On the evening of 23rd August, 2011 at Fr Patrick McMaugh Hall, Asquith, listeners heard from three speakers: Phil Glendenning, and two Iranian refugees.
Phil debunked some of the false notions associated with refugees and asylum seekers as they make their way to Australia.
Mohammad and Abraham (surnames not disclosed for security reasons), described their ordeals in Iran (and Iraq).
A picture of a regime that is prepared to imprison, torture and kill opponents was presented. A sanctuary established for refugees and dissidents in the neighboring country, Iraq, is now subject to attack from the Iraqi government, sympathetic to the Iranian regime.
Once labeled as an opponent of the Iranian Government, any such citizen is greatly discriminated against: debarred from government employment opportunities, family members likely to the harassed, self employment occupations denied.
The evening gave a clearer picture as to why a greater number of refugees are coming from Iran to Australia.
Courtesy of the Edmund Rice Centre.
1. Asylum seekers are not Illegal immigrants.
Asylum seekers are people seeking international protection but whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined. Regardless of whether they arrive by boat or by plane, they have a legal right to seek asylum under international and Australian law and not be penalised for the manner of their entry. They are not illegal immigrants.
2. A person does not require a passport or official papers to seek asylum
Under the Refugee Convention a person has the right to seek asylum in any place they can reach. Applying for a passport or exit visa, even at 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 travel on forged documents or bypass regular migration channels. They commit no offence by arriving without papers, without an invitation, seeking our protection, and are not charged with any offence. Yet, we simply lock them up.
3. Australia’s share of the world’s asylum seekers is tiny
According to the UNHCR’s figures (2009), of the 1,181,215 asylum seekers who sought recognition, Australia received 6,206 (0.53% of global asylum applications). Of 44 industrialised nations Australia was ranked 16th overall and was 21st on a per capita basis.
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), lran (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 well behind poorer countries such as Jordan, Syria, Republic of Congo, Chad and Iran, and is well behind countries such as Sweden. Norway, Canada, and Germany.
5. Asylum Seekers and refugees do not receive more favourable treatment or higher benefits.
All boat arrivals In Australia are subject to the same assessment as those who come by air. Claims that refugees in Australia are entitled to higher benefits than other social security recipients are unfounded. How much money an asylum seeker has is irrelevant.
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 PiIlay says the term ‘queue jumper’ is only used in Australia, and nowhere else on Earth.
7. Malaysian solution is not a regional solution
Unlike Australia, Malaysia is not a signatory to the Refugee Convention. It also has a very poor human rights record. 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. This is a bilateral arrangement 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. Detention, at the very least, should be limited to 30 days for health 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, or Victor Chang, former Young Australian of the Year, Tan Le, SBS’ Les Murray, Artist Judy Cassab, and or 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. Reject racism towards refugees and asylum seekers
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 none, and once again build policy based in facts consistent with our international obligations, including taking human rights seriously.