Debunking Myths About Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Myth 1 – Boat People are Queue Jumpers

Fact: In Iraq and Afghanistan, there are no queues for people to jump. Australia has no diplomatic representation in these countries and supports the International coalition of nations who continue to oppose these regimes and support sanctions against them. Therefore, there is no standard refugee process where people wait in line to have their applications considered. Few countries between the Middle East and Australia are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and as such asylum seekers are forced to continue to travel to another country to find protection.

People who are afraid for their lives are fleeing from the world’s most brutal regimes including the Taliban in Afghanistan and Sadaam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. Antonio Domini, Head of UN Humanitarian Program in Afghanistan, states that Afghanistan is one of the most difficult places in the world in which to survive.

Myth 2 – Asylum Seekers are Illegal

Fact: This is untrue. Under Australian Law and International Law a person is entitled to make an application for refugee asylum in another country when they allege they are escaping persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

People who arrive on our shores without prior authorisation from Australia, with no documents, or false documents are not illegal. They are asylum seekers – a legal status under International Law. Many Asylum Seekers are forced to leave their countries in haste and are unable to access appropriate documentation. In many cases oppressive authorities actively prevent

normal migration processes from occurring. ‘Illegals’ are people who overstay their visas. The vast majority of these in Australia are from western countries, including 5,000 British tourists.

Myth 3 – Australia Already Takes Too Many Refugees

Fact: Australia receives relatively few refugees by world standards. In 2001 Australia will receive only 12 000 refugees through its humanitarian program. This number has remained static for three years, despite the ever-increasing numbers of refugees’ worldwide. Australia accepted 20 000 refugees each year at the beginning of the 1980’s.

According to Amnesty International 1 in every 115 people on earth are refugees, and a new refugee is created every 21 seconds. Refugees re-settle all over the world. However, the distribution of refugees across the world is very unequal.

  • 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)

Myth 4 – We’re Being Swamped by Hordes of Boat People

Fact: 300 000 refugees arrived in Europe to seek asylum last year. In contrast, 4174 reached Australia by boat or plane. In 2000, Iran and

Pakistan each hosted over a million Afghan refugees. The real burden of assisting refugees is borne in the main by the world’s poorest nations.

Myth 5 – They’re Not Real Refugees Anyway

Fact: 97% of applicants from Iraq and 93% of applicants from Afghanistan seeking asylum without valid visas in Australia in 1999 were recognised as genuine refugees. Therefore, under Australian law they were found to be eligible to stay in Australia. Generally, 84% of all asylum seekers are found to be legitimate refugees and are able to stay in Australia.

Myth 6 – They Must Be ‘Cashed up’ to Pay People Smugglers

Fact: It is alleged that people who have the resources to pay people smugglers could not possibly be genuine refugees. The UNHCR disputes claims about ‘cashed up’ refugees saying that payments made to people smugglers in fact range from $4000 – $5000 AUD. In reality, many families and communities pool their resources in an attempt to send their relatives to safety. People smuggling is a crime that the international community needs to combat. However, this does not negate the legitimacy of asylum seekers’ claims, nor their need to seek refuge. The international community, in eradicating people smuggling, is also required to address the growing numbers of asylum seekers throughout the world. As a Western nation, Australia has a role to play.

Myth 7 – There is no Alternative to Mandatory Detention

Fact: Asylum seekers claims need to be assessed for legitimacy. Australia is the only Western country that mandatorily detains asylum seekers whilst their claims are being heard. Asylum seekers are not criminals and detention should be minimal. At a cost of $104 a day per head the policy of detention is very expensive. Community based alternatives to mandatory detention can be found internationally and within the current Australian parole system.

A select Committee of the NSW Parliament has costed alternatives to incarceration including home detention and transitional housing. The average cost of community based programs are (per person, per day): Parole: $5.39. Probation: $3.94. Home Detention: $58.83. These options are clearly more economically efficient, and much more humane.

Sweden receives similar numbers of asylum seekers as Australia, despite having less than half the population. Detention is only used to establish a persons identity and to conduct criminal screening. Most detainees are released within a very short time, particularly if they have relatives or friends living in Sweden. Of the 17,000 asylum seekers currently in Sweden 10,000 reside outside the detention centres. Children are only detained for the minimum possible time (a maximum of 6 days).

Myth 8 – If We Let Them In, They’ll Take Our Benefits

Fact: A common misconception is that refugees arriving in Australia will ‘steal’ the entitlements of Australians. The reality is that refugees, like migrants, create demand for goods and services, thus stimulating the economy and generating growth and employment. A recent UCLA study has shown that unauthorised immigration boosts the US economy by $800 billion per year.

