It is legal to seek asylum
Many Australians think the ‘normal’ way for refugees to come is to be brought to Australia under our resettlement program. In fact, resettlement is not as common as it should be, and the need for resettlement is much greater than can ever be met.
In fact, the ‘normal’ way for refugees to find protection across the world is to cross a border and claim protection as a refugee. This is commonly called ‘seeking asylum’.
This way of seeking protection is protected under the Refugee Convention (the main international treaty protecting refugees). While governments can choose to resettle refugees, if they sign the Refugee Convention they are obliged to consider the claims of refugees who arrive in their territory.
Typically, refugees must cross borders without permission, or without the right kind of permission (known in most places, including Australia, as a ‘visa’). However, this is not a criminal act. Indeed, the Refugee Convention bans a State from penalising a refugee who crosses the borders without permission. The right to seek asylum is also part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The reason for this is that fleeing danger is messy. If you are being persecuted, it is very risky even to try to get a passport from your government or a visa to another country. Countries in general do not allow someone to apply for a visa because they are a refugee and need protection. In some countries, you still need an ‘exit visa’ – permission to leave the country. If you are fleeing war or conflict, you don’t generally have time to research, plan and apply for a visa. Governments increasingly have very strict border protection policies that is making it harder and harder to get in a country if they think you may claim asylum.
As getting to safety is becoming harder and harder, refugees often have to pay others to get them to safety, known as ‘people smuggling’. People will do and pay almost anything to save their lives or, especially, the lives of their children. Often, families back home will be paying large loans to get people to safety. As the risks of people smuggling increase for those doing the smuggling, they pass on the costs to those seeking safety.