Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Australia: 1970’s and 21st Century
Refugees and Asylum Seekers in Australia: 1970’s and 21st Century
The terms refugee and asylum seeker are different; according to the UNHCR “ an asylum-seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee, but whose claim has not yet been definitively evaluated.”1 The definition of a Refugee is different it reads: “Someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion.”
This report gives light to the contrasting circumstances of the influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the 1970’s and the 21st Century, in order to find patterns and present recommendations for the managing of refugees and asylum seekers in the future.
Global factors that have caused people to become refugees and asylum seekers:
Since the 1970’s there has been a constant trend as to why people seek refuge in Australia that is persecution, war and invasion. During the 1970’s Australia took in a lot of asylum seekers that had been displaced due to persecution, war and invasion: In 1972, 198 Asians were extradited by Uganda’s President Idi Amin were settled in Australia.2 In 1975, the war in East Timor brought 2,500 people to Darwin.2 After the fall of the Vietnamese Government in Saigon in late 1975, the first 400 Vietnamese refugees had been selected for resettlement.
Since the start of the 21st century a new global factor has been discovered which is living standards in other countries compared to those in Australia. Statistics show that: Since last year 90% of boat arrivals have been found to be genuine refugees. 3 It is generally middle class Iranians and Sri Lankans that have been found to be economic migrants rather than refugees suffering from persecution3 This is an added global factor causing people to ‘seek asylum’ in Australia as well as thousands of people who wish to seek asylum in Australia for the correct reasons which are because they fear being persecuted due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a social group or political opinion.” 1 Many places in Africa wrought with conflict such as the Congo, Sudan and Ethiopia have left thousands of people wanting to seek refuge in Australia4
Experiences of refugees and asylum seekers travelling to Australia:
A Vietnamese woman by the name of Cuc was fleeing the communist regime after the Civil war where the South surrendered (Fall of Saigon.) She and her husband Minh tried many times to escape but were unsuccessful. Although in 1978, 3 years after the Fall of Saigon they disguised themselves as fishermen and got on to a small boat that carried 34 asylum seekers and was headed for Malaysia. “They were crammed, petrified and thought they were going to drown.” Disaster struck two days into the voyage when they ran out of water, as a result fruit supplies were used to rehydrate. Six days later with no supplies whatsoever they were saved by the Malaysian Navy and taken to a refugee camp. After only spending six weeks in the camp, Cuc and Minh were granted access to go and resettle in Australia.5 21st century
A 3-year-old boy, David and his parents from Southern Sudan were under threat from the Sudanese Government in the 2nd Civil war. His pregnant mother was on the Government’s ‘hit list’ for the brutal massacres. She was not mobile with the baby so David and his father had to leave without her. They walked for 2 months to an Ethiopian refugee camp where they had a lack of food and were surrounded by deceased persons along the side of the road. They spent 4 years in the camp before being told to leave due to the Ethiopian Civil war. David and his father walked back to Sudan, which was still highly volatile at the time.
After David lost his father and another year of fighting him and his friends went to Kenya. They reached the Kakuma refugee camp in 1992. David was 10 years old and had no family. He spent 13 years in Kakuma and became apart of the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ group. Many of the boys had been accepted for resettlement in the United States but David missed out. Not long after a cousin of his in Australia sponsored him to come to as a refugee and David was accepted. He arrived in August 2004.
Australian Government Policies regarding refugees and asylum seekers:
During the 1970’s the Australian Government started to use policies that help with processing of asylum seekers. These include: 13th December 1973: Australia agrees to the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The Protocol removes parts of the original Convention that relate to the geographic and time limitations. Thus increasing its ability to respond to new refugee situations.6 1978: The Government implements a procedure that deals with onshore processing and applications to claim refugee status.6 These policies were the base that helped Australia to start the processing of asylum seekers and their claims during the influx of asylum seekers. It also helped the Immigration Department of Australia learn how to deal with such numbers of asylum seekers.
