Immigration (part 1): Asylum seekers/refugees in Australia (the facts)

Well dudes, I'm back from exams and I thought it'd be fun to do a bit of a series on immigration and the process of becoming residents/citizens of Australia for the next couple of weeks. If you have any questions you'd like me to answer, leave them in the comments!

Disclaimer: If my information is inaccurate, let me know. I'll include all my sources at the end of the post. I'll try to remain as unbiased and factual as possible, but this is something I feel extremely strong about so little pieces of bias may slip in here and there. Finally, I'll be focussing mostly on asylum seekers and refugees relating to Australia. Obviously this topic can be applied to almost any country in the world but I'm not a professor and don't have all the time in the world to cover everything. Let me know in the comments how this works in your country. 

So kinda ever since I've moved to Australia I've been interested in the topic of asylum seekers and refugees, mostly because it's such a controversial topic, world-wide and especially in Australia. If you hang around the Aussies for long enough, you'll eventually hear of the "boat people" and get many, many (many) differing views on them. In tenth grade I even did an assignment on them for my religion class (and got a pretty decent mark for it as well, I might add). So here we go! Hopefully I'll cover anything you could have wanted to know about asylum seekers in Australia. 

Just so we're all clear, an asylum seeker is someone who is seeking to be recognised as a refugee, while a refugee has already been given the status of a refugee by the government. Asylum seekers and refugees can leave their country because of religious, racial or political persecution, as well as due to conflict or natural disaster (such as flood, famine, drought, etc). Asylum seekers and refugees are not the same thing, although they are both leaving their countries for similar reasons. 

Seeking asylum from persecution is a human right under the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (Article 14). You can be denied asylum if you've committed a war crime, a crime against humanity or other non-political crimes, and any refugee has the obligation to conform to the laws and regulations of the country that has granted them asylum.

*wipes forehead* Now that we've got the definitions out of the way, let's move on. Australia's history with asylum seekers and refugees has been a long and controversial one. We've had massive waves of immigrants, mostly from Europe, and if you know your history you'll know that most first white Australians (Aboriginals being the first Australians) were Irish convicts. Other immigrants came of their own free will for a better life. But these immigrants weren't refugees/asylum seekers

In 1954, Australia agreed to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which states that seeking asylum is a human right. From about the 1970s to mid-1980s, Australia actually had a pretty good policy regarding asylum seekers and refugees. English lessons became a right for refugees, there was an orientation process, translation and interpretation services as well as other programs and services. In 1986 we even celebrated our first Refugee Week. 

From there, policies became harsher. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Tiananmen Square massacre, there was a massive increase of refugees flooding into Australia. New policies allowed the deportation of "illegal entrants", as well as reserving the right to force the asylum seekers to pay for the cost of their detention, processing and/or deportation. In 1992, non-citizens who arrived to Australia without a visa could be legally detained for up to 273 days, a limit that was later removed. Five years later, the government handed management of detention centres to private companies. Programs were still being offered, such as English tuition, trauma and torture counselling and help with accommodation. 

But that's all ancient history. Most frequently, for about the last twenty years people have tried to enter Australia by setting out, often from Indonesia, in cramped, unseaworthy boats. The Australian government created a policy giving them the power to turn back any of these boats by "any reasonable force" and deny anyone on these boats the right to apply for asylum. Then we've got the Pacific Solution. The policy states that any asylum seekers arriving in Australia without a visa are to be sent to an off-shore detention centre in the Pacific Islands. 

Early October, 2001. Australian government officials claimed asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard in an attempt to gain access to Australia, and released several images "proving" this. It was later discovered these pictures had been taken while the asylum seekers were being rescued from their sinking boat. 

Mid-October, 2001. A boat sinks between Indonesia and Australia. 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drown. The 44 survivors were rescued and returned to Indonesia after about 24 hours in the ocean. Many of the dead women and children were attempting to be reunited with their husbands and fathers in Australia. 

2002. The United Nations releases a report condemning Australia's detention centres, and two years later another report was released, detailing the mental illness children were suffering due to long periods of detention. 

August, 2004. The Australian High Court decided asylum seekers could be held in detention indefinitely, and "that harsh detention conditions were not unlawful." 

February, 2008. The Pacific Solution ends and the detention centres on various Pacific Islands are closed. 

September, 2009. Asylum seekers are no longer required to pay for their time spent in detention (about $100 a day). Remember some asylum seekers could be held for anywhere between a week and five years. 

December, 2010. Roughly 50 asylum seekers drown in an attempt to reach Australia. 

