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On 8 August 2015, The Australian newspaper published an article which selectively misrepresented statistics analysed by the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) under the misleading headline, “Asylum seekers: Australia pulling its weight on refugees[i]” The author, Stefanie Balogh, did not contact the Refugee Council of Australia, and selectively misrepresented the statistics lifted from this paper: How generous is Australia’s response to refugees?

Seeking to clarify the record and rectify the blatant misrepresentation contained in the article, RCOA’s CEO drafted the following response:

Dear Editor,

It’s disappointing that The Australian misrepresents the Refugee Council of Australia’s analysis of global refugee statistics. Few people outside of Australia would accept the assertion that our nation’s response to refugees was the most generous per capita in 2014 (The Australian 8 August, 2015 Australia pulling its weight on refugees).

To compare Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, we need to look at both components of the program – the issuing of permanent protection visas to refugees recognised through the asylum process and the resettlement of refugees from other countries.

In the 2014 calendar year, UNHCR statistics show that Australia recognised 2,780 refugees through its asylum process and resettled 11,570 refugees from other countries, assisting 14,350 refugees in all.

Around the world, 3,262,960 people were recognised as refugees through asylum processes and 105,197 were resettled, a total of 3,368,157.

By this measure, Australia assisted 0.43% of the refugees recognised or resettled in 2014. It was ranked 22nd overall, 28th per capita and 46th relative to total GDP.

Lebanon’s recognition of 364,129 refugees was 120 times greater on a per capita basis than Australia’s total response.

Of the countries which typically grant permanent residency to recognised and resettled refugees, Sweden’s per capita response was 5.8 times greater than Australia’s, with 32,347 refugees recognised and 1,971 resettled.

No amount of selective use of statistics will hide the fact that the Australian Government cut its refugee program by one third in 2013 while the world’s displacement crisis was growing to its highest level in 70 years.

Paul Power
Chief Executive Officer
Refugee Council of Australia

Despite the use of the Refugee Council name and the clear, selective misrepresentation of the facts, the above letter was heavily edited, without any contact by The Australian, before being published. The following lines included in [ ] illustrate the omitted words[ii].

[Dear Editor]

[It’s disappointing that The Australian misrepresents the Refugee Council of Australia’s analysis of global refugee statistics. Few people outside of Australia would accept the assertion that our nation’s response to refugees was the most generous per capita in 2014 (The Australian 8 August, 2015 Australia pulling its weight on refugees).]

[To compare Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, we need to look at both components of the program – the issuing of permanent protection visas to refugees recognised through the asylum process and the resettlement of refugees from other countries.]

[In the 2014 calendar year,] UNHCR statistics show that in 2014, Australia recognised 2780 refugees through its asylum process and resettled 11,570 refugees from other countries, assisting 14,350 in all.

Around the world, 3,262,960 people were recognised as refugees through asylum processes and 105,197 were resettled, a total of 3,368,157.

By this measure, Australia assisted 0.43 per cent of the refugees recognised or resettled in 2014. It was ranked 22nd overall, 28th per capita and 46th relative to total GDP.

[Lebanon’s recognition of 364,129 refugees was 120 times greater on a per capita basis than Australia’s total response].

[Of the countries which typically grant permanent residency to recognised and resettled refugees, Sweden’s per capita response was 5.8 times greater than Australia’s, with 32,347 refugees recognised and 1,971 resettled.]

[No amount of selective use of statistics will hide the fact that] the [Australian] Government cut its refugee program by one third in 2013 while the world’s displacement crisis was growing to its highest level in 70 years.

Paul Power, CEO, Refugee Council of Australia, Surry Hills, NSW[i]

[i] Ibid

[iii]

The letter, edited without consultation, and published on 11 August, does not, in our view, make clear in the public mind the misrepresentation that has been made.

Illustrating the clear misrepresentation, the RCOA document titled ‘How Generous is Australia to refugees?’ mentioned above, said in conclusion:

“The fairest comparison is to look at how the refugee recognition and resettlement within Australia’s total Refugee and Humanitarian Program compares on a global basis. By this measure, the 14,350 refugees recognised or resettled in Australia during 2014 made up 0.43% of the global total, with Australia ranked22nd overall, 27th on a per capita basis and 46th relative to total national GDP.

The 2014 statistics are similar to those of the previous decade. In the 10 years to 31 December 2014, the 141,047 refugees recognised or resettled by Australia accounted 1.16% of the global total of 12,107,623) – with Australia ranked 23rd overall, 27th per capita and 46th relative to national GDP.[iv]

As the respected ANU academic Robin Davies has said in objectively analysing the issue:

“Somebody at The Australian had to burn a few calories in undertaking the statistical manipulation described…[It} involved constructing a new and meaningless country ranking based only on refugees resettled and ignoring asylum seekers recognised as refugees. Let it not be thought that the Refugee Council of Australia, let alone UNHCR, actually did this themselves[v].

__________

IMAGE: Courtesy SMH, http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/number-of-displaced-people-worldwide-exceeds-50-million-un-report-20140620-3aizd.html

[i] The Australian, Asylum Seekers: Australia pulling its weight on refugees http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/asylum-seekers-australia-pulling-its-weight-on-refugees/story-fn9hm1gu-1227474947060

[ii] The Australian letters to the editor, 11 August 2015. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/its-a-mugs-game-sending-tax-cheques-to-be-squandered/story-fn558imw-1227477835155

[iii] Ibid

[iv] Refugee Council of Australia, How generous is Australia to refugees, July 30, 2015. http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/latest/how-generous-is-australias-response-to-refugees/

[v] Devpolicy Blog ANU, Pulling our weight on refugees? Nope, Nope, Nope. http://devpolicy.org/in-brief/pulling-our-weight-on-refugees-nope-nope-nope/