Since the start of the 21st century the Australian Government has been implementing and amending policies to effectively process asylum seekers. Evidently: August 29th 2001: Border Protection Bill is introduced. This gives the Government power to remove any vessel from Australian waters and send it back to its place of departure.
January 17th 2011: The Government signs a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Afghanistan, authorizing the involuntary deportation of Afghan asylum seekers from Australia to Afghanistan once conflict zones are settled.
May 7th 2011: The Australian Government announces an agreement made with the Malaysian Government where 800 asylum seekers who arrive in Australia will be sent to Malaysia for processing whilst Malaysia transfers 4,000 refugees to Australia, ready to be settled. This was formally signed on the 25th of July 2011.
August 19th 2011: Another Memorandum of Understanding is signed with the Papua New Guinea Government to rebuild an asylum seeker assessment centre on Manus Island. In 2013 a new arrangement was made that refugees will have to remain in Papua New Guinea and may not be able to settle in Australia.
September 14th 2012: the Nauru off-shore processing and detention facility is re-opened.
February 9th 2013: A resettlement deal is reached with New Zealand. 150 of New Zealand’s 750 processing centres will house asylum seekers who had originally arrived in Australia.
August 3rd 2013: The Australian Government signs a new memorandum of understanding with Nauru similar to its Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea. Asylum seekers who are transferred to Nauru for processing and found to be refugees could be settled in Nauru permanently. 6 These more recent policies of the 21st century were updated to help Australia’s processing capacity from overflowing and to keep up with the huge influx of asylum seekers Australia was receiving.
The public opinion of Australians towards refugees and asylum seekers:
Asylum seekers arriving by boat was the major topic of debate in the 1977 Federal election and initially people were sympathetic towards asylum seekers. Then public debate started to focus on the consequences such as: rising unemployment rates and the impact of people ‘jumping the immigration queue.’ As a matter of fact people started to question the Immigration Department’s migrant selection ability. As the number of arrivals increased, the opposition to asylum seeker increased with it. Press references stated it to be an “invasion,” a “flood.” Some personified the influx of asylum seekers as the “yellow peril.” In 1977 the Waterside Workers’ Federation called for strikes and protests against the special treatment of refugees by the trade unions.
Public concern of arrivals amplified as the public attacked the Government, their lack of border control and whether it was ‘genuine refugees’ being allowed into the country or if there was a lack of care as to who was granted access into Australia. The public started vilifying asylum seekers and refugees, making them out to be: pirates; rich businessmen; drug runners and communist infiltrators. 7 Research conducted by Katharine Betts came up with these results: In the late 70’s 60% of Australians wanted a limited number of asylum seekers let into the country. 7-13% wanted to let any number of them into Australia
20-32% wanted to stop asylum seekers from coming into Australia all together.7
From the 1970’s to the 21st century there has been little change in the attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees. Although there was a dramatic decrease in asylum seeker arrivals from 2003-2007, which meant that it was out of the media, public discussion and the public eye. Boat arrivals had risen in 2008 and the debate about how the influx will be managed commenced once again and ended up being a key point in the 2010 Federal Election.7 A survey in April 2009 showed that:
37% of voters believed that the government was doing a good job in managing the asylum seeker situation 36% believed that if tougher policies were enforced it would make a difference to arrivals of asylum seekers in Australia. Amnesty International commissioned a poll in July 2009 where results proved that there was great confusion amongst the public as to how many refugees let into Australia arrived by boat. The Majority of people thought that 80% of arrivals came by boat7 when really almost 9% of applications granted in 2008-09 were those who came by boat.8
In the study it was also found that 69% of people said that refugees should be given the same rights regardless of how the arrived in Australia. Although a survey conducted by the Scanlon Foundation in 2010 that was designed to map social cohesion came up with some interesting results. After asking a series of questions about asylum seekers who arrived by boat, they found the general consensus was that “the arrival of boats is met with a high level of negativity. Polls conducted since 2010 have shown this to be a constant trend.