Myths & Lies told about Asylum Seekers

Are asylum seekers queue jumpers? There are no queues for Iraqi or Afghan refugees. Australia has no diplomatic presence in those countries and maintains trading sanctions imposed on Iraq by the United Nations Security Council in 1990.

The typical route for an Afghan or Iraqi refugee is an overland escape into Pakistan then a flight to Thailand. Bangkok is the nearest Australian immigration centre in the region. Therefore, there is no official or standard process which provides for an orderly and direct departure for refugees from Iraq or Afghanistan.

Are asylum seekers illegal? Generally it is not possible for a person fleeing persecution to obtain a visa to enter another country. This is why they apply for protection. The right to apply for asylum is a fundamental human right. Many asylum seekers are forced to leave their countries in haste or in secret and so are often unable to access appropriate documentation.

In many cases authorities actively prevent migration and refuse to issue travel papers. In some cases, identifying documentation might be incriminating and may be destroyed for self-protection and the protection of family, friends and colleagues.

Persons are entitled to make application for asylum in another country when they allege they are escaping persecution. Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.’

People who arrive on our shores without prior authorisation from Australia, with no documents or with false documents, are not illegal and they are not criminals; they are asylum seekers, a legal status under Australian and international law.

The 1951 Convention does not specify the processes to use in determining whether or not a person fits the definition of a refugee. As a consequence, asylum seekers are assessed in different ways around the world, according to different legal and political regimes. It is important to remember that while many asylum applicants may not meet the strict Convention definition of a refugee, it does not mean that they are out to abuse the system, or that they have no claim on our compassion.

Does Australia take its share of refugees? In 2000-2001:

  • the number of people ‘of concern’ to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) was 21.8 million, or one out of every 275 persons on earth; (
  • Australia agreed to take a maximum of 12,000 in its humanitarian program but in fact took less than 8,000, despite the increasing numbers of refugees worldwide; (
  • *about 4,100 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat; ( By contrast, each year, about 20,000 people, mainly from the UK and the USA, overstay their tourist and work visas. ( In number, these people are many times greater than boat arrivals but they are rarely detained. This suggests that the problem is not one of maintaining Australia’s sovereignty and protecting the borders against those who seek to breach them but of protecting the borders against the arrival of particular groups.

Is Australia taking too many refugees? It is true that people smugglers are targeting Australia but the smugglers are targeting every other developed nation as well and their ‘clients’ come from the same places.

Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians account for three of the top five nationalities seeking asylum in Britain. As long as the conditions in source countries do not improve, people smugglers will have a large pool of potential customers, despite the huge risks and enormous expense involved, and despite disincentives like detention and temporary visas.

The real burden of assisting refugees is borne by the world’s poorest nations. The main host countries remain Pakistan which shelters two million persons, Iran 1.9 million and Germany 976,000. (

Closer to home, Thailand hosts more than 200,000 refugees from Burma. 71 countries accept refugees and asylum seekers, and on a per capita basis Australia ranks 38, slightly behind Kazakhstan, Guinea, Djibouti and Syria.

Furthermore, Australia is one of the most difficult countries in the world to reach and because of this it is highly unlikely that we will ever see the large numbers of asylum seekers other countries experience.

There is an erroneous perception that everyone in the world wants to come to Australia yet Australia is little known in the total scheme of things so it is unlikely that there will ever be large numbers of people seeking asylum here.

There are currently millions of refugees waiting in camps on the borders of Afghanistan in a situation described by the UN as a ‘human crisis of monumental proportions’. Australia accepts a tiny proportion of these displaced people.

Are the asylum seekers genuine refugees? In the year ended June 1999, 97 per cent of applicants from Iraq and 93 per cent of applicants from Afghanistan seeking asylum in Australia were recognised as genuine refugees. Under Australian law they were found to be eligible to stay in Australia.

Of all asylum seekers, 84 per cent are found to be legitimate refugees and are therefore legally entitled and eligible to stay here. (

Despite continuing calls from Australian politicians for applications for asylum to be processed in Indonesia, Australia has not taken a single refugee from the UNHCR in Jakarta for more than five years. Some people have given up on the process and paid for boat trips to Australia.

Among those who died when their ship sank off the coast of Indonesia in late 2001, 24 had already been granted refugee status. Many more had relations in Australia who had been granted asylum but were not allowed access to their families because of Temporary Protection Visa conditions.

How wealthy are refugees? Some people think that those who have the resources to pay people smugglers could not possibly be genuine refugees. The UNHCR disputes claims about ‘cashed up’ refugees saying that payments made to people smugglers in fact range from $AU4,000 to $AU5,000.

In reality, many families and communities pool their resources by selling everything they own in an attempt to send their loved ones to safety.

People smuggling is dangerous and undesirable. It exists because the official resettlement programs run by the United Nations are tiny compared to the numbers of refugees concerned.

