve to know the truth and not be brainwashed into believing that “boat people” are a threat to our society.

  5. Sab

    I cannot possibly convey how incredibly long overdue and much needed this information is. This is the most fantastic initiative.

  6. Patriot

    Why should my taxes pay for illegal immigrants? If you want to roll out the red carpet to these boats then it is you that should pay the costs – in full, not me.

    And quit bashing on Abbot, he’s a “true blue Aussie”! Seriously, you’re worst than the “whinging poms” from the 50/60’s.

  7. Edmond Atalla

    What I don’t understand is how can someone who arrives here by boat claim to be an asylum seeker, when we know that Australia is not the first safe haven they have reached, in fact its the last.

    We know that many of the boat people travel by plane first (with a valid passport) to several countries first and then throw away their identification and travel by boat to Australia.

    If these people are real refugees, then why don’t they present themselves to the United Nations at the first safe haven country they reach? they would then be properly assessed for refugee status. Why do they need to jump the que??

    Why would they risk a dangerous boat trip without any identification? There is definitely something missing in the logic of this whole thing????

  8. Nadine

    Good work. This website is long overdue. If only we could educate people on the realities of refugees and not the hype that the majority of Australian’s seem to believe. It saddens me to hear people have no compassion for people who have come from situations im sure alot of us could not imagine let alone survive.

    • Lynne Chapman

      Edmond, “Why would they risk a dangerous boat trip without any identification?”. You make a good point! Clearly only those who feel they have no other option. If refugee camps were wonderful places to live people would be happy to go there! The world is not as black and white as you (and most of australia) have the privilege of viewing it while living in a safe country like Australia.

      • Edmond Atalla

        What I don’t understand is that the majority of those now travelling by boat are males. I understand that they leave their families behind until such time as they are accepted as refugees, then they sponsor their families in.

        Now this is my dilemma, if the situation is so bad in their country and very unsafe, how is it that they can leave behind their loved ones for almost 2 years??

  9. Lynne Chapman

    I can think of heaps of reasons. Maybe they can’t afford to get their whole family on the boat, maybe they feel better leaving their families in a situation where, although unsafe, the danger is known, rather than taking them into potentially more dangerous unknown situations (leaky boats etc), the process of escape itself could quite likely be more dangerous than staying put, perhaps they feel they will have more success setting up in a new country alone with fewer mouths to feed?

    • Edmond Atalla

      If what you are saying that its more safe to leave the family behind than to take them on an unsafe boat trip, then surely its got to be more safe for the males to stay behind as well … so one has to ask, are refugees escaping their country are escaping danger or are they seeking a better life in a new country. If its the latter, then we have an immigration program that deals with this!!

  10. Hi Edmond and Lynne

    In the next two days we’ll be exploring whether asylum seekers are queue jumpers, the role of people smuggling in the debate and the ‘documentation issue’. Hopefully some of those posts will be helpful.

    It’s important to remember that we make a lot of assumptions when we talk about peoples’ reasons for fleeing and seeking asylum. Peoples’ reasons are potentially as diverse as the number of people. This discussion requires more research and we hope to address ‘the journey’ as part of the future of the project but this will take time!

    There are no simple answers to these questions and no simple policy ‘solutions’! Let’s all keep an open mind and not rush to conclusions.



  11. Paul B

    Western counties need to start looking after themselves before they too become third worls swamps

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