FAQs

ACRT believes: as one of the wealthiest, safest and most secure countries in the world, we should be able to fund a humanitarian response to asylum seekers without taking money away from our overseas aid commitment.

Australia has an excellent, voluntary refugee resettlement program and ranks amongst the world in leaders in this respect. However, in terms of our response to asylum seekers and how we share the burden of displaced people globally:

·         Australia accepts proportionally far fewer asylum applications than many other industrialised countries. Between 2008-12 we ranked 15 of 44 industrialised countries for a share of asylum seekers claims in terms of our population.[18]

·         Australia also accepted nearly 30,000 refugees in 2012. But in terms of absolute refugee intake this meant we ranked just 49th in the world.[19]

Overall it is overwhelmingly developing countries that bear the burden of displacement, as over 80% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries.[20]

In December 2012, the Australian Government announced $375 million of the overseas aid budget would be diverted to pay for the costs of asylum seekers in Australia’s domestic programme.  This diversion represented approximately 7.2% of the 2012-13 aid budget. In 2011, the comparable amount allocated for domestic costs was $18,000. This diversion is terrible policy on both fronts:

·         Firstly, we are instead using this precious aid money in part to keep people locked up in detention, rather than allowing them to live in community while their asylum claims are processed in a fair and effective manner;

·         Secondly,  it makes no sense to take money away from vital programs in Australia’s aid budget, that actually helps developing countries and struggling communities deal with the issues at, or close to, their source.

See the ACRT Aid Diversion info graphic:

http://www.australianchurchesrefugeetaskforce.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Aid-Diversion-Draft-Infographic-Virulent-Ideas-10th-April-24.png

And the ACRT policy paper:

http://www.australianchurchesrefugeetaskforce.com.au/category/campaigns/robbing-the-poor-to-care-for-the-desperate-using-overseas-aid-for-asylum-seekers-in-australia/

[18] UNHCR, Asylum Trends 2012

[19] UNHCR, Global Trends 2012, see also discussion at: http://www.factsfightback.org.au/does-australia-take-the-most-refugees-check-the-facts/

[20] UNHCR, Global Trends 2012

 

ACRT believes: no-one should be detained indefinitely without charge and without the right to challenge their detention;

The current policy of “no advantage” as being applied by the Commonwealth Government does not actually reflect the intention of the Expert Panel in espousing this broad guiding principle. The epitome of how contorted asylum seeker policy has become is the ability and indeed desire of successive Governments to detain people seeking the protection of our country, who have not been convicted of any offence, indefinitely and without charge.

This is due to adverse security findings by ASIO. Yet there are many reasons to question the assessment process by ASIO, not the least that ASIO is almost certain to be relying on information supplied by foreign governments. For instance the Sri Lankan government in providing information to support assessments of Tamil people who have fled during or following their civil war.  Serious doubts exist about the veracity of information provided by Sri Lanka, especially given its use of torture in interrogation. There have also been cases where ASIO has been found to rely on inconsistent foreign intelligence or not to corroborate such evidence.[15]

Refugees subject to adverse assessments are not able to access the reasons why, nor thus able to properly challenge these findings. This is a situation we would not and could not legally impose upon our worst criminals, yet it has somehow become accepted that we must and should do it to vulnerable people – men, women and children – who have sought our protection.

In August 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Committee found Australia’s indefinite detention of 46 people who had been recognised as refugees in breach of international law, saying that it ‘amounted to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, inflicting serious psychological harm on them.’ [16]

ACRT also believes:  refugees should be able to be reunited with their families;

The church believes in the critical importance of the family unit. Families are the foundation of our personal journey, and the bedrock of our communities and society. This is also reflected in the right to family life enshrined in international law.[17]

Previously an asylum seeker who reached Australia and was recognised as a refugee, could apply to be reunited with their family through the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP). The changes following the expert panel report, supported by both major parties, effectively closed off this option for people who have arrived by boat. They must now try and apply through the family stream of the Migration Program. Due to the cost, complexity and waiting times associated with this program, this is an almost impossible task for refugees, especially unaccompanied minors.

The current policies effectively leaves thousands of refugees indefinitely separated from their loved ones – their immediate family.