August, 2012. Australia increases its refugee allowance to 20,000 places per year. 

July, 2013. Asylum seekers are processed off-shore and if found to be genuine refugees, they are resettled in Papua New Guinea. A peaceful protest in one of the detention centres collapsed into a riot. 

December, 2013. A new policy makes it almost impossible for asylum seekers arriving by boat to be recognised as refugees. 

September, 2015. Australia grants an additional 12,000 places for refugees due to the Syrian and Iraqi crisis. 

April, 2016. The last of the children leave detention centres. 

2016-2017. Australia has a minimum of 13,750 places for refugees. This number is only for people who arrive "lawfully" in Australia (not illegally by boat, airplane or people transferred to off-shore detention centres). 

Obviously that's a lot of information. Basically, Australia's policy is to detain asylum seekers off-shore and turn back any boats that are attempting to reach Australia. Australia is the only country in the world with mandatory detention and off-shore processing. 

That disgusts me, but that's another post for another day.

What's the asylum seeker policy like where you live? Do you have any questions you'd like to see covered in the next few weeks? Let me know in the comments!


United Nations, 2015, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, viewed 16th of June 2017, 

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, 1951, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, viewed 16th June 2017, 

Refugee Council of Australia, 2016, Timeline, viewed 16 June 2017,

Australian Government, 2016, Australian's Humanitarian Programme 2016-2017, viewed 16 June 2017,


  1. Ack. Immigration is such a tough topic to tackle--it's one of the biggest hot button topics in the U.S. right now. (Or it was during election season last fall, at least. Now everyone's arguing over pointless things for the most part.)

    On one hand, people should be treated like people. On the other, national security and the nation's interests need to come first from a governmental perspective.

    1. Goodness yes, it's a really touchy subject. (Ha, isn't that the definition of politics sometimes? It's the same here as well.)

      It is a really difficult subject, because of course we have to monitor who comes into our country and how they're going to integrate into our society but on the other hand they are people looking for safety.

  2. Ugh, that sounds like it's a really rough ride for people seeking asylum. I'd love to hear the stories of people who have actually experienced the struggles of detention and so forth, just because a personal experience would help ground my understanding of this issue.

    Having helped tutor refugee students this last semester, I've become more aware of this issue. I will say, it's really sad to see cheerful, growing, ordinary teenagers worrying that they might get deported due to the Islamophobia in charge...

    1. I would love to hear some personal stories as well, but unfortunately they are hard to find, or at least not well-publicised. I feel like some people wouldn't want to publicly bad-mouth the government if they had a bad experience with immigration and risk deportation or abuse.

      Wow, that would have been an amazing experience, I'd love to read a post on that or something.

  3. Ah, this disgusts me too. (I'm Australian as well.) I understands people's hesitations about being overrun by immigrants, but for me it comes down to the fact that each one of those immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, is a person with their own story and hopes and dreams. We can't take that from them.

    Thanks for speaking up about this, and sharing so concisely. :)

    1. Exactly my thoughts. I definitely am a bit biased being an immigrant myself, of course. But a person's a person, no matter how small.

      Thank you for reading :)

  4. Congrats on the good grade you got on that piece you wrote in tenth grade haha. But yes, this is such a controversial topic, and you covered this all really well. It's such a wide and deep topic, and yet so many people disregard it without knowing much about it. What happened in 2001 was completely heartbreaking, I didn't even know that that even happened. Truly saddening.

    Australia is such an insanely big place, isn't a large majority of it unhabited? I could be completely wrong, but I do know that there's a lot of space that could be used to help those in need. I know that in the UK we have a pretty open doored policy, but the difference is that we don't actually have much space at all. I still want people to have homes and be safe, but we need places that can actually provide that, you know?

    Little Moon Elephant

    1. Hahaha thank you :) Oh goodness, it's so controversial and so confusing. I think what's worse than completely disregarding this issue is when someone argues for their view without knowing the facts behind the issue. Like people argue that immigrants are uneducated but in reality more Syrian immigrants in the US have college degrees than American citizens.

      Err that's true, but the empty bits are inhabitable, pretty much. The Outback isn't kind to humans. We do have room on the coast, though. And yes, of course, we need places to put people that are safe and welcoming. It's such a complicated issue and I won't pretend to have the answers or to know everything about it.

  5. Wow. In my head Australia is very chill and sunny etc, I think it's because your current PM is from the Liberal Party and I assume that's similar to our Liberal Democratics ... research says it is not. It's so confusing how political parties use the same words to mean different things in different countries?? Like when I'm listening to Hamilton and they talk about the Democratic Republicans and I'm like literally American politics why is this so hard.

