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

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’ <> at 14 August 2010.

[4] ASIO, ‘What we do’ (2010) <> at 14 August 2010.

[5] DIAC, ‘Fact Sheet 82 – Immigration Detention’ (2010) <> at 14 August 2010.

[6] Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, The Counter-Terrorism White Paper: Securing Australia – Protecting our Community (February 2010) <> at 14 August 2010



Filed under Frequently Quoted Inaccuracies (FQIs)

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

  1. Edmond Atalla

    While the thought of terrorists does cross one’s mind as those who come here by boat are not in any way identified and authorities have to take it for granted to believe who they say they are!!

    This thought has been strengthened by the fact that a terrorist was apprehended in Indonesia not long ago while attempting to come to Australia by boat. The question now is, how many have not been apprehended and are now walking in our community??

    The real issue I have with the boat asylum people is not the threat of terrorism, but the threat of imposing on us a culture that may not be compatible with our Australian way of life.

    Are refugees assessed for culture adaptability, or is this waived when they arrive by boat??

    • Yoga Balakrishnan


      Australia is still populated predominantly by white people and dominated by the western culture. All you have to do is turn on the TV to see how westernised it is… and you don’t even have to watch the shows, you can see through the massive amounts of advertising and the way that they do it. On top of that, 90% of the Australian population is white. I fail to see how the odd asylum seeker here and there (yes literally since asylum seekers that come here consist of a few thousand out of millions across the world, around 1 or 2% I think) is going to influence millions of white people and change “the Australian way of life”.

      • Edmond Atalla


        Unfortunately with all our political correctness, sometimes the minority have a stronger voice than the majority. Just look at the number of public institutions that have stopped celebrating Xmas because it may offend some groups … this is just one example of many. That’s why I say that cultural adaptation has to be a key factor in any migration intake (not just those arriving by boat)

  2. Elizabeth Mathews

    I think it’s also important to note here that not a single asylum seeker who has arrived by boat in Australia has ever been charged with terrorism offences.

    • Edmond Atalla


      Your statement is not entirly correct, I quote the following:

      “ASIO is understood to have concerns about a number of Tamils who arrived by boat in the middle of last year. Five Tamils deemed threats to national security have had adverse security assessments issued against them.”


      • Elizabeth Mathews

        Yes, some have had adverse security assessments made against them, but that is an entirely different issue to being guilty of terrorist offences. Adverse security assessments can involve any number of factors (as was evident from the Mohammed Haneef case) which would not necessarily involve the person committing any terrorist offences.

        In short, someone who has an adverse security assessment made against them (the reasons for which are never made known, even to the person they concern) cannot be called a terrorist.

      • Edmond Atalla

        So if adverse security assessments issued against someone is not good enough and should not count, perhaps we should wait until a terror act occurs and someone is charged before we take any action!!

  3. Elizabeth Mathews


    I understand your concern, but I think the issue here is that no-one knows what an “adverse security assessment” means. What does a person have to have done to receive such an assessment? If it could be something as simple as leaving a spare sim card with a relative that later, unbeknownst to you, was used in a terrorist action, does that mean that the person who gave their relative a sim card is a security risk? Should that preclude them from being given a visa to live in Australia? As far as I am aware, an adverse assessment does not necessarily mean someone has committed or has even considered committing an offence. Please let me know if you have accurate information to the contrary.

    The secondary issue is that I would like to clarify that I was just pointing out that some people assume that those who come by boat are more likely to be terrorists than other immigrants, when in fact that has never been found to be the case, and that I was not suggesting that security screenings should not occur. Those who come as asylum seekers are no more or less dangerous than any other applicants for visas, and should not be treated with any greater or lesser suspicion than those other applicants.

  4. marwa shabbar


    I find the term ‘Australian way of life’ or Australian Culture is amusing because whenever someone refers to this terms they don’t mean the Aboriginal way of life or their culture even though they are the only people who can truly make such a statement. So what is Australia’s way of life exactly? What is Australia’s culture? A century of oppression, rape, slavery and murder??? I bet no one mentiones these terms when they talk about Australia’s culture and I bet no asylum seeker wants to be part of this culture so yes maybe we should have a compatibility check where we ask people if they are sickened by the the Australian people reaction to the stolen generation or by the fact that only 3 years ago did the government apologise for their acts. People are so high and mighty about the Australian way of life when the history of that culture which was made at the expense of thousands of innocents blood is gut turning.

    Asylum seekers are allowed to be who ever they are and celebrate whatever they want because that’s what the new Australia is about – Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of association. We banished the Aboriginal culture and didn’t shed a tear and now we are so defensive about people banishing the “Australian Culture”

    what goes around comes around

  5. Pingback: Asylum Seeker – My Speech | miajolane

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