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Government must stop deception and do more to protect Iraqis

The Australian Government must stop trying to deceive Australians about its recent cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and start acting to increase protection options for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Read more here.

Welfare system review needs greater focus on humanitarian entrants

The Federal Government review of Australia's welfare system must pay more attention to addressing barriers faced by refugees and humanitarian entrants. Read more here.

MPs hear community concerns about weakening protection against race hate

RCOA today welcomed the Australian Government's decision not to proceed with changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Read more here.

Refugee Council appalled by claims of cruelty to children in detention

RCOA said it was appalled by allegations made today at a national inquiry which if true amounted to the systemic abuse of children. Read more here.

Independent guardian needed to protect interests of child asylum seekers

RCOA has welcomed the release of a new report that recommends the replacement of the Immigration Minister as the guardian of unaccompanied asylum seeker children. Read more here.

Allowing Indian consular access to asylum seekers ignores protection claims

Australia's decision to grant Indian consular officials access to 157 asylum seekers without testing their claims for refugee protection creates a troubling precedent. Read more here.

Government removes Refugee Council's core funding

The Australian Government has completely cut core funding to RCOA despite allocating $140,000 just two weeks ago in its 2014-15 Budget. Read more here.

Child asylum seekers locked up at higher rate than adults

Child asylum seekers are more likely than their adult counterparts to be held in Australia in a locked detention facility than in community alternatives. Read more here.

Australia's answers on return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka unsatisfactory

RCOA has demanded Australia explain what has happened to 41 asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka and what guarantees were given about their safety. Read more here.

RCOA backs call for independent observer for screening process

RCOA has endorsed a call for an independent observer to be present during the interviews of asylum seekers under enhanced screening. Read more here.

Lives on the line under proposed changes to Migration Act

RCOA has expressed alarm at proposed changes to the Migration Act 1958 which will significantly increase the risk of people being returned to danger. Read our media release.

UN High Commissioner criticises Australia's 'strange' obsession with boats

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has described as "very strange" Australia's obsession with deterring asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Read more here.

Cambodian NGOs unite in opposition to Australia's refugee deal

RCOA has welcomed a joint statement issued by a coalition of 21 Cambodian NGOs who oppose the planned refugee resettlement deal between Cambodia and Australia. Read more here.

Running an asylum policy on cruelty leads to deadly consequences

RCOA President Phil Glendenning fears a repeat of the tragic self-immolation of a Tamil asylum seeker in Melbourne unless Australia abandoned its cruel and punitive policy approach. Read more here.

Refugee review changes a matter of life and death for asylum seekers

Proposed legislation aimed at fast-tracking refugee claims will take legal resources away from asylum seekers and hand them to the Australian Government, increasing the risk of vulnerable people being sent back to danger. Read more here.

Critical questions about Manus Island violence remain unanswered

The Australian Government's explanation for February's violence on Manus Island is inadequate and leaves critical questions unanswered. Read more here.

Federal Budget summary 2014-15

RCOA has released a summary of refugee-related spending in the 2014-15 Federal Budget. Read more here.

Detention centre closures must be accompanied by community alternatives

RCOA has welcomed plans to close six immigration detention centres but called for greater use of community arrangements for more than 3000 asylum seekers in detention. Read more here.

Enough is Enough: It's time for a new approach

On the first anniversary of the report on the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, 64 Australian NGOs have called for a new approach to refugee and asylum policy that delivers protection to refugees. Read more here.

 

Promoting the participation of refugees in sporting activities

This report investigates the role of sport in assisting refugee settlement.

 

Boat arrivals

The majority of asylum seekers who seek protection in Australia arrive through authorised channels and with valid visas. Some, however, travel through unauthorised channels without travel documents and may enlist a people smuggler to assist their escape.

Asylum seekers are sometimes forced to flee in this way because it is not always safe or possible for them to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels. Refugees are, by definition, people fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own government. It is often too dangerous for refugees to apply for a passport or exit visa or approach an Australian Embassy for a visa, as this could put their lives, and the lives of their families, at risk. Refugees may also be forced to flee with little notice due to rapidly deteriorating situations and do not have time to apply for travel documents or arrange travel through authorised channels.

In the Asia-Pacific region, very few countries are signatories to the Refugee Convention and therefore have no legal obligation to provide protection to refugees. The average standard of protection for refugees and asylum seekers across the region falls well below international benchmarks, with many lacking access to the most basic of human rights – access to an asylum process, official permission to remain in the country, protection from arbitrary detention and refoulement, the right to support themselves, health care and access to basic education for their children. These conditions frequently drive refugees and asylum seekers to seek protection elsewhere in the hope of finding genuine safety and security.

Fleeing by boat is often very costly and extremely dangerous, and asylum seekers are vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers. It is not a form of escape which would be willingly chosen by asylum seekers if safer options were available.

More likely to be refugees

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat without authorisation are more likely to be found to be refugees than asylum seekers who arrive with valid visas.

In 2010-11, 89.6 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat were found to be refugees, compared to 43.7 per cent of those who arrived with valid visas.

"Illegal" entrants?

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are not acting illegally. The UN Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory) recognises that refugees have a lawful 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. The Convention stipulates that what would usually be considered as illegal actions (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not be treated as illegal if a person is seeking asylum.

In line with our obligations under the Convention, Australian law also 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. This means that it is incorrect to refer to asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation as “illegal” entrants, as they in fact have a lawful right to enter Australia to seek asylum.

Permitting asylum seekers to entry a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency – the action would be ordinarily be considered illegal, but the under the circumstances it's reasonable to make an exception.

Are we being swamped by boat arrivals?

The number of people arriving by boat in Australia is very small. In 2010-11, Australia received 11,491 asylum applications. Less than half of these (5,175) were from asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Over the same period, 2,696 Protection Visas were granted to refugees who arrived by boat. This is just 1.3 per cent of the 213,409 people who migrated to Australia during the year.

Between 2006 to 2011, 14,215 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. Over the same period, more than 9,000 people arrived by boat in Malta, a country of 426,000 people (compared to Australia’s 23 million); and more than 340,000 people arrived by boat in Yemen, a developing country with a GDP per capita of just over US$1,500 (compared to Australia’s GDP per capita of over US$69,000).

The number of people arriving by boat in Yemen over the past six years was over 24 times greater than the number arriving in Australia. In October 2011 alone, 12,545 people arrived by boat in Yemen. This is equal to 88 per cent of the total boat arrivals to Australia over the past six years, in the space of a single month.

No. of irregular arrivals by sea, by country 2006-09

Country

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010 2011 Total

Australia

60

148

161

2,726

6,555 4,565 14,215

Greece

9,050

19,900

15 300

10,165

1,765 1,030 57,210

Italy

22,000

19,900

36 000

8,700

4,348 61,000 152,821

Malta

1,800

1,800

2 700

1,470

28 1,574 9,372

Spain

32,000

18,000

13 400

7,285

3,632 5,443 79,760

Yemen

29,000

29,500

50 000

77,310

53,382 103,000 342,192

Sources: www.unhcr.org/4dfa11499.html; www.unhcr.org/pages/4a1d406060.html; http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/BoatArrivals
http://www.unhcr.org/4ec63ace9.html; http://www.unhcr.org/4e4a505f9.html; http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2011/02/weodata/index.aspx

Statistics

For more statistics on asylum seekers arriving by boat, see our page of Asylum seeker statistics.

 

Last updated May 2012