Myth: "Boat people are illegal immigrants...or economic migrants."

You only have to watch the news and see what's going on in countries like Syria to understand the dangers refugees are fleeing. What would you do if you were in their position? 

People who seek asylum by boat are not illegal immigrants or economic migrants. 

According to the Parliamentary Library:

Under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal declaration of human rights, everyone has the right to seek asylum and the 1951 Refugee Convention prohibits states from imposing penalties on those entering ‘illegally’ who come directly from a territory where their life or freedom is threatened.

It goes on to make the following points:

  • “The Australian Government usually allocates around 13,750 places to refugees and others with humanitarian needs under its planned Humanitarian Program. Historically, the majority of these places are granted to offshore refugees referred to Australia by the UNHCR, but some are given to refugees who arrived by air or boat and were granted protection visas onshore. However, even during high boat arrival periods, onshore grants to boat and air arrivals combined still only comprise about 50 per cent of Australia’s Humanitarian Program.
  • The number of people arriving unauthorised by boat in Australia is small in comparison to the numbers arriving in other parts of the world such as Europe. Similarly, the number of asylum claims lodged in Australia is small in comparison to the USA and Europe.
  • While about 20 developed nations, including Australia, participate formally in the UNHCR’s refugee resettlement program, the vast majority of asylum seekers and refugees are actually hosted in developing countries.”

People seeking asylum and refugees are not migrants.  The difference is a question of choice – a migrant chooses to leave their home country and may safely return at any time but a refugee has no choice and may not return safely.  As the UNHCR explains:

Refugees are forced to flee because of a threat of persecution and because they lack the protection of their own country.  A migrant, in comparison, may leave his or her country for many reasons that are not related to persecution, such as for the purposes of employment, family reunification or study.  A migrant continues to enjoy the protection of his or her own government, even when abroad.

For more information:

Asylum Seekers and Refugees: What are the facts?

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol 


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