Some Australia and asylum-seekers mythbusting

Australians are bombarded by political messages, promoted by insufficiently questioning and informing media outlets, that the refugees are a serious problem facing Australia, that asylum-seekers are to be feared, loathed, and turned back.

None of these things are borne out by the facts. None of these things should be allowed to stand by by free-thinking Australians.

Let’s address the top ten myths in Australia about refugees and asylum-seekers.

Note: While all figures in this blog can vary from year to year, they do not vary by much and are certainly always of a similar order.

Myth 1: Australia is being swamped by refugees

REALITY: The number of people arriving in Australia to claim asylum has risen in the last several years – despite extraordinary leaps in spending on border protection and offshore processing – by more than a third last year to 15,800 people, but Australia’s asylum seeker numbers, while politically hot and seemingly sensitive, remain numerically extremely small.

Remember that Australia is one of the hardest-to-reach countries in the world. The VAST majority of people looking to find asylum from persecution do NOT choose Australia.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says in 2010 that Australia received only 2.2% of the total asylum claims made in the 44 industrialised countries around the world.

By comparison, asylum levels in Australia continue to remain far below those recorded by many other industrialised and non-industrialised countries.

So how do we compare for asylum applications to those other industrialised nations with which we often compare ourselves (Sweden, Canada, France, US, UK, and Germany), for instance? In 2010, when our numbers were at their highest for many years we received only quarter of the number of applications received by Sweden, a country of only 9 million people, one fifth of those received by Germany, only around 17% of those received by France, and a third of those received by Canada. Australia is FAR from holding its own in industrialised company.  In other years, such as 2008, 2009 etc, we are well down in the 10-15% range of the numbers of asylum seekers of ‘similar’ middle income and high income destinations.

Myth 2: Australia is a magnet compared to other countries

REALITY: Nearly half a million – 493,000 – asylum claims were lodged in industrialised countries in 2012. Of this total, Europe received 355,000 asylum seeker claims, while the US and Canada combined received 103,000.

Major conflicts around the world are the greatest source of refugees. The conflict in Syria has unleashed on the world a eeugee exodus in the millions. Before that, Iraq was a major global source. As well as Afghanistan, which emitted 2.7 million refugees across 71 countries.

However, as with all such conflicts, the refugees flee on foot, and in far-from-robust vehicles, so they do not go far. More than 95 per cent of Afghan refugees are in neighbouring Pakistan and Iran. The vast majority of Syrian refugees are in neighbouring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon.

If one maintains the completely unsustainable position that Australia is a magnet, we are only the 47th ranked magnet in the world!

So then who are the magnet countries?

The ‘Top Ten’ magnets for refugees, in descending order of magnetism, are: Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Germany, Jordan, Kenya, Chad, China, USA, and the UK.

Remember: Australia is 37 places further down the charts.

Myth 3: Australia takes more asylum seekers because we’re a rich, First World country

REALITY: According to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, the reverse is true. And he is certainly true.

“The burden of helping the world’s forcibly displaced people is starkly uneven,” he said. “Poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialised countries, developing nations host more than 80% of the world’s refugees.”

Refugees are overwhelmingly hosted by DEVELOPING countries, NOT rich, ‘attractive’ countries like Australia.

Myth 4: They’re illegal, queue jumping undesirables

REALITY: Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are neither engaging in illegal activity, nor are they immigrants.There is nothing at all illegal about those who arrive in Australia by boat. They have broken no laws.

The UN Refugee Convention (to which Australia is – although it is hard to be sure at times – a signatory) recognises that refugees have a right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel or identity documents.It should be thus. If there was war in Australia, we would all want, and probably make use of, that right to find shelter where there was no war. Who wouldn’t? Asylum-seekers are doing what many Australians would do if we had war in Australia.

Australian law specifically permits unauthorised entry into Australia for the purposes of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers do NOT break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation.

Australia has a proud history of boat people and other asylum seekers becoming good citizens.

Myth 5: Most asylum seekers come by boat

REALITY: Statistics from 2008 showed at least 13 asylum seekers arrive through Australian airports EVERY DAY, more than 32 times the number of boat people supposedly ”flooding” across our maritime borders in that year.

A total of 4768 ”plane people”, more than 96 per cent of applicants for refugee status, arrived in that year on legitimate (but often obtained with fraudulent intent) tourist, business and other visas – compared with 161 who arrived by boat during the same period.

