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Refugee myths and facts

Your questions answered.

Fact checking refugee myths

Who is a refugee?

‘Refugee’ is used commonly to refer to people who are forced to leave their homes for many reasons, including conflict and violence. Sometimes it is used to also refer to a person displaced due to a natural disaster environmental change.

Who is a refugee?

How do they come to Australia?

The Minister for Immigration sets the number of people that Australia will take in and determines the priorities for deciding who will be accepted. In 2023-2024, Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program was increased to 20,000 places per year.

Refugee Council of Australia welcomes life-changing expansion

Myth: Most people seeking asylum arrive by boat.
Fact: Most people seeking asylum arrive by air.

Australia’s asylum policy

Myth: Boat arrivals are fakers and are not real refugees.
Fact: Between 70-100% of boat arrivals have been found to be refugees.

Our analysis shows that people who come by boat are often recognised as refugees.

Fact check: Economic migrants?

How many are there? Who are they? Where do they go?

UNHCR most recently estimated that, by the middle of 2023, for the first time in recorded history, the number of people forcibly displaced is now over 110 million, with over 36.4 million refugees.

How many refugees are there in the world?

Most refugees stay in a country near their country of origin. Only a few countries host almost half of the refugees in the world. Apart from Germany, these are mostly countries that neighbour the countries with high numbers of refugees.


Is it illegal to seek asylum?

Myth: It is illegal to be an asylum seeker.
Fact: Everyone has the right to seek asylum if your life or freedom is threatened.

Refugees and international law

Resettling refugees

For many decades, Australia has been a leader in bringing some of the most vulnerable refugees in the world from overseas, and supporting them to settle in Australia. Australia’s contribution is important, as relatively few countries resettle refugees. This commitment is even more valuable today when it is harder than ever for refugees to find protection in a safe country.

How people come to Australia as refugees

Why do people seek asylum rather than be resettled?

While Australia’s resettlement program is world-class, Australia’s treatment of refugees who come to Australia seeking protection is now leading the world in the opposite direction – to the most punitive policies aimed to deter vulnerable people from seeking safety.

There is no ‘queue’ for people to join. Instead, 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’.

Are people who seek asylum by boat illegal?

While Australia’s asylum policies are focused on people arriving by boat, other people seek asylum after entering Australia by plane with a visa (for example, as a tourist or student). Often, people coming by boat are accused of not being ‘genuine’ refugees, even though historically, between 70 and 100% of them have been found to be refugees.

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.

Myth: Refugees are a threat to national security.
Fact: Refugees are the survivors of violence and terror.

How does Australia treat people seeking asylum?

Australia is stopping people seeking asylum from coming (by boat or plane). If any do come by boat, they are sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea to be ‘processed’ for years, and are being left to languish there with little prospect of living safely and supporting themselves.

Those who enter Australia without prior notice are, by law, required to be detained. There is no time limit to their detention and no independent review of whether they should be detained. People are held despite committing no crime.Those now in administrative detention have been there on average for more than a year, with some detained now for more than 13 years.

Australia's detention policies

In recent years, most people seeking asylum have been released into the community. While this is very welcome, their difficulties do not stop there. Many of them are forced into destitution, because they are not given enough (or, most recently, anything) to live on. They were barred from working for years, and have not received any real help to settle in Australia by the government. They are forced to live like this for years, as it takes the government years to process their claims.

Even when they are found to be refugees, the punishment continues. Under the government's previous policy, refugees who come by boat have been forced to live on temporary protection visas indefinitely, although in March 2023 changes were made to the policy to allow those found to be refugees to be granted permanent residence.

Australia's asylum policies

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