[15] See discussion in Ben Saul, Dark Justice, Australia’s ‘Indefinite Detention on of Refugees on Security Grounds under IHRL ‘ Melbourne Journal of International Law, Volume 13 [2012]. Available online. Professor Saul was also counsel to recent the case which went to the UN Human Rights Committee on this issue.

[16] See UN Media Release and links to report at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=13648&LangID=E

[17] Article 10 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises the family as ‘the natural and fundamental group unit of society’, and requires States to accord it ‘the widest possible protection and assistance.’

ACRT believes: under no circumstances should children be held in closed immigration detention centres;

At May 2013 there were 1731 children still locked up in Australian detention centres, an extraordinary amount.[13]

A growing body of research has demonstrated the severe impacts of trauma on children and the damage it can cause to their brain and development.[14] Children arriving as asylum seekers have already experienced severe traumas. Detention exacerbates these experiences, and the risk they will suffer further physical and mental harm which will affect them for life.

The Taskforce is particularly concerned about the current guardianship arrangements for unaccompanied minors (children without a parent or carer) in both onshore and offshore detention, and advocating for better arrangements is a key focus of our work.

The Children Out of Immigration Detention (Chilout) organisation also closely monitors this situation: http://www.chilout.org/

[13] http://www.immi.gov.au/managing-australias-borders/detention/_pdf/immigration-detention-statistics-may2013.pdf

[14]See example:  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2009). “Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development”, Issue Brief, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011). “Supporting Brain Development in Traumatized Children and Youth”, Bulletin For Professionals. Available at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/brain_development/

ACRT believes that: asylum seekers in the community should have the right to work so that they can support themselves and their families;

Asylum seekers arriving after 13 August 2012 are not allowed to work. This is a denial of a fundamental human dignity, a waste of precious skills and talents and is more costly for taxpayers.

Prevented from working, people are being forced to live on a benefit that is 89% of Centrelink. This impoverishes them and is forcing asylum seekers to search for assistance from charities or turn to the black market, placing them in a position of great vulnerability.

The right to work is well enshrined in international law including the 1951 Refugee Convention and under Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[12]

Allowing asylum seekers the right to work is about recognising their human dignity, providing them with a way to support their family both in Australia and in their homelands, fostering self reliance and giving them a means to contribute to Australian society.

[12] The right to work and rights in work are contained in articles 6(1), 7 and 8(1)(a) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The right to work is also contained in articles 8 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), articles 5(e)(i) and (ii) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), articles 11 and 14(2)(e) of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of people with disability (CRPD).

ACRT believes: Australia’s policies relating to asylum seekers should be driven by:

a)      bipartisan commitments to a humanitarian response focused on protection needs;

b)     meeting our obligations as a signatory to the Refugees Convention and other international treaties and covenants;  and

c)      working productively in our region over the long-term to ensure that people in neighbouring countries feel safe, can see a future for themselves and are treated justly as their claims for refugee status are assessed;

In part this is about Australia, now with a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, being a responsible world leader. But it is also about the overwhelming evidence, from the Expert Panel report, various Parliamentary committees and experts in the field – which suggests that the only long term, humane and durable way of dealing with asylum seekers and refugees is to take a regional approach. Australia must invest diplomatically and financially over the long term in building relationships and capacities in and across our region.

All other measures, in particular those where we “go it alone” or attempt to impose these challenges on smaller, undeveloped nations, are exacting a terrible human and financial cost and impeding our ability to forge real, long term solutions.[11]

[11] See The Expert Panel Report in its entirety: or CPD report: http://cpd.org.au/2011/08/a-new-approach-breaking-australia%e2%80%99s-stalemate-on-refugees-and-asylum-seekers/

 

ACRT believes that: punishing a vulnerable group of people (asylum seekers) in order to send a message to another group of people (people smugglers and other asylum seekers) is abusive;

Indefinite mandatory detention including of children without parents; threat of removal to remote and poorly run overseas facilities; the “no advantage” policy which leaves people in limbo, potentially waiting years without having their claims heard and with no hope of family reunification; the removal of work rights; a “living” allowance set at 89% of Centrelink benefits (below the poverty line); restrictions on access to English language and other basic services; and now Regional Resettlement Arrangements with both PNG and Nauru – ostensibly, both sides of politics suggest that these are the only ways to “stop people smugglers.”

In reality the only thing we know for certain is that these policy instruments punish and do
real and lasting harm to peoples already scarred from wars, conflicts, and persecution.

