With the dramatic increase in the number of illegal boat arriving in Australia, the issue of asylum seekers recently was reignited. The Prime Minister announced in a conference that the government have taken a consistently hard-line approach to people smuggling and the announcements will strengthen the integrity of Australia’s immigration system (Global Visa, 2010). According to a recent survey based on the current Australian immigration policy, more than half of Australians believe asylum seekers arriving by sea should be returned and made to apply through “normal refugee channels (Global Visas, 2010). However, the government is also facing criticism from a part of society due to the degree of effectiveness and harshness of its way of solving the problem. It is considered to be a very controversial issue as many people feel strongly about it and people from different walks of life possess different attitudes towards the issue of asylum seekers. This is largely due to the number of problems and difficulties for the government, caused by overpopulation, financial strength, the nation’s rapid growth in population and so forth. The purpose of this report is to analyse and scrutinize the reason why asylum seekers are becoming an issue in Australia.
2. Background information
2.1 who are asylum seekers
The definition for an asylum seeker is someone who has to leave their own country to apply for application to the government of another country and this can be for different kinds of reasons such as their race, religion, nationality or political opinions (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2006). As one of the signatories of the Refugee Convention to the United Nations, Australia has the obligation to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers who arrive in Australia, despite the reasons for their arrival, the places they came from and whether they arrive with or without a visa. This means that no matter whether the arrivals are authorized or unauthorized with a Visa, the Australian government must give them a chance to prove whether or not they are eligible to become a refugee before removing them from the country (United Nations High Commission for Refugees, 2006).
2.2 how will their claims be assessed
Their applications for protection visas are assessed by decision makers working in the Department of Immigration and Citizenship whom were specially trained in the law, policy and procedures about the refugee’s convention and protection visas. All applicants need to attend an interview to provide information in their own countries of citizenship and to be granted with a protection visa. In addition, applicants will need to pass security checks, undergo a health examination, and sign the Australian Values statement (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010). The people who are not successfully approved with their claim for refugee protection and do not possess lawful reasons to stay in Australia will be removed from Australian land as soon as the action can be taken (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010).
2.3 history of asylum seekers in Australia
Today’s system for processing Australian protection visa applications was developed during the 1980s and 1990s due to the increased number of asylum seekers. However, there were much fewer refugee applications which were about 500 a year from the arrivals in Australia until mid 1989. There was a significant increase in people seeking asylum over the following two years due to the Tiananmen Square incident in China on June 1989 and the protection visa applications rose to 16,248 with about 77 percent were coming from China. From that time to the year 1995, each single application could include several members of a family or just one individual but since 1995, each person included in the application needs to make single applications for him/her (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010).
3. Current government policy
3.1 offshore program
Unauthorized boat arrivals are currently held in detention centres which are offshore places, such as Christmas Island, until they are granted a visa or removed from Australia. This process is known as the offshore program which enables people who do not meet the UN definition for refugee to be resettled. Some boat arrivals need to wait longer time than others for their Visa application’s outcome. If their application is not successful, then they will need to wait for their removal from Australia.
3.2 assistance from the government
The Australian Government provides a number of assistance schemes for some asylum seekers during the period in which their applications for protection are under progress. The types of assistance may include the temporary eligibility for Medicare and welfare services such as income support and professional assistance with preparing their Protection visa. However, not every applicant is eligible to receive these assistances as the recipients must be in financial hardship and their eligibility for receiving the assistances will be reviewed by the government regularly if there are any changes of their situation (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010).
4. Negative effects of asylum seekers and Australian action
Due to the tight regulation on asylum seekers, Australia receives relatively less refugees compared to other countries. As the world’s sixth largest country, in 2009, Australia only accepted 0.6% of asylum seekers in the world. The proportion of the refugees who came to Australia did not even reach 8% of the total population of immigrants to Australia (Li, 2010).
4.1.1 financial tension for the government
One of the most common reactions to the asylum seekers in Australia arriving by boat is the concern about the ability for Australia to support assistance. Most asylum seekers are moving from poorer countries to wealthier countries. They are potentially capable of creating new tensions for the government due to the financial assistance required which includes the fees for their accommodation in detention centres and certain financial needs. Between 2008~2009, the scheme assisted 2692 clients at a total cost of 7.04 million dollars (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2010).
