A refugee is any person who:
This definition was determined by the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory. Refugees and asylum seekers have certain rights as set out in these documents.
Refugees usually come to Australia in one of two ways. Most come under the Humanitarian Program - offshore componenet. These may be people selected overseas, usually after referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They are granted Permanent Protection Visas which allows for settlement, access to social services, family reunion and the right to apply for citizenship after the prescribed period. These may also be people proposed by Australian citizens, permanaent residents or organisations based in Australia. They are granted Permanent Protection Visas but the costs of air travel and immediate settlement needs must be met by the proposing individual or organisation.
People can also apply for asylum from within Australia. Once they have been determined to be refugees and provided they meet health and character requirements, they are issued with either Permanent Protection Visas or a three-year Temporary Protection Visa. Permanent Visas are granted if they entered Australia with a valid passport and visa. Temporary protection is granted if they arrived in Australia without a valid visa or passport. These are known as “onshore grants”.
In the past 50 years, over 620 000 refugees and displaced people have been resettled in Australia. In the 2002-03 program year a total of 12,525 visas were granted under the Humanitarian Program. This comprised 11,656 offshore grants and 869 onshore grants.
Some people fear that refugees might be terrorists. In the aftermath of the attacks by the Al Qaeda network on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001, the fear of terrorism has been used to justify a crackdown on unauthorised border crossings and is fuelling a growing backlash against refugees across the world. This is despite not one of the hijackers involved in these attacks entering the USA as a refugee and similarly no trend of this occurring in Australia. It is relevant to therefore question why refugees are being stigmatised as potential terrorists and punished through the introduction of stringent laws targeted at terrorists.
Another fear that some people hold is that, without stringent laws, there will be “floods” of people seeking refuge here. It is realistic to expect that asylum seekers will keep coming to Australia, but it is unlikely that there will be “floods” of people as Australia is one of the most difficult countries to get into. We have no common borders, there are universal visa requirements and it is expensive to travel here. Because of this Australia receives relatively few refugees by world standards and it is highly unlikely that we will ever see the large numbers of asylum seekers other countries experience.
Some people believe that refugees cannot contribute anything to the Australian community. By definition, refugees are survivors though their own courage, resilience and ingenuity. These are qualities we value in Australia. The challenge for Australians is to assist newly arrived refugees to process the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives so that everyone can benefit from their resettlement.
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of human rights states “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution”. This means that Australia is obliged to play a part in an international response to providing asylum to people whose human rights have been violated.
10 March 2002