ACRT also believes that: government policies should not deliberately expose people to harm;

The mental health effects of ongoing detention and being placed “in limbo” are well documented and researched, with experts in the mental health calling remote detention centres ‘factories for mental illness.’[10]

The proposed removal to PNG is the most alarming development. PNG is a developing country, struggling to maintain its most basic infrastructure, law and order.  It is not at all clear that the Australian or PNG government could guarantee even the basic safety of men, women and children being sent there. This will include young unaccompanied children.

[10] See: http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/3677942.html , see also: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15707201 and http://theconversation.com/rudds-png-plan-could-worsen-asylum-seekers-mental-health-16319

ACRT believes that: asylum seekers who arrive by boat should not be used for political point scoring;

The arrival of asylum seekers is of great interest to the general public, but it should be informed by facts, evidence, and the stories and knowledge of those most directly involved and affected.

The current level of debate is very low. Many politicians are either willfully ignorant of the facts or deliberately distorting them for electoral gain.

For instance asylum seekers have a legal right to seek the protection of Australia, yet many in politics continue to incorrectly refer to them as “illegals” or “illegal immigrants.” The recent claim that many people arriving by boats are “economic migrants” also distorts the real picture and is not supported by existing facts.

There are now refugee fact and credible fact checking sites that are highlighting these misstatements, spin and lack of truth telling:

http://refugeefacts.cpd.org.au/
http://theconversation.com/au/factcheck
http://www.factsfightback.org.au/category/immigration/

ACRT believe that asylum seekers (consistent with their human rights and Australia’s obligations under international law) should have their claims for protection processed in a fair, transparent and timely manner and that they should have access to review of their case should protection be denied;

The politicised nature of the debate in Australia, and constant policy changes, has made it very difficult for anyone to understand how the system for processing asylum claims works. The current process is not transparent, consistent or fair.

Since October 2012, people arriving by boat have been subject to “enhanced screening” an initial interview process that essentially “screens out” and prevents many people from having their full story heard and their claim for asylum properly and fairly tested through the system.[7] There is no transparency and no independent review of this process. [8]

With the support of both major parties, since May 2013 Australia has excised the entire mainland from the Migration Act, so that people arriving by boat seeking asylum cannot have access to the Australian system to claim protection, unless by Ministerial discretion.[9]

Under the “no advantage” policy adopted after the Expert Panel report, anyone arriving by boat in Australia after August 2012 could be waiting up for 5 years or more for their claims to be processed under this still opaque policy.

For anyone arriving after Friday 19th July 2013 the Federal Government has committed to send all asylum seekers arriving by boat to PNG, Nauru or potentially other nearby countries for processing and settlement.

[7] This is an interview conducted by immigration officials shortly after arrival. The asylum seeker is not informed of their rights, has no access to legal or other support or information and if they do not explicitly state particular information or directly ask for asylum, they are deemed not to invoke Australia’s protection obligations, are “screened out” and deported.   People are not been given a fair chance to have their stories heard and their claims for asylum properly processed and tested. It risks sending people back to situations where they may be at risk of torture or worse, in this respect contravening our international obligation of non-refoulement.

[8] See ‘Screening out’ asylum seekers undermines rule of law and risks returning people to face torture’  http://www.hrlc.org.au/screening-out-asylum-seekers-undermines-the-rule-of-law-and-risks-returning-people-to-face-torture . Also the AHRC has noted that as of May 2013 DIAC had conducted 2596 screening interviews and returned 965 people from Australia to Sri Lanka as a consequence: http://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/document/publication/enhanced-screening.pdf

[9] See: http://theconversation.com/out-of-sight-out-of-mind-excising-australia-from-the-migration-zone-14387 and http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/senate-passes-amendment-to-excise-mainland-from-migration-zone/story-fn9hm1gu-1226644448709

ACRT believe: asylum seekers who arrive on our shores should be welcomed and offered appropriate care in the community (once initial health, security and identity checks have been done) while their protection claims are assessed;

People fleeing persecution have a right under international and Australian law to seek asylum in Australia, regardless of how they arrive. It is completely legal to seek asylum in Australia, whether you arrive by boat or plane, and whether or not you have a passport or visa.

The recent rise in boat arrivals has coincided with a rise in people seeking asylum internationally. Yet Australia is one of the very few countries in the world that has mandatory detention for asylum seekers. After initial health and screening check most other countries allow asylum seekers to live in the community while their claims are being processed.

