Refugee Council of Australia
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written on glass

Are people who seek asylum by boat illegal?

Photo credit: Jeanne Menjoulet

People who seek asylum by boat are not breaking the law. They can come without first getting permission (in Australia, called a visa). Indeed, in most countries, this is the normal way of claiming refugee status.

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention clearly states that refugees should not be penalised for entering without valid travel documents. This is because people seeking asylum will often find it very difficult or even impossible to get a visa.

Why do people come without permission?

In many cases, they are being persecuted by their governments. This makes it dangerous for them to apply for passports or approach the Australian government for a visa. Some will be stateless, and will not have the right to apply for a visa. Refugees may also need to flee quickly because of the dangers they face, so they may not have time to get their documents and apply for visas.

Australia also has strict visa conditions which prevent people from coming from many countries, even on temporary visas. This makes it difficult for many refugees to come to Australia by applying for a visa.

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