Conditions in refugee camps are appalling and the current system fails to offer asylum seekers relief from their desperate and unrelieved misery; it fails to acknowledge the legitimacy of the claims of asylum seekers and their need to seek a better life.

What sort of accommodation do detention centres offer? Global Solutions (a division of Group 4, FALCK) stands to make $770 million from the mandatory detention of asylum seekers in Australia.

Conditions inside camps are extremely harsh. There are inadequate numbers of beds, limited bathroom facilities and inappropriate food. Detention centres even have solitary confinement cells.

There is little or no access to legal information in languages other than English, health care facilities are poor, and nurses are given written instructions not to hug or excessively comfort the detainees.

Even though children may be held for years, education programs are not available.

In some camps, such as Port Hedland (now closed), detainees worked for $1 an hour in the kitchens and gardens. What is more, detainees are charged $150 a day for their accommodation which can add up to thousands of dollars by the time they are finally granted asylum. An 8-month detention costs the detainee about $35,000.

Ex-detainees report that guards frequently tell the detainees that they are hated by all Australians and that upon their release they are likely to be beaten, harassed or worse.

Mandatory detention in camps in remote areas is a violation of human rights and must be abandoned.

Terrorists or innocent victims? There is no evidence that any asylum seekers arriving by boat have any connection to terrorism. Indeed, in an address to the “Inquiry into a Certain Maritime Incident” (the Children Overboard Inquiry) no less than the Director General of ASIO (Australian Security Intelligence Organisation) Mr Dennis Richardson, said that no terrorists had ever been found amongst the clientele of people smugglers. “Why would you send your best trained, most valuable personnel down a route which ended in mandatory detention, if not death along the way?”

There is no evidence that asylum seekers threw their children overboard as claimed by the Australian Prime Minister and other government ministers.

The links made by Phillip Ruddock and others between asylum seekers and terrorists following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York were instances of racist demonising of innocent victims.

The scapegoating of refugees by the government promotes fear and hysteria and has led to incidents of racially motivated personal abuse, verbal and physical.

Those who perpetrated the 11 September 2001 attacks did not arrive in the United States as asylum seekers.

The latest military retaliation by the US with the full support of NATO, including Australia, has had a devastating effect on the defenceless civilian population of Afghanistan. Reports have indicated that thousands of innocent civilians including refugees have been killed in the attacks on ‘terrorists’.

There are many other countries in the world that are enduring similar conditions of war, poverty and marginalisation, all factors that lead people to escape to a better life.


There is a lot of confusion about refugees: not just about who they are but also about the impact they have on Australian life. Here are just some of the myths:

Charity begins at home: we should help Aborigines and other disadvantaged groups in Australia first!

“Charity” is not something that should be considered in terms of “us” and “them”. If we are being responsible members of the human community we should seek ways to assist all those in need.

Refugees take our jobs which is balanced by the contradictory myth: all refugees go on unemployment benefits.

It is true that newly arrived refugees have higher unemployment rates than the community average. This is not unexpected. Amongst the refugee arrivals are people who have been tortured and deeply traumatised. This can interfere with employment. There are also a significant number of entrants whose qualifications are not recognised in Australia and they need time to make adjustments. There is also the issue of learning English. Refugees are entitled to 510 hours of free English language instruction which must be taken in the first 2 years – and it is beneficial that the entrants do this as they are unlikely to do this later.

The fact that refugees “come from behind” in the employment stakes highlights the need for specifically targeted intervention programs that recognise issues such as their trauma, their unrecognised qualifications and their lack of English. Targeted programs that do this have shown that they are very successful at placing refugees in the workforce. If we are to bring refugees to Australia (and it is Australia’s decision that we do so) it is important that we recognise their specific needs and address these. If we do this, we will reap the benefits. Most refugees want to work, both to restore their damaged sense of self esteem and to repay what they see as their debt of gratitude to Australia for providing them with protection.

Whether “refugees take our jobs” is the sort of question that has no easy answer. Refugees do compete for jobs but they are also consumers. Because they arrive with nothing they have to purchase household goods, clothing etc, all of which provides jobs for the people who make and sell these commodities.

Refugees have no right to come here and expect us to help them.

Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: “Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries freedom from persecution”.
It is an accident of birth that we are born in a country where human rights are respected. Do we have a moral right to protect these at the expense of others? This does not mean that Australia alone must take the full burden for protecting the persecuted. It does mean that we have to play a part in an international response that includes a wide spectrum of initiatives from addressing root causes to providing asylum to people whose human rights have been violated.

Refugees are economic migrants who come here to get a better life.

The distinction between refugees and migrants is outlined on the FAQs page.

Refugees get all sorts of handouts from the government.