ACRT believes: asylum seekers and refugees should be able to find hope and restoration from the despair and persecution from which they have fled;

Many people who have fled persecution have suffered trauma and torture. It is important that they are properly supported to recover from these terrible past experiences.

Much has also been written and said about asylum seekers and refugees passing through other countries in South East Asia in order to reach Australia. But asylum seekers are not obliged to seek asylum at the first effective opportunity,[5] and the reality is that many of these countries are not signatories to the UN Conventions and refugees remain at risk or persecuted. Refugees are not safe, they are vulnerable to exploitation and do not have access to proper work, schooling or health services.

For instance, Human Rights Watch has detailed the situation of children in Indonesia, who are detained, subject to bashings and exploitation.[6] Many asylum seeking men, women and children in our own region (South East Asia) are also vulnerable to human trafficking for sweat shops and the sex trade.

[5] See the UNHCR Guidance Note on bilateral and/or multilateral transfer arrangements of asylum-seekers, Division of International Protection, May 2013

[6]June 2013 – Human Rights Watch. Indonesia: children seeking refuge find abuse, neglect. See also their 86-page report, “Barely Surviving: Detention, Abuse, Neglect of Migrant Children in Indonesia,” details Indonesia’s poor treatment of migrant and asylum-seeking children. Indonesian law permits up to 10 years of detention.

ACRT believes people do not generally flee their home, their family, friends and community and undertake perilous journeys without very good reason.

Refugees are people who are forced to flee their homelands to escape persecution, including imprisonment or torture because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group.[1] They lack the protection of their own country and are often being persecuted by their own governments.

In June 2013 the UNHCR released its Global Trends 2012 report. It found that global forced displacements are at an 18 year high. War remains the greatest cause, with 55% of refugees coming from just 5 war-affected countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria and Sudan.[2]

For Australia, the top countries or origin for refugees and asylum seekers (subsequently granted protection visas and recognised as refugees):

· Offshore humanitarian resettlement program: Burma, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Ethiopia.[3]
· Asylum seekers (non-IMA – arrive by plane) were: Iran, Pakistan, China, Egypt, Iraq.
· Asylum seekers (IMA – arrive by boat) Afghanistan, Iran, Stateless, Iraq, Sri Lanka. [4]

This reflects a range of factors, such as the access (or more likely not) people have to embassies or UNHCR offices to apply for protection and refugee status. For instance, it is near impossible for Tamil’s in Sri Lanka to apply for protection within their borders, and as it is an island nation they cannot simply cross a border to do so. In Afghanistan, Hazara peoples attempting to visibly access such assistance are targeted by terrorists.

[1] As defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention (and as broadened by the 1967 Protocol), see http://unhcr.org.au

[2] UNHCR Australia: http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=323:new-unhcr-report-says-global-forced-displacement-at-an-18-year-high&catid=35:news-a-media&Itemid=63

[3] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Australia’s Offshore Humanitarian Program 2011-12

[4] Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Asylum Trends 2011-2012, Annual Publication

This list was produced by the Edmund Rice Centre – June 2011

1. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants

Asylum seekers are people seeking international protection, whose claims for ‘refugee status’ have not yet been determined. They are not ‘illegal immigrants’ because under both international and domestic laws, they have a legal right to enter Australia to seek asylum. Whether they arrive by plane or by boat is immaterial, as they are not supposed to be penalised for the manner of their entry.

2. A person does not require a passport or official papers to seek asylum

The Refugee Convention provides the right to seek asylum in any place one can reach. Applying for a passport, or approaching UN offices or an Australian Embassy, can be far too dangerous for some refugees. These actions can put their lives, and their families’, at risk. In such cases refugees may have to bypass regular migration channels and travel using forged documents. Presenting false documents in asylum countries might be considered an offence. Therefore, it might often be wise to discard these life-saving, yet falsified documents, before approaching foreign officials. By arriving & seeking our protection without papers they commit no offence.

3. Australia’s share of the world’s asylum seekers is tiny

According to UNHCR’s figures 1,181,215 asylum seekers sought recognition in 2009 but Australia received only 6,206. This was only 0.53% of global asylum applications. Of 44 industrialised nations Australia ranked 16th overall – but on a per capita basis ranked 21st.