Difficulties and challenges faced by the refugees and asylum seekers upon arrival in Australia:
During the influx of asylum seekers in the 1970’s most arrivals were granted refugee status very quickly. At that time Australia had 3 detentions centres. Although they were designed for short-term stays (i.e. people who had overstayed their visas.) These facilities couldn’t handle the influx of asylum seekers. As a result asylum seekers where held in ‘loose detention’ in migrant centres with those who had already been granted a visa. These centres where in urban areas although asylum seekers weren’t allowed to leave and had to attend a roll call everyday to make sure no one had left and everyone was accounted for.9 Living conditions in the centres seem to be somewhat crammed and ‘cooped up’ yet still comfortable for the number of asylum seekers staying using the facilities.
Nowadays in the 21st century asylum seeker arrivals are take offshore processing centres such as: Christmas Island, Nauru and Manus Island. Those who are processed in offshore facilities do not have access to any form of legal assistance or a judicial review if they believe a negative decision is made. In 2008, The Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, announced in a speech that detainees will be treated fairly and reasonably within the law and also that the conditions of which they are being detained in “will ensure the inherent dignity of the human person.”9 Contrarily in 2013 Amnesty International’s investigation into the conditions inside the Manus Island detention centre made such discoveries as these: In the largest compound, Oscar, drinking water is limited to less than half a litre per day. Detainees spend up to 4-5 hours per day queuing for meals.
No shelter is provided during the day to shade detainees from the humidity and temperatures that can reach up to 35 degrees. 30% of detainees now suffer from mental health problems.
Reports also said that the toilet and bathroom facilities in the detention centre lack basic services such as soap in toilets and bathrooms and there aren’t enough showers and toilets for people to use. This causes highly preventable outbreaks of illnesses like gastro (gastroenteritis.) Key Recommendations:
The managing, holding and processing of asylum seekers is very different nowadays to what it was in the 1970’s. Three major things have happened during this period: Living standards and conditions of detention centres have been in a very steep decline from the 1970’s until now. This is something that must be fixed. Those staying in detention centres may be asylum seekers looking to escape persecution and conflict; however they are still humans. Thus living standards must be raised so the living conditions inside detention centres rise with it.
This benefits Australia in many ways as well as the as asylum seekers because a good image of Australia is projected within the global community, asylum seekers who are potentially going to be granted access into Australia get a good image of what it’s going to be like and most importantly: asylum seekers staying in detention centres will naturally become healthier and preventable illnesses will be easily prevented. Nowadays more and more people see Australia as a good place to start a new life for economic reasons. Whereas in the 1970’s people were mainly trying to flee persecution and conflict As a result the Immigration Department of Australia must implement ways to find those who are using Australia’s immigration system for the wrong reasons (personal economic reasons) and immediately deport them back their country of origin or their change over point i.e. Malaysia & Indonesia.
This allows the rate of people being processed to increase as those who aren’t genuine refugees are immediately found and removed from the detention centres, they no longer need to be asking for refugee status and access into Australia. Since the 1970’s there has been a constant negative attitude towards asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. This also needs to change if Australia wishes to make any advancement. The Australian Government needs to begin a campaign to inform the public about what refugees can bring to our nation and start to convert the public majority to pro-refugees rather than anti-refugees.
The public will then start to take a genuine interest in how Australia could improve the holding, managing and processing of asylum seekers. This will also change in the media, if the media publish stories that the public will read and want to read they will publish stories that follow the general consensus, which at the moment is still negative. However if the general consensus is positive then the media will reflect the positive attitude and publish positive stories. If these key recommendations are put in place they can improve the managing, holding and processing of asylum seekers and also the publics attitude towards Government policies about asylum seekers and refugees in Australian society.
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