As will be outlined on the FAQs page, refugees essentially have the same rights and entitlements as permanent residents. They are, however, exempt from the waiting period for Social Security benefits and they get 510 hours of free English language instruction and some get access to post-arrival assistance. These extra entitlements are in recognition of their particular needs.

If we let one in, they will come in floods.

Australia is one of the most difficult countries in the world to get to. We have no common borders and there are universal visa requirements and carrier sanctions. Because of this it is highly unlikely that we will ever see the large numbers of asylum seekers other countries experience.

There is also the erroneous perception in the public’s mind that everyone in the world wants to come to Australia. We are little known in the total scheme of things and far less of an incentive than countries such as the United States.
It is realistic to expect that asylum seekers will keep coming to Australia but unlikely that there will be “floods” of people with the wherewithal and inclination to make the journey by irregular means.

The best way for Australia to deal with asylum seekers is to process their claims expeditiously. This way those in need of protection receive it and those whose claims are without merit can returned to their country of origin to “send a message” to others in similar circumstances that it is not so easy to get to Australia.

One of the things that is important to recognise in this debate is that any response a country makes must protect those in genuine need of protection ie there must be the presumption of a genuine claim until it is determined to be otherwise, not the presumption that the person is rorting the system.

Refugees cannot possibly contribute anything to us.

It is a myth that all refugees are illiterate peasants. The majority that come to Australia are educated middle class people – whose education, profession or political opinions have drawn them to the attention of the authorities and resulted in their persecution.

By definition refugees are survivors. They have survived because they have the courage, ingenuity and creativity to have done so. These are qualities which we value in Australia. The challenge for Australia is to assist newly arrived refugees to process the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia. If we do this we will reap the benefits of the qualities and experiences they bring to Australia.


Myth: ‘Australia is overrun by refugees.’
Fact: Australia accepts a very small number of refugees by global standards. Global figures demonstrate that by the new millenium the world’s refugee population had reached over 22 million. Over 90% of all refugee places are provided within the two-thirds world. During 1998-1999, 7,274 applications for protection were completed by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. Of these, 979 were granted protection visas and 6,160 were refused. The entire Australian Refugee Programme provides for a total of only 12,000 places annually.

Myth: ‘They come here because they know Australia is a paradise.’
Fact: Refugee claimants face enormous bureaucratic hurdles in establishing refugee status.
Refugee claimants have fled intolerable, often life-threatening situations, due to volatile political or civil conflicts. They have left behind their family, friends, culture and often successful professional careers, fleeing only with what they can carry. Their primary focus is on ‘getting out of’, not on ‘going to’ somewhere else. When they arrive in Australia a plethora of bureaucratic demands add stress to the lives of already traumatised people. Strict application requirements, (such as the 45-day rule), lengthy review procedures, criteria based on proof of personal character/health, and application costs are some of the official hurdles they face. The difficulties continue with the need to secure work permits, organise appropriate accommodation, and overcome language differences, as well as limited access to legal advice, lack of family/social networks and health/counselling services.

Myth: ‘Refugee Claimants are ‘queue jumpers’
Fact: There is no queue! In many countries, especially those torn by civil war or strife, Australia has no diplomatic presence, therefore refugees cannot apply for a visa to enter Australia. Clearly, there is no Australian-organised queue for such people. In some cases, refugees may have fled to a nearby country and may later seek to enter Australia from there. However, for many refugee claimants it is either impractical or impossible to go first to a neighbouring country, and then seek resettlement from there. This can be because these countries are not signatories to the international laws that would ensure refugees protection within their borders. It could also be because they would not be safe in a neighbouring country, especially, if that country was sympathetic to the persecutory regime. In these cases, individuals may have to try to go directly to a country, such as Australia, where they can seek protection.

The Refugee Claimants Journey

Refugees come to Australia in one of two ways:

Most come under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program. These people are selected overseas, usually after referral from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). They enter Australia with a visa that entitles them to permanent residency, and to apply for citizenship after the prescribed waiting period.

Other refugees apply for asylum once they are in Australia. They are referred to as refugee claimants or asylum seekers. Refugee claimants who come to Australia have usually entered with a visitors’, student or other temporary visa. Some arrive with no documents or with false documents.

According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 14, everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. This right guarantees a refugee has protection from being sent back to their country of origin against their will, and access to employment, education, the legal system and civil rights in their chosen country of settlement. However, refugee claimants are not guaranteed these basic rights until their refugee status is officially recognised.

The Australian Government’s official recognition of a person’s refugee status does not make them a refugee, as the very act of seeking asylum from persecution immediately categorises them as a refugee. Therefore it is important that refugee claimants are treated as refugees, until proven otherwise. Failure to do so can mean that a country does not meet its legal obligations to genuine refugees. In applying for protection these people are exercising their right, under international law, to seek safety from persecution.