4. Other countries have far greater numbers of refugees than Australia

Australia with 22,548 refugees and people in refugee-like situations, ranks 47th in the world. This is compared to Pakistan (1,740,711), Iran (1,070,488), Syria (1,054,466) Germany (593,799), Jordan (450,756), Kenya (358,928), Chad (338,495), China (300,989), USA (275,461) and UK (269,363). On a per capita basis, Australia is far behind poorer countries such as Jordan, Syria, Republic of Congo, Chad and Iran, and is also well behind other wealthy countries such as Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Germany.

5. Asylum seekers and refugees do not receive more favourable treatment or higher benefits

Claims that refugees in Australia are entitled to higher benefits than other social security recipients are unfounded. All boat arrivals are subject to the same assessment processes as those who come by air. Charities and churches often provide support to settle in. How much money an asylum seeker had in their home country is immaterial to determining their ‘well-founded fear of persecution’.

6. Boat people are not ‘queue jumpers’ and there is no queue in Malaysia

There is no orderly queue for asylum seekers to join. Only a very small proportion of asylum seekers are registered with the UNHCR and only 1% of those are resettled. A ‘queue’ is something people join and eventually reach the top of. This is not the case in countries like Malaysia, with over 80,000 refugees and asylum seekers, and where it would take 158 years to reach the front. UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay says Australia is the only country where asylum seekers are demonised as ‘queue jumpers’.

7. Australia’s deportation deal with Malaysia is not a regional solution

Malaysia has a very poor human rights record and is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Thus, refugees have no legal status, cannot work, and are regularly subject to exploitation, discrimination and abuse, including well documented cases of caning and torture. Malaysia has regularly deported asylum seekers back to the dangers they are fleeing. Australia’s deportation deal with Malaysia is a bilateral arrangement between two countries – not a regional solution.

8. Mandatory detention system needs urgent reform

Australia’s system of mandatory detention jails people who have committed no offence regardless of age, sex, or state of health. The greatest sanction our nation has is to withdraw someone’s liberty and is usually reserved for serious crime. At the very least, detention should be limited to 30 days for health, ID and security checks, and any extension of that should require the permission of a court.

9. Refugees have been good for Australia

Over 750,000 refugees and displaced people have settled in Australia since nationhood. Australia has a good record in receiving people from across the world. From Sir Gus Nossal, Frank Lowy, Nick Greiner, Hon Jim Spiegelman, comedian Anh Do, Dr Victor Chang, former Young Australian of the Year Tan Le, SBS’ Les Murray, artist Judy Cassab, and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, to thousands of hard-working former refugee families across the nation – clearly refugees have been good for Australia. Let’s not forget it.

10. To silence racism towards refugees and asylum seekers we need bipartisan political leadership

On her recent visit, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay commented that when it came to the mandatory detention system, ‘there is a racial discriminatory element here in the inhumane treatment of people’. Former PM Malcolm Fraser seemed to concur when he commented that ‘we wouldn’t do this to boatloads of white Zimbabwean farmers’. The country urgently needs a return to a bi-partisan approach to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees. Our leaders need to stop appealing to fear where there is no basis for it, and once again build policy based in facts – consistent with our international obligations, including taking human rights seriously.

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their own country and applies to the government of another country for protection as a refugee. The term ‘asylum seekers’ refers to all people who apply for refugee protection, whether or not they are officially determined to be refugees. In Australia, asylum seekers may either be held in immigration detention facilities or reside in the community while their claims for refugee protection are being assessed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who is outside their own country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Boat people are illegal immigrants.

There is nothing illegal, in Australian or international law, about seeking asylum. The United Nations Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, recognises that refugees have a lawful right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel documents. The Convention states that actions which would normally be treated as illegal (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not be treated as such when a person is seeking asylum.

Boat people are jumping the queue and taking the place of legitimate refugees waiting in camps.

The term ‘queue’ implies that if you join the end, you will eventually reach the front of the line within a certain amount of time. This is not true. Refugees are prioritised for resettlement based on need, not according to how long they have been waiting. For instance, if conditions in a refugee-hosting country deteriorate, refugees residing there will be prioritised for resettlement. In 2008, 88 000 of the world’s 15.2 million refugees were resettled – under 1 percent. If a ‘queue’ did exist and all of the world’s refugees were in it, a newly recognised refugee would have to wait 170 years for resettlement based on current trends.

