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Seeking Protection: refugees and asylum seekers

Monday 4 April, 2016

Seeking asylum in Australia is not illegal. In fact, it is a basic human right.

Australia has an international commitment to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, whether they arrive by plane or by boat, and regardless of whether they arrive with a visa or not.

Asylum seekers are people who have been forced to leave their homes, their countries and often their families for their own safety, and apply to another country for protection as a refugee. This might be because of their race, religion, nationality, being part of a particular social group or because of their political opinion.

Keeping People in Detention

Australia has one of the strictest immigration detention regimes in the world.

Not only is it mandatory, it is not time limited, and people are not able to challenge their detention in a court.

Under Australian law, asylum seekers that arrive without a visa must be held in immigration detention until they are granted a visa or removed from Australia.

In 2013, the Australian Government announced that asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat will no longer be settled in Australia, whether or not they are found to be refugees. Thousands of asylum seekers are now being detained in Nauru and on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea awaiting resettlement in another country. 

Some basic facts:

  • Seeking asylum in Australia is not illegal. Even if you arrive by boat.
  • The number of people who ask Australia for refugee protection is very small. In 2012, the number of received applications for protection was less than 7% of Australia’s total immigration intake.
  • Australia’s share of asylum applications remains a very small fraction of the global total (about 2.2%).
  • On average, 9 in 10 of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat are found to be refugees and granted protection visas.

There is also no set time limit to how long a person may be held in immigration detention in Australia. The period of time a person spends in detention may vary from a few weeks up to a few years, or even longer. The period of time a person spends in detention may vary from a few weeks up to a few years, or even longer. As at 30 June 2015 the average period of time a person would spend in closed immigration detention was 405 days, but 348 people had been held in immigration detention for over 2 years.

As of August 2013, there were 52 refugees who faced indefinite detention in Australia because ASIO had deemed them a security risk. They have no ability to appeal against this decision.

People who are held in detention are particularly vulnerable to violations of their human rights. Rates of mental health problems in the immigration detention population in Australia have been found to be high, and range from depression, anxiety and sleep disorders to post-traumatic stress disorders, suicidal ideation and self-harm.

Australia has resettled around 800,000 refugees since 1945. It is vital that we ensure all asylum seekers and refugees are treated humanely regardless of their mode of arrival, and to continue to uphold our proud history of providing protection to some of the world’s most persecuted and vulnerable people.