It can take up to three or more years for a refugee claimant to be officially recognised as a refugee. During that time they undergo a prolonged and complex process of application which can involve a number of reviews and appeals. If they lodge an application within 45 days of arriving in Australia (which many do not for legitimate reasons) they are given permission to work. However, if their case goes under review or is awaiting a decision on appeal then their work permission is denied. This means they no longer have a right to Medicare or to any government support through Centrelink, and therefore have no way of securing housing, education, food, clothing, transport, or any of the basic necessities while they await a decision.

These restrictions have had a devastating impact as they have caused severe hardship for many refugee claimants. Those affected by this rule describe a feeling of being persecuted by the restrictions in ways that are similar to the circumstances from which they fled. For example, one purpose of torture is to shame and humiliate the victim so that their identity and sense of self is destroyed. The effect of the restrictions often leads to the refugee claimant feeling a prolonged sense of shame, humiliation, and lack of identity in the country in which they have sought refuge. Added to this is the stress and uncertainty of the outcome of their application. The reality for many refugee claimants is that they may never be able to return to their country of origin, no matter what the circumstances. If they are returned forcibly by the Australian government they face persecution, or possibly death.

The Application Process

1. Primary Stage: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA)

A refugee claimant (asylum seeker) lodges an application for protection with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. During this time they are given a ‘Bridging Visa’ that allows them to remain legally in the country while their application for refugee status is being considered. Their written application is assessed by a case officer of DIMA to determine whether the person’s claims fit the criteria for refugee status. The time taken to make a decision on these applications can be anything from a month to three years. There are only two possible outcomes from the primary stage: the application is accepted and the refugee claimant is granted refugee status; or the application is rejected.

In 1997, in a bid to reduce non-genuine applications for refugee status, statutory rule 109 or the 45-Day Rule was brought in. It removed work rights and access to health care for refugee claimants who did not apply for protection within 45 days of their arrival in Australia. It was assumed that by virtue of their late application, people who lodge a Protection Visa application after they have been 45 days in Australia are non-genuine applicants.
However, genuine refugee claimants very often lodge their applications well after the 45 day period.
There are a number of legitimate reasons for this which include:

  • Fear (an instinctive response to fear is to try to keep a low profile)
  • Unfamiliarity with the new environment/system
  • Language difficulties
  • Mental health issues (eg. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
  • Fear of authorities and government institutions (due to traumatic experiences in their country of origin)
  • Lack of knowledge of the Protection Visa system and how to make a Protection Visa application
  • Misinformation from well-meaning family or community members
  • The need to seek asylum arise after they have already been in Australia for some time (particularly those on a student visa)
  • Many applicants lodge an application as a last resort after waiting as long as they can for the situation to improve in their own country

2. Review Stage: Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT)

If a claim is rejected at the primary stage, the refugee claimant then has the option to lodge an application for a review of this decision. They have 28 days to do this, after which time they are deemed to be illegally in the country. The body responsible for reviewing applications is the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT). It is the RRT member’s task to review the DIMA primary decision using exactly the same criteria: the person’s status as a refugee in accordance with the United Nation’s definition. In most cases applicants receive an oral hearing.

There are two possible outcomes from the review stage: the RRT overturns the original decision and grants refugee status – this happens in approximately 10% of cases; or the RRT upholds the decision and the applicant is again rejected. If an application is rejected by the RRT, in accordance with regulation 7.6 of statutory rule 210, it is mandatory for those awaiting decisions on appeals to the Minister for Immigration or the Court to also be denied permission to work.

3. Last Review Stage: Ministerial or High Court Appeal

The Minister of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs has the power to intervene if the RRT has rejected a review application and it is believed to be in the public interest.
Also the Federal Court has the power to either uphold a refusal or to direct that the applicant be reassessed.
Many of those seeking the Minister’s intervention in their cases on humanitarian grounds are amongst the most vulnerable of refugee claimants; living in difficult circumstances due to having lost work permission and having endured a prolonged application process. Some are survivors of torture but for one reason or another their cases did not fit the exacting definition of a refugee – despite them having very strong humanitarian reasons for not returning to their country of origin.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights

(The following list does not comprise the complete Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Included are 18 of the 30 articles which compile the Declaration. The articles selected are those which cover a majority of the breaches of human rights suffered by refugee claimants both in their country of origin and in Australia.)

Article 1:
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act toward one another in the spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2:
Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth and or other status.
Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3:
Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4:
No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5:
No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6:
Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7:
All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8:
Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution of law.

Article 9:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

Article 12:
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 14:
(1) Everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
(2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

Article 15:
(1) Everyone has the right to a nationality.
(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his/her nationality.