Applying for protection onshore is not bypassing the “correct” procedure – it is in fact the expected route for seeking protection. People who have suffered and fear persecution in their home country can reasonably be expected to flee. In order to be recognised as a refugee, a person must leave their own country and apply for protection in another. Because many poorer countries receive a much larger number of refugees, they require assistance from the international community in finding long-term solutions for people. Australia provides this assistance voluntarily through our offshore resettlement program, however this is not a substitute for the onshore component of the program – which is the policy that is intended to meet our legal obligations as a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Refugees who applied for protection onshore are no less genuine than those residing in refugee camps in poor nations. The criteria for refugee protection  make no distinction between refugees who arrive with authorisation and those who don’t.

Boat people have passed through many safe countries and they should stay there.

Many of the asylum seekers coming to Australia have not reached a second country after fleeing their homeland, coming from countries such as China, Sri Lanka, Timor Leste and West Papua. While it is also true that many asylum seekers come from Africa and the Middle East through other countries, no other countries on route to Australia from the Middle East will legally accept refugees. Indonesia, for example, is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention.

Refugees residing in these countries face anything from a lack of legal status and neglect, to imprisonment until settled in another country, a wait which on average is approaching 20 years.1

A disproportionate burden for the protection of refugees falls on countries which are least able to accomodate them – Pakistan, Syria and Iran, for instance. Until developed countries accept a fair proportion of this burden and accept larger number of refugees, we should not refuse to accept the small trickle of refugees who escape their dangerous living conditions in these countries to seek our help.

Boat people are economic migrants who can afford to pay a people smuggler thousands of dollars.They are in no real danger.

A person’s financial status has no bearing on whether or not they are a refugee. It makes no difference if a refugee is rich or poor – the issue is that they have experienced, or are at risk of, persecution. Many refugees are educated, professional people whose political opinions have resulted in their persecution. Furthermore, one expensive boat or plane trip is not always an indication of wealth. Asylum seekers often sell everything they own and may rely on friends and family for assistance, sometimes sending only one family member in the hope that they will be able to eventually find a safe place for their relatives.

Boat people are a threat to national security and deliberately destroy their documentation.

The Refugee Convention excludes from obtaining refugee status people who have committed war crimes, crimes against peace, crimes against humanity or other serious non-political crimes. In addition, all asylum seekers undergo rigorous security and identity checks before being granted protection in Australia. Given that asylum seekers arriving by boat are subject to mandatory detention and undergo more rigorous security checks than any other entrants to Australia, it is improbable that a criminal or terrorist would choose to attempt to enter the country this way. Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without proper documentation face a prolonged time in detention while their legal status is resolved – and so there is no benefit in arriving without documents. An asylum seeker may not have the time to obtain a visa, for instance, before fleeing their home country, especially if the local authorities which supply them are involved in their persecution. Both the Refugee Convention and the Australian Government recognise that asylum seekers should not be punished for their ‘illegal entry’ if they have good reason for doing so (see the The Refugee Convention – what does it mean? Fact Sheet for more information).

We are being overwhelmed by boat people and have lost control of our borders.

As an island continent, Australia’s natural borders are extremely effective in making irregular migration very difficult, compared with nations which share one or more land borders with others. There were 20 industrialised countries which received more asylum seekers than Australia on a per capita basis in 2009. In 2009, Australia received 6170 applications from asylum seekers, 1.6 percent of the 377 160 applications received across 44 industrialised nations. Countries that received more asylum seekers than Australia in 2009 included: England (29 800), Germany (27 600), Norway (17 230) Belgium (17 190), Greece (15 930), Austria (15 830), Netherlands (14 910), Switzerland (14 490), Poland (10 590) and Turkey (7 830). The increase in numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia are indicative of increasing flows of people seeking protection worldwide. Figures from the UNHCR show that 43.3 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide at the end of 2009, the highest number since the mid-1990s. [Figures from the UNHCR’s 2009 report Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries]

Stopping the boats will save lives. We are supporting people smugglers by not turning the boats around.

There is widespread agreement that we should try to stop the exploitation of asylum seekers traveling on dangerous journeys to Australia. However, punishing asylum seekers for accessing Australia by boat will not stop people smuggling activity. Unless human rights and security issues in refugee-producing countries are addressed and regional cooperation on refugee protection is enhanced, asylum seekers will continue to use people smugglers to seek safety.

