Refugees Year 11 Issue
Learning Objective: To develop a broad understanding of the key terms, ideas and issues associated with refugees and Australia. Source: Parliament of Australia “Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?” by Janet Phillips. This complete document is available as a link on the wiki under “refugee resources”.
Key Terms UNHCR Refugee Economic Migrant Asylum Seeker
UNHCR The United Nations body responsible for protecting refugees and overseeing adherence to the Refugee Convention is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Refugee The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as: Any person who owing to a 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 his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.
Economic Migrant A person who leaves their country voluntarily to seek a better life. Should they elect to return home, they would receive protection from their government. The term “refugee” does not cover these people, even if they have left because of war, famine, natural disasters etc.
Asylum Seeker An asylum seeker is a person who is seeking protection as a refugee and is still waiting to have his/her claim assessed. The Refugee Convention definition is used by the Australian Government to determine whether our country has protection obligations towards asylum seekers. If an asylum seeker who has reached Australia is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under international law to offer protection and to ensure that refugee is not sent back unwillingly to a place in which they may be persecuted.
Asylum seekers are not “illegals” Universal Declaration of Human Rights – Everyone has the right to seek asylum and the 1951 Refugee convention prohibits states imposing penalties on those who come from a territory where their life is threatened.
Asylum seekers do not break any laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation. Australian law makes these allowances because it is not always safe or practical for asylum seekers to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels. Asylum seekers irrespective of how they arrive, without a valid visa, are classified by Australian law to be “unlawful non-citizens”. However, this term does not mean that asylum seekers have committed a criminal offence. There is not offence under Australian law that criminalises the act of arriving in Australia or the seeking of asylum without a valid visa.
The term “illegal” may more appropriately apply to those without a valid visa (“unlawful non citizens”) who are not seeking protection, such as visa overstayers. As at 30 June 2011, it was estimated that there were about 58,400 visa overstayers residing in Australia.
Methods of arrival Most asylum seekers applying for protection in Australia arrive by air with a valid visa and then apply for asylum at a later date, while living in the community. More recently, proportions of those arriving IMA (Irregular Maritime Arrival – “boat people”) and non-IMA (air arrival) has increased. However, boat arrivals still only comprise of about half of Australia’s onshore asylum seekers.
Are they queue jumping? There is no orderly queue for asylum seekers to join. Only a very small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR and only one percent of those who meet the UNHCR criteria are subsequently resettled into another country. As the number of asylum applications rises, states are increasingly taking responsibility for refugee status determination.
Air and boat arrivals Though the focus of much public and political attention, those who arrive by boat are actually far more likely to be recognised as refugees than those who arrive by air. E.g. The protection visa grant rate for the top country of citizenship for boat arrivals (Afghanistan) has varied between 80-95% since 2009. In contrast, the same visa rate for those applying for asylum from the top country for air arrivals (China) is usually around 20-30%. Dr Khalid Koser... “it means that arguable Australia is worrying about the wrong asylum seekers. Whereas the majority arriving by boat are refugees, the majority arriving by air are not”.
Is Australia being swamped by asylum seekers? Worldwide, the most asylum claims are lodged in Europe (particularly France and Germany), the USA and Canada. In 2011 the largest number of asylum claims was the USA with 74000. France had 51900. Germany had 45700. In contrast, Australia had 11500. The vast majority of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers are hosted in developing countries.
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