    But anyway.

    Did you know that currently more than a quarter of Lebanon's population is made up of Syrian refugees? It seems crazy that some countries in the world are bearing the brunt of the Syrian crisis, whereas others are doing so little to help. The UK is not doing well at all. Especially with the repeated terrorist attacks we've seen over the past few years (ramping up this year -- in May and June alone there were two attacks in London and one in Manchester), people are becoming more and more afraid of immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers alike. Of course there's the old classic "they steal our jobs", but now islamophobia is also on the rise because "what if they're terrorists".

    My church is actually very involved in with Iranian asylum seekers -- we have the UK's biggest Iranian congregation outside London, with a Farsi service on a Sunday night and Farsi Bible studies -- and lots of our members are currently going through trials and interviews with the Home Office. The law is that you can't return an asylum seeker to their country if they'll face persecution/torture there, and these ex-Muslim Christian converts could face persecution in Iran if they go back. But the Home Office wants them to prove that they're Christians (otherwise lots of people could falsely say they are in order to be granted asylum). But the questions they ask are absolutely crazy. Members of my church have been asked questions like, what colour is a Bible, how do you cook a Christmas turkey, and why don't you wear a crucifix? Our church Bibles are blue, but the interviewee was told "everyone knows Bibles are black!" Like seriously??? It makes me think of literacy tests in America in the 1960s, which black Americans had to pass to gain the right to vote, and which, due to racist officials attempting to block black enfranchisement, asked questions such as, "how many bubbles in a bar of soap?"

    This was a great post! Human governments are so frustrating, but we can pray for better leaders, and we can thank the Lord that he loves the needy:

    “To the thirsty bring water; meet the fugitive with bread … For they have fled from the sword, from the drawn sword, from the bent bow, and from the press of battle.” (Isaiah 21:14-15)

    One day, "all of his exiled will return to Zion with singing!"

    1. To be honest, I'm not really sure what's going on with the politics here. I dunno. *shrugs* I'm pretty sure Australia's liberals are like Canada's conservatives? Because that makes sense.

      I know, and they're not a large country!!! How can one country so small (population 6 million) be bearing the brunt of this issue? California alone has almost 40 million people. Australia is allowing 12,000 refugees, which is approximately 0.05% of our current population. People are losing their minds over 0.05%. (If my math is correct. Forgive me if it's not. It's been a long day of studying.)

      Duuuuude, what??? Is that seriously happening? Lol my Bible is purple. I guess it's sort of like when "witches" had to recite the Lord's Prayer perfectly or be burned at the stake. I'm super glad your church is showing people what Christ is all about, because at the end of the day I believe we're all made in the image of God, and He loves us and wants us to return to Him whether we worship Allah or science or ourselves, and I think we as Christians need to be His hands and feet and love people like He called us to.

      Thanks Emily! I'm glad you think so :) They are indeed, but I wouldn't say that I could do any better. It would be horrible to have the entire country (plus the rest of the world) yelling at you to do ten different things at once. Besides, the world is so complicated that someone is always going to be left out, and you're the one who's going to have to deal with that.

      Amen, amen.

  6. Hm, this is really interesting. I know immigration is a huge topic in the US and UK, but I didn't realize that it was a controversial topic in other countries too.

    I understand why people are nervous about terrorism. But not all immigrants are terrorists. Every time I hear people talk about immigration, people usually seem either radically left or radically right? Yes, we need to be careful of terrorists. And yes, we need to help those who are seeking asylum. No, we don't need to freak out over every single immigrant. We just need to be wise about who we let in and treat them like humans while we're at it (because they are humans). I honestly don't know much about our current laws on immigration and asylum seekers. I'm really not into politics. It's continually changing and usually imperfect. People like to mix emotions and politics a lot. It's not that I don't care. It's just exhausting.

    This post was very interesting! I can tell you did a lot of hard work to research for it. Awesome job!

    This was a very interesting post!

    1. I totally understand why people are afraid of terrorists as well. I remember sitting in my friend's kitchen watching the TV as a terrorist held people hostage in the Sidney Lindt Siege and being beyond horrified.

      And I agree. We shouldn't allow just anyone in (for example, I think anyone with a criminal record should be denied). I agree once again. Politics is nuts and is so hard to keep up with, and it's usually mentally and emotionally exhausting attempting to. I suppose I'm very into this subject because I'm an immigrant myself, like I'm also very invested in feminism in the media because I write stories and I'm a female. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Ashley! :)


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