4.1.2 rapid growth of Australian population
Migrants affect Australia’s population significantly. Today, nearly one in four of Australia’s more than 20 million population was born overseas (Department and immigration and citizenship, 2009). The Rudd Government advocated the idea of a “big Australia”, that is to say, that the population of Australia would rise to 35.9 million by 2050 and this idea started an upsurge against the rapid growth of population among the society. People attribute the reason of overpopulation towards too much immigration to Australia (Li, 2010). As a result, the Labour party changed the policy to control the population growth as the increase in population would lead Australia to becoming an over populated country and consequently, it would have a direct impact upon the economy, government funding on health and welfare programs as well as an increase in unemployment (Li, 2010).
4.1.3 local residential safety concerns
The local security issue is also one of the reasons for people to fear the refugee acceptance in Australia as most of the boat arrivals do not have their identification from the government that is persecuting them so they are unable to travel through the conventional channels. Boat arrivals are the ones who can afford the boat ticket and people are concerned that those people in the boats can be terrorists or have some links with the terrorists back their countries.
4.2.1 overpopulation in Detention centre
Recently, the detention centre facilities on Christmas Island have been seriously over capacity, due to the government’s antipathic attitude towards the boat arrivals and the announcement of the delay of their visa claims (Valentine, 2010). According the newly made announcement in April this year, all of the immigrants need to face delays of up to sixth months to wait for the their asylum claims to be processed and some of the detainees on the island had already been waiting for over a year in overcrowded detention centre facilities (Valentine, 2010).
The maximum number of people that the Christmas Island Detention Centre can house is around 800, but it is now over capacity with 2000 people living there (Valentine, 2010). So the asylum seekers are being placed wherever there is room by using every available facility in the centres. But the situation is not getting any better as there are still hundreds of people arriving on Christmas Island by boat each time and it is placing an enormous strain on the overcrowded detention centres (Cooper, 2010).
4.2.2 steps that the government takes to solve the problem
The current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, announced the Federal Government’s plan to create a regional asylum seekers’ processing centre in East Timor in July this year. As a result, the people who come by boat would only get the ticket for the regional processing centre and this would make the people smugglers have no benefits from hawking (Reportage, 2010). However, this proposal of establishing a centre for asylum seekers was formally rejected by the East Timor’s parliament (Everingham, 2010).
The Prime Minister is still taking a tough stance on asylum seekers. She cancelled the delay of some asylum seekers processing of their visas and the ones whose applications had not been successfully assessed were to be repatriated (Li, 2010). From the start of this year, more than 70% people from Afghanistan’s visa claims were refused and 60% of asylum seekers are actually from Afghanistan (Li, 2010). Ms Gillard announced that the government would send the boat arrivals back by planes even though they have came by boat (Li, 2010).
The settlement of asylum seekers is one of the hottest debated issues in Australia today. The Gillard government is standing on its explicit side of this issue of a tight policy on the arriving asylum seekers. People are concerned about the problem of overpopulation of detention centres by incoming asylum seekers and it undoubtedly has a direct impact on the Australian economy, life quality as well as the morale of Australian people.
In 2010, the percentage of unemployment in Australia has already reached 5.7% of the whole nation’s population and an increase in population will also increase the proportion of unemployment. The number of unemployment is tightly linked to the economy of Australia as more of the tax payers’ hard earned money will be put into the unemployment benefits.
Unlike the air arriving asylum seekers, many boat arrivals destroyed their identifications and documents. Therefore, because it is impossible to get a visa without any document from their original countries, they have to wait longer in their detention centres. This delay is consequently contributing to the serious over population in the detention centres. Moreover, it is thought to be easier for terrorists come in via boat than airport and this is what local residents fear the most.
It is extremely important for the Australian government to protect borders tightly. The more unattractive the government make the methods of illegal entry to be, the less chance that people will choose to use them. As a consequence, there would be more people who do the right thing and have a chance to come to Australia.
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