An asylum is a safe place, a place of refuge. Asylum-seekers are people fleeing danger in their home nation who try to find a place where they will be protected from the threats they fear. They may have experienced torture and have lost members of their families, murdered by their own governments. International law attempts to guarantee asylum seekers the right of entry to countries where they can be assessed as to whether they are legitimate refugees.
The international agreements on granting asylum emerged after the second world war following the murder of six million Jews and other people by Nazi Germany. The international community recognised that it had contributed to the disaster before 1939, because no country was prepared to accept significant numbers of Jews expelled by Germany in its program of ethnic cleansing. When the war broke out, most of those who had not escaped or could no longer escape were murdered.
Asylum seeker is a hot word because internationally and in Australia they are seen as getting an unfair advantage over those people overseas in refugee camps who await relocation, resettlement and acceptance as a permanent resident in another country.
Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants. They are legally claiming a status that is recognised in the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951, and the 1967 protocol regarding the Status of Refugees, agreements to which Australia is a signatory.
10 March 2002