This brief summarises the many changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum policies in recent years. These changes have largely been a political response to an increase in the number of people seeking asylum by boat (51,637 arrivals in the past five years) and in deaths at sea (at least 862 deaths over the same period). Both of Australia’s major political parties have responded by blocking access to protection in Australia and penalising those coming by boat.
Refugee and Humanitarian Program
Over the past 25 years, people have been supported while seeking asylum through a basic living allowance and limited casework. These support programs were designed so that people can more effectively resolve their claims for protection. In the past few years, and especially since August 2017, the Australian Government has been making it harder for people to access these support programs.
For years, Australia has been punishing people who need our protection. We have been turning back the boats which were carrying them to safety, and shipping and warehousing them in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. If they make it to mainland Australia, we have been detaining them indefinitely and, once they are released, leaving them to struggle in the community without support.
In June 2017, senior staff of Settlement Services International (SSI) and Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) were involved in meetings in Canada and Geneva to learn more the Canadian model of private sponsorship of refugees and its implications for Australia.
This paper was presented by Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council of Australia, for a panel discussion on Refugees and Responsibility at ‘Rethinking governance in an era of global insecurities, regional tensions and rising nationalism’, an international conference hosted by the University of Melbourne’s EU Centre on Shared Complex Challenges, 17 July 2017
Thinking regionally, not globally
The world is in the midst of an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Yet Australia’s approach in recent years has been to punish people seeking asylum, while increasing the numbers of refugees it resettles. This contrasting approach threatens the long and proud history Australia has of successful integration of refugee communities.
This report reflects what we have heard from refugees and people seeking asylum, and the people supporting them. We thank all of the people who contributed to this report.
The Academics for Refugees encourages cooperation among academic scholars aimed at achieving human rights for asylum seekers and refugees. This policy papers view is it that Australia needs a new approach to refugee and asylum policy. One that is just and humane.
Mandatory detention, Offshore Processing and Boat Turnbacks
The 2016 Academics for Refugees policy paper recommends that Australia ends mandatory detention, harmful offshore processing policies, and the boat turn-back policy.
What is offshore processing?
Offshore processing (referred to by the Australian Government as “regional processing”) is the term used to describe the arrangements by which Australia sends people seeking asylum who arrive by boat to either Nauru or on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where their refugee claims are determined. Australia is the only country in the world that uses other countries to process refugee claims.
Australia and the world’s wealthiest nations have failed to deliver on promises to increase resettlement for the world’s neediest refugees, new figures from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have highlighted.
With the total number of refugees reaching 21.3 million and forced displacement exceeding 65 million, just 107,000 refugees were given the chance to resettle in 2015 – equivalent to just 0.5% of the global refugee population.
The year 2015 was a dramatic and traumatic period for refugees, in Australia and internationally. The number of people forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, violence and human rights violations is now at the highest level since World War II.1 The enormous challenges of global displacement have come to be symbolised by dramatic images of Syrian children washing up dead on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, Germans lining up to help refugees at train stations and Hungary’s barbed wire fence along its border.
Government figures show boat arrivals are not ‘economic migrants’
A new analysis of Australian Government statistics has revealed that more than 80% of asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat and have had their status resolved have been recognised as refugees.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) today released research into 40 years of statistics from the Immigration Department and the Australian Parliament, finding that 81% of the boat arrivals who have had their status resolved have been given some form of refugee protection.
This report outlines the issues and concerns about Australia’s asylum policies and practices that RCOA gathered in 2014 and 2015. It provides an overview of the issues that people seeking asylum themselves have raised, as well as concerns communicated by individuals and agencies supporting people seeking asylum.
Recent years have seen numerous changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, largely as a political response to a significant increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat (51,637 arrivals in the five years to December 2013) and a consequent increase in deaths at sea between Indonesia and Australia (at least 862 deaths recorded over the same period).
1.1 A crisis largely ignored for more than 35 years