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Political & civils rights advocate, animal lover & state co-ordinator for the Australian Federation Party

 The great asylum seeker debate, some truth!

Multiculturalism and immigration in Australia has a long proud history of accepting refugees for resettlement. Immigration and border protection are on the lips of many Australians and heavily in the country's political debate, so what is the truth?

Confusion lingers in the public debate on refugees and asylum seekers. not just about who they are, the impact they have on Australian life but also issues like priority of support, equity and social integration.

The community divide is sold as compassion V racism, but when we look closely, it is more about national Identity and a fair go and some equity for those doing it tough in our own country.

Refugee and or Asylum seeker?

A migrant is person or family who wishes to leave their country in order to seek a better life and can return home at any time. Migrants may be granted temporary or permanent status to reside in Australia.

A refugee is recognised as claiming they have been forced to leave their home country for fear of persecution - such as torture, imprisonment or execution - and they cannot return for fear of that persecution. (the definition of a refugee does not cover those who leave their country only because of war or other civil disturbance, famine, natural disasters or in order to seek a better life.

Where do the Government and Opposition stand on asylum seekers?

Labors Julia Gillard policy aims to tackle people smuggling by way of their recently negotiated refugee swap deal with Malaysia. Tony Abbott has vowed to "stop the boats" through offshore processing, bringing back temporary protection visas and turning back asylum seeker boats where possible.

So what do the people of Australia want? Here are some figures so as you can make up your mind. It has been reported in earlier articles that between 2007 and 2010 the approval rate for asylum seekers varied between 48 per cent and 67 per cent. Around 40 per cent of asylum seekers who arrive by plane are granted asylum, compared to 85 to 90 per cent of those who arrive by boat, making the later the most promising choice for those who can afford it.

In the past few months alone there has been a blowout of over 500 million dollars in processing alone to cope with the increase in arrivals, so the question as to the latest facts and figures needs to be more transparent.

Are asylum seekers all “Illegal or Queue jumper's”?

Up until 2009, only a small proportion of asylum applicants in Australia arrived by boat - most arrived by air with a valid visa and then went on to pursue asylum claims. Recently there has been a steep jump in the number of boat arrivals.

Everyone has the right to seek asylum in Australia under our agreement with United Nation protocols. The confusion about legal status stems from those arriving without a valid visa - most asylum seekers who arrive by air usually enter on a valid visa, while most that arrive by boat do not have a visa.

Regardless of how they arrive, asylum seekers are classified by Australian law to be "unlawful non-citizens". But that does not mean that they have committed a criminal offence, they have a right to seek asylum under international law and not be penalised for their mode of entry.

The term illegal may more appropriately apply to those without a valid visa who are not seeking protection, such as visa overstay. In June 2011, it was estimated that there were over 60,000 overstaying in Australia alone. Many asylum seekers are not in a position to join this queue and instead find protection by crossing over borders.

ASRC estimates that in 2011, governments will offer places to 80,000 refugees from over 10 million across the world. It says if all of these refugees were to join a queue, the wait for a positive outcome for a person joining the end of the queue would, at current resettlement rates, be 135 years. It is findings like this, that make alternate ideas to the world wide issue worthy of honest debate, could empowering honest democracy in our own countries be the best approach?


What allowances to asylum seekers receive?

Access to transparent and easy to understand facts and figures are not as easy and transparent as they should be in a supposed democracy, which does nothing but empower division and misinformation. Asylum seekers living in the community are granted welfare under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.

Payments are equivalent to 89 per cent of the Centrelink Newstart Allowance. Asylum seekers in immigration detention centres receive a small allowance but do not receive Centrelink equivalent payments.

Once granted refugee status, former asylum seekers are entitled to the same benefits as any other permanent Australian resident. However, they are exempt from the standard waiting period that applies, to access social security payments or concession cards. They also receive short-term assistance aimed at helping with settlement.

How much do we spend on asylum seekers?

ASRC says budget papers reveal the cost of Australia's immigration detention system was estimated at $800 million in 2011-12. It says at current numbers, with approximately 7,000 people in detention, It will cost Australians $110,000 per asylum seeker in detention in 2011-12, and that cost has suddenly risen some 500 million in recent months.

It is hard to consider there is a solid dollar figure on the cost of processing asylum seekers and keeping them in detention as Australia's policies are not confined as a single program. There are many added costs beyond just the cost of keeping asylum seekers in detention, other costs such as the cost of border monitoring and boat interception, the cost of new infrastructure and the cost of providing legal, medical and other services to detainees are huge, so public debate is indeed warranted.

One of 20 Nations

Australia is one of only about 20 nations worldwide that participate formally in the United Nations' resettlement program and accepts quotas of refugees on an annual basis from the UN itself. Eighty per cent of the world's refugees are hosted in the developing world, so the burden of assisting the world's asylum seekers and refugees actually falls to some of the world's poorest countries.

UNHCR data shows that Pakistan is host to the largest number of refugees worldwide. So as a healthy country we indeed must do our part, and to do so in a united manner, transparency and honest debate, if not an informed referendum may just be over due.

With most things political, it comes down to priorities, when Australian people see our own needy and deserving going without, it is natural for us to come to their defence, in the same way we all hope to protect our national identity and indeed our sovereign rights.

Australians are multicultural as defined by the word, but maybe not by media perception, social networking on the issue brings strong yet divided results from let in as many as we can to the abolition of immigration.

There are limits in life, restraints that relate to basic issues like housing, food, power, health care, essential services, and even water, and considering Australia is already having issues on this front, it is understandable that the people would question 80,000 plus new arrivals, when their own are missing out.

I hope this guide helped in some way to stem community divide, my advice to the federal government would be to communicate honestly with the Australian people, treat one and all with equity, and to lead by example, which includes putting Australians first, if there is a waiting list to address any short fall in available resources.

Mark Aldridge


some of the figures quoted were found courtesy of the ABC's media article on the same topic