Shifting the Asylum Debate: What of ‘Push Factors?’

In 2010 a total of 845,800 asylum claims were lodged worldwide; of this amount South Africa received 180,600, the United States received 54,300 and France received 48,100.[1] Australia received 5,873 asylum claims.[2] Despite the relatively few asylum seekers that Australia receives, the issue is a political hot topic.

The current debate regarding asylum seekers has focused primarily on so-called ‘pull factors’; the reasons why people are seeking asylum specifically in Australia and how policy can “break the people smuggler’s business model”[3]. The government has repeatedly implemented policies aimed at deterring asylum seeker arrivals. From the Howard government’s Pacific Solution[4] to more recent developments- the Malaysia Solution[5] and the proposed re- opening of Manus Island detention facility in Papua New Guinea[6]– Australian policy has essentially aimed to make Australia appear an undesirable destination for irregular maritime arrivals.

However, there has been a severe lack of political recognition of ‘push factors’; understanding why people are forced to flee their country of origin and seek asylum in another. Regardless of an asylum seeker’s mode of arrival, desperate circumstances compel individuals and families to flee their home. The government can implement as many hardline, vote- grabbing policies as possible but the fact remains that whilst there is oppression and conflict in the world, asylum seekers will exist.

Listed below are the top ten countries of origin from which Australia receives asylum seekers. The purpose of this component of the digest will be to detail the issues within these countries that would force people to flee. This is not simply a humanitarian perspective designed to evoke empathy, but a practical look at why there is mass displacement around the globe and how the human consequences arrive on Australia’s doorstep.

Top 10 Populations of Origin of Asylum Applicants to Australia 2010

Country of Origin Total Number Percentage
Afghanistan 1,262 21.49%
China 1,180 20.09%
Sri Lanka 585 9.96%
Fiji 545 9.28%
Islamic Rep. of Iran 459 7.82%
Pakistan 433 7.37%
India 408 6.95%
Iraq 379 6.45%
Egypt 328 5.58%
Zimbabwe 294 5.01%

Data compiled from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2011. Asylum Levels in Industrialised Countries 2010. Division of Programme Support and Management.

Next Month, we’ll be looking at Afghanistan.

Danielle McKeen


[1] UNHCR. 2011. Global Trends 2011. Division of Programme Support and Management.

[2] United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 2011. Asylum Levels in Industrialised Countries 2010. Division of Programme Support and Management.

[3] Prime Minister Julia Gillard, quoted in a radio interview with Sabra Lane, AM, 23/08/2011.

[4] See Human Rights Watch. 2002. ‘By Invitation Only: Australian Asylum Policy’; Magner, T. 2004. ‘A Less than ‘Pacific’ Solution for Asylum Seekers in Australia’ International Journal of Refugee Law, 16(1): 53- 90.

[6] See Amnesty International, 20 August 2011. Manus Island ‘as bad as Nauru’; ABC News, 23 August 2011. Rights group slams Manus Island deal.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Shifting the Asylum Debate: What of ‘Push Factors?’

  1. Pingback: August 2011 | The Asylum & Refugee Law Project

  2. Anina

    How many times does this information have to be made public before redneck Australia and the shock jocks see it? Our problems are so few compared to other countries.

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