Unfortunately for the asylum seekers detained in our detention centres, and those trying to come to Australia, our governments, and certain sections of the Australian media, have successfully spread myths concerning them that have become entrenched in the minds of a majority of the Australian voters. Here are some of the ‘myths’ and the actual facts that refute them.
MYTH 1: IT IS COSTLY TO TAKE IN ASYLUM SEEKER AND REFUGEES.
FACT 1: Actually Australia’s existing Refugee Policies exact a significant human cost, and a significant economic cost – more than $2 billion a year. Indeed, keeping refugees on Nauru and Manus Island costs Australian taxpayers 56 times more than it would to have them live among us. (Jane McAdam – Kaldor Centre) *1
While the asylum seeker support allocation has been underspent by $29.5 million in 2018-19, a comparison between forecast spending and actual spending in 2018-19 shows massive blowouts in many areas of the Department of Home Affairs budget. These include a cost blowout of $397.7 million in the Department’s offshore detention spending, $172.3 million in Onshore Detention and Compliance, $71.1 million in the Visas division and $54.0 million in Border Enforcement. (Refugee Council of Australia).
MYTH 2: PEOPLE SEEKING ASYLUM ARE ECONOMIC REFUGEES.
People coming to Australia, especially those coming by boat, are Economic Refugees.
FACT 2: Most people seeking asylum who have come by boat have been found to be genuine refugees. According to the Australian Parliamentary Library, between 70-100% have been found to be refugees.*2 A person not found to be a refugee may have been unable, because of conditions e.g. bombing in their home country, to provide the necessary evidence. Documentation can also be destroyed on their boat trip to Australia. They may also genuinely fear persecution but have no evidence for it. People, who are actually economic refugees are highly unlikely to make a perilous trip by boat to achieve this.
MYTH 3: REFUGEES WHO COME BY BOAT ARE ‘QUEUE JUMPERS’.
FACT 3: Most refugees would rather return home if they can, or settle permanently in the country where they first sought asylum. This ‘re-settlement’ helps people who cannot return home once conditions have improved because of discrimination because of their disability, gender, risk of detention or persecution. There is no resettlement ‘queue’. The system is chaotic and while the UNHCR tries to prioritise those in greatest need, most refugees can be living in crowded refugee camps for many years, even with their children, without hope of re-settlement. Unfortunately, also there are many countries where the UNHCR doesn’t operate so people seeking asylum cannot access re-settlement. E.g. How can people in Iran access asylum? Or China?
MYTH 4: HOW CAN A PERSON WHO PAYS PEOPLE SMUGGLERS THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS BE A GENUINE REFUGEE?
FACT 4: A person does not have to be poor to be a refugee. A refugee is someone who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular group or political opinion. For many people paying someone is the ONLY way to escape persecution.*3 The well documented story of Iraqui surgeon Munjed al Muderis who had to pay a people smuggler to escape from Sadaam Hussein. He is now an Australian Associate Professor in orthopaedic surgery, author and human rights activist. His pioneering work on prosthetics and patents on titanium devices that he designed places Australia at the forefront of osseointegration technology. Frequently, a whole family, including extended members, will contribute money to enable a younger member to escape to a safe country.
MYTH 5: ASYLUM SEEKERS SHOULD STAY IN THE FIRST COUNTRY THEY REACH AFTER ESCAPING THEIR HOME COUNTRY.
FACT 5: Asylum seekers fleeing the Middle East and countries in the African continent often reach countries that aren’t members of the Refugee Convention for Asylum Seekers. There is little opportunity for re-settlement given the overcrowded refugee camps often comprising hundreds of thousands of desperate people. Some of the poorest and/or smallest countries have taken in far more refugees than much wealthier, bigger countries.*4 Australia could do much more to see refugees better protected in these countries of first destination where they have a lack of legal status, constant fear of arrest and detention and the lack of a right to work, particularly in Asia, and these factors impel asylum seekers to keep moving.
MYTH 6: AUSTRALIA DOES MORE THAN ANY OTHER COUNTRY TO TAKE IN ASYLUM SEEKERS.
FACT 6: As at the end of 2017, there were 68.5 million people who had been forcibly displaced from their home, 25.4 million are refugees. Most refugees reside in poorer countries. In 2017, 85% of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were hosted by developing regions neighbouring the conflicts. *5 This includes 19.9 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, as well as 5.4 million Palestine refugees under UNRWA’s mandate. Another 3.1 million were seeking asylum. The top five countries of origin make up 68% of refugees worldwide:
- Syria, with 6.3 million
- Afghanistan, with 2.6 million
- South Sudan, with 2.4 million
- Myanmar, with 1.2 million
- Somalia, with 986,400
Distressingly, children make up an astonishing 52% of the world’s refugees in 2017.
People flee overwhelming to neighbouring countries. Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iran (the top four) are close to major countries of origin. The country with the largest proportionate number of refugees is Lebanon, followed by Nauru. Australia is 57th on the list. The largest number of refugees compared to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) are mostly in Africa. Australia is 94th on that list.
Most refugees reside in poorer countries. In 2017, 85% of the world’s refugees under UNHCR’s mandate were hosted by developing regions neighbouring the conflicts.
MYTH 7: ASYLUM SEEKERS GET CENTRELINK PAYMENTS.
FACT 7: Asylum seekers do not receive any payments from Centrelink.
Some asylum seekers who are living in the community may be able to access the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS) or the Community Assistance Support Program (CAS). The maximum amount of an ASAS or CAS allowance is always set at 89% of the Centrelink NewStart benefit.
Asylum seekers on community detention are able to receive a small weekly allowance to meet daily living expenses. Asylum seekers that are detained in offshore detention centres and immigration detention centres in Australia cannot access any benefit.
MYTH 8: ASYLUM SEEKERS TAKE JOBS FROM AUSTRALIAN CITIZENS.
FACT 8: Evidence suggests that quite the opposite is true. Asylum seekers and refugees are predominantly found in jobs that Australian citizens won’t accept. These include: meatworks particularly abattoirs, cleaning at nights; restaurant washing-up, road works, security tasks.
Nhill was a rural town in western Victoria’s Wimmera region which – like many country towns – was struggling to survive before refugees began calling it home.Accepting work in a manufacturing plant they added more than $40 million and 70 jobs to the struggling community’s local economy. (Deloitte Access Economics report). There has been a similar revival to Shepparton. (Buzzfeed News) Far from ‘stealing jobs’, they actually create new ones.A 2013 report entitled ‘Assessing the economic contribution of refugees in Australia’ said that – like other migrants – refugees bring labour and skills to the country that increase the overall demand for goods and services.
In other words, they represent a potential economic contribution.
“Experience suggests that refugees in Australia engage heavily in job searching and vocational education, often accept work below their levels of experience and education, and commonly undertake voluntary work”, said the Multicultural Development Association, in the report.
MYTH 9: PEOPLE SEEKING ASYLUM WON’T ACCEPT NEGATIVE ASSESSMENTS.
FACT 9: On occasion and with little justification, DIAC will engage in extraordinarily high rejection rates of asylum seekers from certain countries which are inconsistent with country information. These decisions are routinely overturned upon independent review. Even the ‘independent’ review process is troublesome. There have been numerous instances in which the various review mechanisms for asylum seekers have been found to be bias. In one case in 2009, a Federal Court judge found the Refugee Review Tribunal “twisted facts and ignored evidence” and was “guilty of bias”
It is largely because of this flawed refugee status determination process and the strains it places on the review mechanisms that there are so many asylum seekers facing long-term detention.