The Refugee Question (And Answers)

28 May 2011

I used to write to newspapers every time they referred to an asylum seeker as an “illegal immigrant”.  But I had to give it up as a “bashing your head against a brick wall” job.

How many times does it have to be said that people who travel to another country to seek refuge because of fear of persecution are NOT acting illegally.  Illegal immigrants are those who come here on a valid visa and stay here when that visa has expired (there are about 50,000 of those in Australia at the moment and I believe they mainly originate from the UK and the USA).  

I find it truly offensive that we demonise others like this.  I cannot for one moment imagine how desperate you’d have to be to get on a boat that you and I would reject for a trip across the Harbour, and set out to sea.  Don’t you think that if they had the option of coming here on a plane, they’d take it (it’s cheaper for a start, not to mention safer).  I remember Tony Abbott accused the Government of encouraging asylum seekers to risk their lives by travelling in “unsafe and leaky boats” then in the same breath suggested that these boats be turned around to make the return journey.  

This article puts the “refugee question” into perspective and answers some of the most frequent questions. 

Unfortunately it won’t be read by those who get their “facts” from Alan Jones or Tony Abbott.

(And I know I seem to be picking T.A, out for special criticism in the last few days, but I find HIM truly offensive as well).



  1. Good post and good article, Sally – I agreewholeheartedly. When will they ever learn?

  2. Oh, I absolutely agree with you

  3. Hi Sally

    I agree with your sentiments about the important use of particular terminology. It is an age-old practice by people with strong opinions to choose words that add greater weight to their argument.

    The unfortunate reality with our humanitarian resettlement program is that the vast majority of asylum seekers arrive in Australia by one of two ways:
    1. Fly from their home land to Malaysia or Indonesia, and then contract people smugglers for a boat trip to Ashmore Reef
    2. Travel over land to Malaysia or Indonesia, and then contract people smugglers for a boat trip to Ashmore Reef

    In both situations these people have been presented with multiple opportunities to seek refuge from persecution in a range of different countries. As a result Australia is seen as a preferred destination due to our high standard of living, rather than a port of call on the escape from persecution.

    The tightening of immigration rules under the Howard Government led to a massive decrease in the number of boat arrivals – not because there were less global conflicts, but because our country was no longer seen as a soft target. The result of the relaxation of those laws has been that thousands more people have taken that treacherous journey and tragically, countless lives have been lost.

    Our nation has an obligation to protect those seeking refuge from persecution and to accept our proportion of global refugees. Our immigration policy includes a generous quota of asylum seekers within the broader program.

    That program also includes family reunion and skilled migration recipients. The consequence of accepting every person willing to take their chances on a boat journey is to reduce the number of people we can take in the other programs, and also to provide an incentive for many more boat journeys, thus creating even greater risk to innocent lives.

    Finding an equitable balance between our nation’s humanitarian obligations, a strong policy that will deter people from making these treacherous trips, and also maintaining the necessary level of control over Australia’s borders is a great challenge. Unfortunately no policy response will achieve the maximum effectiveness on this without compromising others.

    It’s nice to have you back on your blogs discussing politics.

    All the best


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