While the national media headlines, and the mouths of politicians, play up the ‘boat people’ threat, asylum-seekers coming by boat numbered just 3% (!!!) of those coming with the likes of QANTAS and Cathay Pacific.

While boat numbers have increased, still around 93% of asylum seekers who arrived by boat were found to be genuine refugees.

In comparison, those who arrived by plane – coming with valid, but often fraudulently obtained visas – despite being eligible for release into the community and not having to face years of detention on Nauru or Manus Island – were almost twice as likely to be rejected as refugees.

Only around 40% of asylum seekers who arrive at our airports – even though they are not incarcerated, turned around, or detained in tent camps on grim islands – are found to be genuine refugees.

Myth 6: Asylum seekers are taking Australian jobs

REALITY: The Federal Government released 16,000 asylum seekers into the community as they wait for their refugee claims to be processed. They receive about $220 a week from Centrelink, most of which goes towards rent and food, but they are on bridging visas which stipulate that they’re not allowed to get jobs. Nearly half of those asylum seekers are subject to the government’s “no advantage” rule, which means they could be in this limbo for many years.

Most asylum seekers want to work and will take jobs other Australians don’t want to do, report refugee agencies, but their visa conditions make work illegal.

Asylum-seekers do NOT take Australian jobs.

Refugees, once resettled in Australia, are Australia. So it is not possible to carry the argument they take Australian jobs. However, often just through lack of options, resettled refugees may tend towards low-paying and dirty/dangerous/degrading work, such as fruit-picking. If there should be anyone complaining about resettled refugees in Australia taking jobs, it might only be the Swedish backpackers on working holidays.

Myth 7: People from war torn countries cause problems

REALITY: According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the number of settlers – people entitled to permanent residence, including people arriving in Australia on humanitarian programs – between July 2010 and June 2011 came from more than 200 countries and totaled 127,460.

Most were born in one of the following four countries:

• New Zealand (20.2 per cent)

• China (11.5 per cent)

• United Kingdom (8.6 per cent)

• India (8.3 per cent)

Myth 8: Refugees don’t assimilate or contribute

REALITY: Refugees have been coming to Australia for decades and the first big wave of boat people, from Vietnam in the 1970s, have proven to be successful migrants who have assimilated and added much to Australian society. After surviving perilous journeys by their courage and strength, these people epitomise the qualities admired and rewarded in Australian society.

Historically, refugees have contributed to the economic, civil and social fabric of Australian life and their success can be found in all fields of endeavour, and marked by their presence on the New Year and Queen’s birthday honours lists. If you care to do the research, you will find former refugees whose faces you definitely know, and admire.

Myth 9: Numbers are booming because Australia lacks tough border protection policies

REALITY: In 2007, the total population of asylum seekers, refugees and internationally displaced persons of concern to the UNHCR was estimated at 31.7 million people. By the end of 2011, the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide exceeded 42 million and the number of asylum applications in 2011 was also the highest for almost a decade. The reason for the increase in numbers represents the upsurge in people affected by affected by war, military and social upheaval and human rights abuses, which is reflected in the fact Afghanistan continues to provide the most asylum seekers of any country in the world, with 36,600 last year, followed by the Syrian Arab Republic, Serbia, China and Pakistan.

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, “most people do not wish to leave their homes, families, friends and everything they know and hold dear. They do so as a last resort, to escape persecution and find safety and security for themselves and their families”.

The cost to Australian taxpayers of border protection – many billions of dollars per annum – far exceeds the cost to Australia of refugees. Border protection can never work as either a deterrent or a solution to border arrivals.

As border protection spending over recent years has increased dramatically, out of sight, border arrivals by both boat and plane continue to increase.

Myth 10: We can just turn the boats back

REALITY: Wherever they come from, most boat people ARE genuine refugees fleeing persecution and conflict. The boats aboard are often in poor condition, and turning them around will cause deaths among them.

And will do nothing to deter future embarkations. To assert that turning boats back deters further boats is simply demonstrating a complete lack of understanding for the nature of the issue.

Moreover, most boats arriving in Australia use Indonesia as a launching point for Australian waters. Indonesia’s president has indicated towing boats back into Indonesian waters is not an option.

It is also unlawful – not to mention immoral – for Australia to do it.

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