The Refugee Council of Australia has put together a number of resources available to the public for Refugee Week each year. These frequently asked questions will hopefully clarify some confusions around the refugee situation.
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.
What are the main places people flee from?
As at the end of 2017, there were 68.5 million people who had been forcibly displaced from their home. Of these, around 50 million were displaced within their own country (internally displaced), while 25.4 million are refugees.
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.
How do people 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 recent years, the number was set at 18,750 places, but in 2020, the Federal Government reduced the Refugee & Humanitarian Intake to 13,750 places.
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.
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’.
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 nine years.
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 current policy, refugees who come by boat are forced to live on temporary protection visas forever, meaning they must apply every three or five years to stay in Australia. They cannot be reunited with family or even visit them without the permission of the government.
For more up to date and detailed information visit the Refugee Council website:
Refugee Week in Australia runs from Sunday 20 June to Saturday 26 June.
Reproduced with permission from The Refugee Council of Australia.