Article 18:
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19:
Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 22:
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realisation, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organisation and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23:
(1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.

(2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

(3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

(4) Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

Article 25:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of him/herself and of his/her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

Article 29:
(1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.

Myths propagated by politicians:

They have entered Australia illegally.

Entering Australia without a visa is not a crime under Australian law. Under international law refugees have the right to seek asylum using any available means. By branding refugees in Australia ‘illegal’ the government is implying that the prolonged detention of people seeking refuge from repressive regimes in prison-like conditions is an appropriate response to their ‘criminal’ behaviour.

In fact the largest illegal population residing in Australia consists of the 54,800 visitors who have overstayed their visas. The total number of people arriving in Australia without visas since 1989 was 10,254.

Australia is facing a flood of refugees.

The total number of asylum applications submitted in Australia during 1999 was 9,450. This is a relatively low number compared to most countries in the developed world. During the same year, the UK received 71,150 applications from asylum seekers, and Germany got 95,110.

Entire villages in the Middle East are planning to resettle in Australia.

This myth was first put about by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Honourable Phillip Ruddock. When questioned concerning the source of this information he cited travellers tales.

Most refugees are in fact economic opportunists seeking ‘the good life’ in Australia.

In fact, even according to the harsh criteria used by DIMA officials in assessing applications the majority of applicants are found to be genuine refugees fleeing persecution in the home countries. Most of the lately arrived refugees come from Iraq and Afghanistan – notoriously repressive countries renown for their mistreatment of minority groups. Most refugees would much rather remain in their home countries where they are familiar with the language and culture and have families and are driven to seek asylum abroad out of desperate necessity.

Refugees are ‘double-dipping’ by claiming social security and then appealing for help from charities.

Refugees released from the detention centres once their asylum applications are found to be genuine are, in fact, deprived of all access to mainstream social security services including the Newstart allowance (dole), English language training (granted to all migrants to Australia upon arrival) and settlement services. Although they may apply for Rent Assistance and the Special Benefit in cases of extreme poverty, their eligibility is stringently determined and reviewed every six months.

Upon their release they are normally dropped off at a cheap hostel and given around $200 with no further support. No accommodation or job-seeking assistance is provided and many can only find shelter in churches and community centres. As such most refugees are forced to turn to charity organisations to secure such basic necessities as clothing, furniture, kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.

Mandatory detention is necessary to ensure the health of refugees before they are released into the Australian community.

While initial screening of refugees for diseases such as tuberculosis is obviously a necessity, none of the tests require that they be incarcerated for months or years on end. In fact, extended detention in the centres overcrowded unhealthy conditions increase the chances of contracting contagious diseases.

Refugees who arrive without visas are ‘queue jumping’ ahead of other migrants.

Actually, the process of reviewing refugee applications is independent of the government’s wider immigration program. The Migration Program for 2000-01 reserved 40,000 places for skilled migrants, 34,400 for family reunions and 12,000 for the humanitarian program of which 8,000 will be used for those in humanitarian need offshore while the remainder, along with any unused places, are for refugees in Australia already in Australia. Only 4,174 people arrived on boats in 1999-2000.

In Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, there is no Australian Embassy for a queue to form at!

Refugees send money out of Australia to their families.

While there is no evidence for this claim, there is probably some truth to it. On October 1999 the government abolished the right of refugees to the Permanent Residency under which they had the right to apply for admission for their families and replaced it with the three year Temporary Visa Permit. As a result the wives and children of many refugees have been left to fend for themselves in their country of origin. Given this state of affairs, it is possible that many refugees would wish to send their families what aid they can.

Refugees are wealthy, they arrive with American dollars and gold bars.

In war torn countries, from where refugees usually arrive, it is the common practice to liquidate all the usual assets (property, jewellery, cars, machinery, stock) into something that has universal value (US dollars and gold) that cannot be easily destroyed. People sell everything they own; this may include all of the property that has been accumulated by their ancestors over several generations. This is then used in an ‘all or nothing’ attempt to escape the country. Occasionally a few refugees do arrive with some gold or American dollars; however, this usually represents several lifetimes worth of work and saving.


The circulation of myths and misinformation is one of the biggest barriers to understanding the issues affecting refugees and asylum seekers. Myths create confusion and can fuel conflict, resentment and disharmony.

This page aims to highlight the common myths about refugees and asylum seekers and correct the record for people seeking accurate information about issues relating to refugees and asylum seekers.

Media blunders

Refugees, asylum seekers and the Australians who support them have had to endure countless media articles full of inaccuracies and stereotypes. But sometimes media organisations go one step further and publish information which is blatantly false. Our media blunders page aims to draw attention to such outrageous media blunders and to set the record straight. Click here to visit the media blunders page.

