Over the last year I’ve gradually compiled interesting stats regarding Australia’s asylum seeker intake. I thought I’d share them for easy reference the next time you have a xenophobic friend or family member ranting on Facebook.

  • First and foremost – they are not “illegal boat people”. They are “asylum seekers”. Australia is a signatory to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees, which means we have an obligation to treat refugees with respect and compassion.
  • An investigative team was sent by the UNHCR to Manus Island where Australia has sent asylum seekers, and has concluded Australia is not complying with its responsibilities under the Refugee Convention. The report found that conditions on the island are inadequate, no processing is taking place and detainees are left in a legal limbo.
  • The 1951 Convention specifically bars countries from punishing people who have arrived directly from a country of persecution (or from another country where protection could not be assured), provided that they present themselves speedily to the authorities and show good cause for their illegal entry. Monitoring (through reporting obligations or guarantor requirements) is often a perfectly viable alternative to imprisoning asylum-seekers.
  • Figures show that developing countries accept the vast majority of the world’s refugees, with Australia 47th on the list of host countries in 2009.
  • Of the 10.4 million refugees under UNHCR mandate between 2005 and 2009, the largest numbers were being hosted by 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), Vietnam (339,300), Eritrea (209,200) and Serbia (195,600).
  • Australia was ranked 47th, hosting 22,548 refugees between 2005 and 2009 (0.2 per cent of the global total).
  • Australia was 68th on a per capita basis and 91st relative to national wealth.
  • The industrialised countries with the largest number of asylum applications in 2009 were the United States (49,020), France (41,980), Canada (33,250), United Kingdom (29,840), Germany (27,650) and Sweden (24,190).
  • Australia was ranked 33rd for total asylum applications with 6206 new applications in 2009.
  • It was 41st on a per capita basis and 71st relative to national Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • When an asylum seeker arrives in Australia, they do not get any Centrelink benefits. While their status is being processed, and if they meet certain criteria, they can be eligible for financial support from the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, administered through the Red Cross. This amount is 89% of the basic Centrelink allowance. This means approximately $405.84 per fortnight – over $260 less than a pensioner. For an asylum seeker to qualify for any payment under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, they must have lodged an application for a visa 6 months before, not be in detention, and not get any other payment or benefit.
  • Once an asylum seeker is recognised as a genuine refugee, after a long and highly scrutinized process, they are given permanent residency and are then entitled to the same Centrelink, schooling and health benefits as anyone else. No more, no less.
  • To get a permanent residence as a refugee, the person has to prove they are a genuine refugee fleeing persecution, go through character, security and medical tests, and sign an Australian Values Statement.
  • Since 1998, according to the SIEV X Committee, it looks as if well over 1000 asylum seekers have drowned trying to reach Australia. Their blood is on the hands of those Australian political leaders who have demonised, vilified, incarcerated, offshored and re-fouled refugees rather than massively increasing the intake and processing asylum seekers quickly in Indonesia and Malaysia to bring them here safely.
  • Department of Immigration data shows 88 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived by boat in 2009-10, including those who were initially rejected, have been found to be refugees and now have a visa. Sixty-eight per cent of those arriving in 2010-11, including those initially rejected, also have a visa. Final approvals are expected to be higher as half of these people are awaiting review.

My thanks to the bloggers and journalists who compiled this data.