Boat people will be eligible for tens of thousands of dollars in government support a year.

No asylum seeker is eligible for Centrelink payments of any kind. Some asylum seekers living in the community while their claims are being processed are eligible for the Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which provides payments of 89% of the level of Newstart Allowance. Refugees are eligible to apply for Centrelink payments in line with their financial and personal circumstances (eg. Newstart allowance, Family Assistance). There are no separate Centrelink allowances applicable only to refugees.

There are a lot of disadvantaged people in Australia who we need to help first before accepting refugees.

It is naive to see these two disadvantaged groups as in competition with each other, and to expect that if we stopped accepting refugees we would be able to solve often deeply systemic and complex problems such as homelessness and poverty. As a nation, we have the resources and responsibility to improve our assistance to both the disadvantaged in our own community and those fleeing persecution overseas.

Refugees do not contribute to society and threaten our way of life.

Refugees have suffered great trauma and are enormously appreciative of the nations which accept them, doing their best to get on with their new lives once they arrive here. Immigration and refugee resettlement in particular does not increase unemployment nor put a drain on the economy. Rather, refugees often take labour-intensive jobs, working hard to generate income for their employers and paying taxes just the same as the rest of the population. The Refugee Council of Australia recently undertook research into the economic, civil and social contributions refugees make to Australia society. The research found that refugees have succeeded across all areas of society, including in the arts, sports, media, science, research, business and community life. It also found a particularly positive impact of refugees in rural and regional areas.2

Fears about refugees “taking over our country” seem exaggerated when you look at the figures – in 2009- 10, refugees arriving by boat made up 2.5% of the total number of people who permanently migrated to Australia (4543 out of 169 623), and the total number of refugees Australia accepted was 8% of permanent migrants.

Furthermore, much of the fear about refugees stems from a belief that Muslim immigration in particular will change the “Australian way of life”. Australia is a religiously diverse country and we have much to gain by learning from each other. The fastest growing religion between the 2001 and 2006 Census collections was Hinduism (which rose in numbers by 55.1%), followed by people who identified as having “no religion (a 27.5% increase). Muslims make up less than 2% of our population, over a third are Australian born, and only a fraction arrived in Australia as refugees.3 When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

1 Milner, J. & G. Loescher (2011), ‘Responding to Protracted Refugee Situations: Lessons from a decade of discussion’, Refugee Studies Centre, Forced Migration Policy Briefing No. 6, p.3 2 Refugee Council of Australia (2010), Economic, Civic and Social Contributions of the Refugees and Humanitarian Entrants, available: http://refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/resources/Contributions_of_ refugees.pdf 3 Department of Immigration and Citizenship, ‘Muslims in Australia Snapshot’, http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/

These FAQs are taken from Baptcare’s website.

Q: What is Baptcare’s position on asylum seekers?

A: In 2012, the Baptcare Board approved our policy on asylum seekers. View a pdf copy of our asylum seeker policy booklet. It contains information on Australia and asylum seekers, our Christian response, Baptcare Sanctuary, and our advocacy positions on mandatory detention and the processing and needs of asylum seekers. Printed copies can also be obtained by calling us on 03 9831 7222

Q: What is the truth about asylum seekers?

A: Asylum seekers are a hot topic in community debate, but there is also a lot of misunderstanding out there. One resource to help you cut through the confusion is the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) two page fact sheet Myths, Facts + Solutions (PDF).

Want to know more? For more in-depth reading, see ASRC’s comprehensive 44 page document Myths, Facts + Solutions (PDF) or check out their Learning More page.

Q: Who are these people arriving on our shores?

If we’ve never met an asylum seeker, it is easier to feel uncertain, negative, and even fearful. To get a personal glimpse of refugees and their life experiences, read some of their personal stories on Amnesty International’s website.

Meet Hamid from Afghanistan in a short video clip from the challenging SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From and see how people are currently living in Kabul.

Q: What is life like for an asylum seeker in Australia?

Most of us know from the news that life is hard in the detention centres, but sometimes it sounds as asylum seekers have it easy once released to live in the community here in Australia. Not so! Read Mohamed’s Story – the experiences of one of the asylum seekers who stayed at Baptcare Sanctuary.

Q: How can I help?