Hoax e-mails about Centrelink benefits

In October 2007, RCOA issued a media release calling on Australians to ignore a hoax e-mail which claimed that refugees receive more money from Centrelink than age pensioners. Recently, a new hoax e-mail, which claims that that illegal immigrants and refugees receive higher rates of payment under a number of Centrelink programs, has also been circulated. Both e-mails are blatantly inaccurate and intended to create resentment towards refugees and fuel disharmony.

The Refugee Council recommends that anyone receiving these hoax emails should delete them and inform the person who forwarded the email that the information it contains is false. A media release containing updated information and responding to the claims in the new hoax e-mail can be downloaded here.

Why the e-mails are inaccurate

Myth: Refugees can receive social security payments simply because they are refugees.
Fact: A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefit as any Australian-born person in the same circumstances. Refugees apply for social security through Centrelink like everyone else and are assessed for the different payment options in the same way as everyone else. There are no separate Centrelink allowances that one can receive simply by virtue of being a refugee, nor do refugees receive cash payments under either the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) or the Settlement Grants Program (SGP).

Myth: A single refugee receives $1458 more per month than an age pensioner.
Fact: A single person applying for Special Benefit or the Newstart Allowance (whether or not he or she is a refugee) will receive $456 per fortnight, whereas a single person on an Age Pension payment will receive a fortnightly payment of $671.90. A single age pensioner therefore receives over $200 more per fortnight more than a single refugee (or a single Australian-born person) who qualifies for Special Benefit or Newstart – not $1458 per month less, as claimed in the first hoax email. Australian citizens and permanent residents with dependent children on lower to middle incomes (including refugees) may also be eligible to receive Family Tax Benefits or Parenting Payments, however none of these allowances are paid at a higher rate than the single age pension.

Myth: Refugees receive higher rates of payment under Centrelink programs than age pensioners or other Australians.
Fact: Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees (for instance, a single Australian-born person and a single refugee on the Newstart allowance would both receive exactly the same fortnightly payment of $456). The hoax e-mail which claims that illegal immigrants and refugees receive higher rates of payment than age pensioners under a number of Centrelink programs, including the Partner Allowance and the Hardship Allowance, quotes figures which are grossly inaccurate. For instance, a single person on an Age Pension payment receives a fortnightly payment of $671.90, not $253 as claimed in the email, and the maximum payment for the Partner Allowance is $411.50, not $472.50.

Myth: Asylum seekers can receive Centrelink payments.
Fact: Asylum seekers are not entitled to the same forms of financial support as citizens or permanent residents. The Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA) Scheme provides assistance to eligible asylum seekers who are in the process of having their refugee status determined. The ASA Scheme offers income support to cover basic living expenses, paid at 89 per cent of the Centrelink Special Benefit. This would equal approximately $405.84 per fortnight for a single asylum seeker – over $260 less than the single age pension.

Myth: Illegal immigrants can receive Centrelink payments.
Fact: In general, only Australian citizens and permanent residents can receive social security payments from Centrelink and illegal immigrants would certainly not be entitled to such support. It is also factually incorrect to refer to either refugees or asylum seekers as “illegal immigrants”. Recognised refugees in Australia by definition hold either a Refugee Visa or a Protection Visa, both of which entitle the holder to permanent residency. Asylum seekers – regardless of how they arrive in Australia – are permitted under Australian and international law to enter Australia for the purpose of seeking asylum, therefore asylum seekers have not broken any law and should not be referred to as illegal immigrants.

21 thoughts on “Debunking Myths About Refugees and Asylum Seekers

  1. Good article, but why on earth does it say people are fleeing -Saddam-? Certainly, they’re fleeing the post-Saddam fallout, but the man himself is, y’know, dead. Is this an old article?


  3. You fuckin australian are the worst people to ever walk on this planet. at times I wish that a huge wave would come along and wash all you assholes out existence. Then this world would be a happier place to live. You australians are the most racist people I have ever met. Fuck all of you ASSHOLES. Eat shit and die.

  4. Pingback: My frustrated rant about some online social media sites – Probably regularly updated | Voice Of Reason

  5. Thank you for writing this. My husband and I were discussing this issue today. Your article accurately exposes ignorance about asylum seekers. I cannot imagine living in a country that is so bad that I would risk my life to escape it. Thailand, where I currently reside, isn’t a part of the United Nations agreement on asylum seekers. This means that if someone comes here to seek asylum and ends up with an overstayed visa in Thailand, then they can be detained in immigration jail until another embassy decides to take their case. Sadly, this happens to many people. These people are not criminals or threats to national security, yet they end up in jail for an indefinite amount of time. Others are constantly living in fear or dodging immigration police. I hope that countries will find a way to help asylum seekers without involving jail and long-term detention.

