About Asylum Seekers and Mandatory Detention

Important Refugee facts

(kindly provided by the Refugee Action Coalition Sydney)


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Are asylum seekers who arrive by boat ‘illegal’?

No. It is definitely not a crime to seek protection from persecution or other serious human rights abuses, every individual has that right under international law. That right to seek asylum is enshrined in article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 31 of the Refugee Convention – the basis on which the Australian Government justifies its use of the word ‘illegal’ – provides that actions that would otherwise be illegal, such as entering a country without a visa, must not be treated as illegal if a person is seeking asylum. Those drafting the Refugee Convention recognised the problematic nature of refugee escape and the frequent difficulty of obtaining travel documents.

The Refugee Council of Australia explains:

Refugees are, by definition, persons fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own governments. It is often too dangerous for refugees to apply for a passport or exit visa [as required by some countries] or approach an Australian Embassy for a visa, as this could put their lives, and the lives of their families, at risk. Refugees may also be forced to flee with little notice due to rapidly deteriorating situations and do not have time to apply for travel documents or arrange travel through authorised channels … Permitting asylum seekers to enter a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency – the action may ordinarily be illegal but, in order to protect lives at risk, an exception is made.

Sources: www.kaldorcentre.unsw.edu.au    www.refugeecouncil.org.au

National Commission of Audit reveals massive spending increase on offshore processing


The Federal Government’s National Commission of Audit report reveals the detention and offshore processing of Australia’s so-called illegal immigrants costs taxpayers 10 times more than letting asylum seekers live in the community while their refugee claims are processed.

A cost comparison of detention options highlights a cost of slightly more than $400,000 a year to hold an asylum seeker in offshore detention whereas it costs approximately $239,000 per year to hold them in detention within Australia. The cost for an asylum seeker to live in community detention is less than $100,000 per year.  In contrast, it costs around $40,000 per year for an asylum seeker to live in the community on a bridging visa while their claim is processed.

The Commission of Audit’s report shows that in the past four years, the Australian government has increased spending on the detention and processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat by 129 per cent each year. Costs have skyrocketed from $118.4 million in 2009–10 to $3.3 billion in 2013–14.

The detention and processing asylum seekers has been the fastest growing government program with projected costs over the forward estimates calculated to exceed $10 billion.

The report further notes the potential to reduce cost through the reduction of services provided to those in detention.

Professor Jane McAdam, Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, says: “At a time of fiscal constraint, this is an obvious policy area where expenditure could be slashed. Savings should not come from reducing services to asylum seekers, a solution proposed by the Commission of Audit. Services such as healthcare, counselling, and legal assistance are already limited and inadequate. Their reduction would only exacerbate the already precarious circumstances of asylum seekers in detention.

“Offshore processing and mandatory detention are inhumane and unnecessary policies that violate Australia’s international legal obligations. They cause and exacerbate psychological harm, mental illness and trauma. They have led to many instances of self-harm, and as the events of February 2014 on Manus Island show, serious physical injury and even death,” Professor McAdam says.

Media contact: Professor Jane McAdam, Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, (02) 9385 4075, kaldorcentre@unsw.edu.au