Finance: One way to help is to financially support Baptcare’s Sanctuary accommodation program. Visit our donation page and specify Sanctuary.

Other assistance: If you live in Melbourne, you may be able to help with food for our Sanctuary pantry. Contact our Community Engagement & Advocacy Coordinator on 03 9831 7222 or email dbarker@baptcare.org.au for information on the type of food that’s needed. We also continually need supermarket vouchers so asylum seekers can shop for themselves for groceries and clothes (sorry, NO donated clothes please).

Housing: Members of the Australian Homestay Network assist with short-term housing for asylum seekers when they are first released into the community. Find out more about how to become involved.

You may also like to volunteer or to become an advocate for refugees in your church or community group, your local area, or even more broadly.

Hire ASRC Catering and add a multicultural flavor to your next function. Your next function can support asylum seekers in Melbourne while enjoying a range of African, Asian and Middle Eastern foods prepared under the auspices of professional chefs. ASRC Catering (based at Brunswick) is a Melbourne social enterprise established by the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to employ asylum seekers who have the right and capacity to work. This multicultural catering service provides pathways to further employment opportunities for asylum seekers through education, training and hands-on work experience; plus all surplus funds generated go towards supporting asylum seekers across a range of services from foodank to counselling to material aid to legal representation. To find out more go to catering.asrc.org.au.

Q: How can I volunteer with asylum seekers?

A: Baptcare greatly appreciates the support provided to asylum seekers in Melbourne by the volunteers at the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre.

ASRC Volunteers provide personal support for asylum seekers having to learn about public transport or negotiate government departments, help with communal meals or as Foodbank delivery drivers, assist in English language learning or in the health service, and may help in many other ways.  Interested? To find out more and to check out the date of the next Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Volunteer Information Session, go to Becoming a Volunteer on the ASRC website.

Do you live in the Brunswick area? Baptcare appreciates the hospitality and support given to our Sanctuary clients by the volunteers at the Asylum Seekers Welcome Centre (ASWC) in Sydney Road, Brunswick. From community meals, to computer classes, English classes, and their creative arts program, the ASWC “operates from a community development model based on working with, rather than working for, asylum seekers. We empower and resource clients to act on their own behalf and maintain a secure and consistent environment, as this forms the basis for providing clients with a sense of safety and belonging.” If this resonates with your heart to stand alongside asylum seekers, find out more at www.aswc.org.au.

Q: How can I raise the issue of refugees and asylum seekers in my community?

A: Did you know that many Australian local government areas have declared themselves Refugee Welcome Zones. This is an initiative of the Refugee Council of Australia.

A Refugee Welcome Zone is a local government area which has made a commitment in spirit to welcome refugees into the community, uphold the human rights of refugees, demonstrate compassion, and enhance cultural diversity in their local council area. To check out whether your local Council participates and how you can support refugees in the local community, see the Refugee Council fact sheet Refugee Welcome Zone.

Q: How can we learn more about asylum seekers at school?

One school resource is the SBS School Pack produced in partnership with Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia.

Q: How can my church take action?

You may be interested in having a speaker come to tell you more about the experiences and needs of asylum seekers. Baptcare can arrange a speaker for your church service, prayer meeting or other group. You may want to take up a special offering for asylum seeker needs or commit to supply the food for Sanctuary Preston’s pantry for a week or a month.

On a larger scale, does your church have a property in North or West Melbourne that’s not being used and could be suitable to provide accommodation to asylum seekers in need? Baptcare can explore this with your leadership team.

To learn more about any of these options, contact our Baptcare Community Engagement & Advocacy Coordinator on 03 9831 7222 or email dbarker@baptcare.org.au.

Q: What about lobbying the decision-makers?

A: In November 2012, Baptcare wrote to those federal Members of Parliament and Senators who represent electorates across Victoria and Tasmania – the states in which we work. We called on all federal parliamentarians to urgently consider changes in the way Australia deals with asylum seekers.

Our ongoing concerns about policies on asylum seekers can be found on page 8–9 of our policy booklet Asylum Seekers. In November, we also raised urgent issues about the changes in government policy announced at that time as these would leave even more asylum seekers impoverished and potentially homeless in our community. In ongoing advocacy, Baptcare is a member of the Network of Asylum Seeker Agencies Victoria which speaks on issues that impact this vulnerable group with whom we work.