  6. Who writes this bullshit? Refugees from where? Australia is not a Muslim or Islamic country. So why come here if they aren’t willing to behave according to our laws & cultural customs. They want to bring with them all the shit that they clam they are running away from. If they don’t like what they see here don’t stay, go back to where they came from if it’s so good there. They have to travel through many countries including muslim countries so why don’t they stay in the muslim countries? Because they come here with an agender. To bludge parasite off the hard working Australians who are gullible enough to give a damn about some poor refugee. They don’t & won’t contribute to Australian society. We have the falafil recipe so what else can they contribute besides parasiting & violence & pig ignorant fucked up Islam that comes from the 7th century? A religion for the fucking incredilbly stupid dumb as dog shit sand dwellers who have been inbreeding for centuries marry their 1st cousins & are pedofiles. Nothing. Violence & more violence that’s all this filthy religion contributes. Woman abusers & child abusers.So why should any hard working self respecting Australian care about what happens to the Earths human trash. They fucked up their own countries. They probably shot at Australian soldiers that are their to help bring them into the 21st century by helping them build schools, hospitals,roads, & that’s the sort of low life ingrate that they are. alah doesn’t reside in Australia, We are a Judeo Christian society with no place for asylum of murderers rapists pedifiles or terrorists who do it in the name of god.

    If we westerners went to Afghanistan or Iraq as refugees the’d just murder us as they hate westerners. Do you think they would be tollerant of us wanting to wander about, not prey to allan, wear what ever we wan’t when ever we want have freedom of speech enough to even critisize Alalh & Mo-ham-mad? I don’t fucking think so. Look at all the murders hat they have committed over the burning of a fucking stupid religious book, or Salmon Rushdie or Bali, 911, London, let’s not forget the attempts & the many terrorists caught planning like the ones caught here, in the USA, England, Eurpoe and the list goes on.

    What is it with do gooders don’t they understand about these violent terrorist thugs?

    They are all fucking mad from in breeding & a religion that was around when the Earth was Flat.

    If they want asylum go to an islamic country where they share the same crude ancient beleifs where they can fit in. Don’t come here we fought for all our freedom & rights not like these cowards who run away or attack the unarmed or backshoot or back stab throat slit in the name of their pretend friend alah. Weak cunts. WHy should we care about these things how fucking long have their countries be going? They’v been around long enough to have sorted out their fucking own problems but because of their fucked up Isalm they find them selves in the shit & expect the western infiddels who they hate to save their arses, I say no fucking way!!!!

    Sink more boats!!!!!!!!
    Send a message no one gets anything what so ever from Australia except a return trip at their expence. If imma-gunts want to come here lets make sure they are Judeo Christian & law abiding sane & not genetically flawed from inbreeding & want to be part of our great nation not parasite off us. They must only come by plane through officail channels & with a legitimate passpost.

    • Ah, so much stupidity, where does one start? Probably by asking first: Have you ever met either a Muslim or an asylum seeker in reality? Because, you know, you seem to know a lot, but I think it’s all through third or fourth hand stories-not actual connections. Every asylum seeker I’ve met-and I’ve met a lot, all want to be part of Australia, want to make a new life in Australia. Every single one.

      Also, if we’re a Jueo-Christian country-are we going to kick out all the Buddhists, Hindus, and those goddamn atheists too? If we’re kicking out Muslims because their religion (Which praises Jesus, Abraham, Moses, etc) is too different from Christianity and Judaism, surely Buddhists, Hindus and atheists (Who don’t usually praise Jesus, Abraham Moses, etc) would be gone too?

      And with your message of “Sink the boats”-am I right in saying that you’re supporting the murder of children in order to discourage asylum seekers? Is “murdering children” one of the Australian values that you think Muslims won’t share? Or doesn’t it count as murder to you if your victims are Muslims? (Incidentally, not all boat people are Muslims-plenty of Hindus from Sri Lanka, as well as Christians from Muslim countries-but apparently if they’ve got a dark skin they’re all Muslims to you).

      And what exactly do you mean by imma-gunts? It sounds like something you invented to insult immagrants, thinking it was catchy, but it’s actually meaningless, and makes it look like that’s how you were taught to spell.

  7. I read things like this, and i wonder – how much do anti-immigration people know about this subject, considering how angry they get about it? Most of these people have no other choice. Why would you want the slam the door in the face of someone who is literally fleeing for their life?

  8. what a load of fucking shit ,come to coffs harbour & see how this country surfside city is turning into a ghetto & i ve been & lived all over the world…

  9. i have lots of friends born overseas n they totally agree with me ,they come for the welfare,anyone that that denies this are fuckwits or all some do good wanna save the world cunts…so fuck off to yr north shore mansions assholes….

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