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15 myths and facts about refugees

By James Harper - posted Monday, 15 October 2001

1. Australia is being "invaded" or "flooded" by refugees.

In 2001, Australia will admit up to 12 000 refugees. That official quota has been static for three years, despite the increasing refugee numbers worldwide, and Australia has, in fact, admitted fewer than 12 000 each year in that time. This number combines the numbers of offshore and onshore arrivals.

In the early 1980s, Australia accepted 20 000 refugees per year.

According to Amnesty International, one in every 115 people on earth is a refugee, and a new refugee is created every 21 seconds. Eighty per cent are women and children.


In 2000, 300 000 refugees sought asylum in Europe. Just over 4000 reached Australia by boat or plane.

The heaviest burden of assisting refugees is borne by poor nations.

  • There are nearly four million Afghans in refugee camps in Pakistan and Iran.
  • Tanzania is hosting 680 000 refugees, Yugoslavia 484 000, Guinea 433 139 and Sudan 401 000.
  • Of industrialised nations, only Germany (906 000) and the United States (507 290) play host to large numbers.
  • Tanzania hosts one refugee for every 76 Tanzanian people (1:76)
  • Britain hosts one refugee for every 530 British people. (1:530)
  • Australia hosts one refugee for every 1583 Australian people. (1:1583)

(Source: Edmund Rice Centre for Justice & Community Education)

2. Asylum seekers who arrive without prior authorisation are "illegal".

Under International law anyone is entitled to apply for refugee asylum if they are escaping persecution, and Australia, as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Regarding the Status of Refugees, has an obligation to consider their claim.

"A person is entitled. . . to make an application for refugee asylum in a country when they allege that they are escaping persecution or would be persecuted if they returned. That is simply the law."


(Former Chief Justice Marcus Einfeld)

The Commonwealth recently passed legislation that amends the Migration Act and Border Protection Act, allowing it to refuse to fulfil its obligations to people who make requests for asylum in some Australian territory.

Thus the Federal Government has excised Christmas Island, the Cocos Islands and Ashmore Reef from Australia’s Immigration Zone — reducing the territory within which we may be obliged to respond to pleas for aid.

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This is an extract from a fact sheet complied for the Multicultural Development Association by Brisbane City Council in September 2001. An updated version of full paper can be downloaded here (pdf, 100kb).

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About the Author

James Harper is a researcher for the Brisbane City Council.

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