A few weeks ago, I felt compelled to compile a ‘fact sheet’ of sorts on refugees and asylum seekers, their impact on Australian society and the legalities of it all. Obviously this doesn’t go into much detail, but below I’ve included grabs from the SBS website, as well as Rethink Refugees’ website, and information I’ve collected from various other sources. If you’re interested, I implore you to read the links at the end – it’s a very important issue, and the more we all read up on it, the better.
The right to asylum is included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
- (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
- (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Refugee rights are also outlined in the Covenant Relating to the Status of Refugees, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Australia is party to all of these covenants, and as such has an obligation to comply with the guidelines outlined within these.
According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, an asylum seeker is someone who:
- Has had to leave their country because it is too dangerous to stay there; and
- Who is in danger in their country because they are being seriously harmed or at risk of serious harm because of either their: political opinion, religion, race, nationality or social group; and
- Their government can’t or won’t protect them from that serious harm.
The Migration Act 1958 (Cth) makes it mandatory for any unlawful non-citizen (person who has arrived onshore without a visa) to be detained. These include people who have arrived by boat or plane without a visa, including those fleeing persecution, students who have had their visa cancelled, people who have overstayed their visa, or other persons who have had their visa cancelled.
Australian law does not outline standards for conditions or treatment of people in these detention centres, nor does the law place constraints on how long people can be detained for.
As of April 2011, 6782 were in detention centres across Australia and Christmas Island.
- The world’s richest countries host just 20% of refugees.
- There are 11.5 million refugees in the care of the UNHCR, but each year only 100,000 are resettled.
- As of 2010, there are 43.7 million displaced persons worldwide (15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million displaced within their own country, 850,000 asylum seekers).
- Australia ranks 46th in the world in terms of number of refugees hosted.
- Past figures have shown that as many as 97% of ‘boat people’ arriving in Australia have been found to be genuine refugees.
Consider the above point. For all the political brouhaha being concocted by both major parties in Australia, as many as 97% of these boat arrivals are found to be genuine refugees. That is, they are people genuinely fleeing persecution in their home countries. They aren’t here to steal jobs, or cheat the tax system, or intimidate you in the street with their ‘foreign appearance’.
They’re here because their home is no longer a place they can safely call home. Imagine having to flee everything you have ever known, because your options were: a) flee or b) die? Personally, the thought horrifies me, and just considering for a second what refugees endure makes my heart ache for them. I think two of the problems with Australian society in regards to refugees is a lack of empathy, and racism so ingrained in the system that no one will even acknowledge it, and call it out for what it is. The old saying “walk a mile in their shoes” wouldn’t be a harmful one to consider when thinking of asylum seekers.