Asylum Seekers

The purpose of this document is to discover all of the necessary points of consideration in the debate about refugees in an impartial, fact informed manner. The Future Party currently has no formal stance on how to prevent refugee deaths at sea. However, we do intend to increase refugee immigration intake significantly, regardless of policy with regards to irregular arrivals. We consider ourselves to be the most pro-immigration party in Australia.

We have taken the time and effort to outline some of the core arguments and some general conclusions. We do not believe that we have the answers to all problems. However, we believe that there are some arguments and assumptions that make sense, and others that don’t make sense at all. We hope that by reading through this document, and the initial conclusions, you can understand how the Future Party will use its power in the senate to ensure Australia continues to be a country that provides assistance to refugees while preventing perverse incentives that threaten the lives of people we wish to protect.


  • We have direct evidence that the current regulatory system has created an increase in the number of boat arrivals
    • In the period between mid 2002-2008, applications for asylum of people who arrived by boat averaged 73 people per year (table 1, [1]). In 2011-2012, the number was 7379 in that year alone, 100 times the average in the prior system (table 1, [1]).
    • 15,182 have arrived this year (2013) [2]. This figure, when extrapolated, means annual arrivals of 27603 people by boat.
    • Not all of the blame for the increase can be put on the change in asylum seeker policy. Some of this increase is due to the escalation and ending of the civil war in Sri Lanka in 2009.
  • Increased use of boats to arrive in Australia increases the probability of deaths in the process of obtaining asylum in Australia
    • Over 1000 asylum seeker deaths since 2007 [2]
    • These additional deaths may be offset slightly by the real threat to life that some of these refugees experience in their homelands.
    • Refugees are aware that the journey that they take is dangerous
      • They have observed their current situation and believe, based on the information available to them, that this is the best possible option
      • Although it is dangerous for asylum seekers to make the journey, mortality rates are relatively low when considering what the many asylum seekers are fleeing
      • Total number of boat arrivals 46,391 is since 2007, while deaths are estimated to be about 1000 during that time [2]. This means that 2.1% of people who attempt the journey to Australia die in the process.
        • How does this compare to the real risks that these people face in their homeland, considering that 90% of applications are found to be genuine?
      • Should we “protect people from themselves” in this situation?
      • Is it entirely necessary to prevent their death at sea if the asylum seekers think that it is worth the risk?
  • The proportion of males in journeys to Australia by boat is disproportionately high.
    • In 2011/2012, 6512 of 7379 (88%) arrivals were male (table 26, [1])
    • Men are taking the risk for their family, and using the “family reunion” system to bring the remainder of their family to Australia
    • A recommendation of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers is that people who arrive in Australia by boat are not to be able to access family reunion [7] to reduce the number of people arriving by boat
      • May reduce number of men who arrive by boat
      • May increase the number of women and children who arrive by boat
  • Some areas of the world have refugees in much more dire situations than others.
    • Many of those in dire situations are unable to pay for the people smuggling to get to Australian shores or are too far away to make it worth it.
    • There are 2 ways that an asylum seeker may achieve refugee status in Australia
      • Apply offshore through the UNHCR program, have their application approved and arrive in Australia by air (what we’ll call a ‘regular’ arrival)
      • Apply on Australian shores for asylum, either arriving by boat or by other visa methods (student or holiday visa) then applying for asylum
    • The intake of refugees through the ‘regular’ and ‘irregular’ methods are currently linked. This means that for additional person who applies for asylum on Australian shores decreases the number of refugees we take directly from camps etc through the UNHCR program
      • Decreased supply of ‘regular’ refugee positions increases demand for ‘irregular’ arrival positions, which further reduces supply of ‘regular’ refugee positions, a positive feedback loop
  • Many of the boat arrivals carry people from Iran and Sri Lanka
    • Iran is currently under political turmoil
    • Sri Lanka saw its civil war draw to a close in 2009, yet refugees continue to increase [3]
      • It should be noted that it is normal for the number of refugees to increase after conflict has ended, for example following the Vietnam war and following World War II [4]
      • Australia currently funds immigration officials in Sri Lanka, to prevent people who are suspected of trying to arrive in Australia from leaving Sri Lanka
    • Neither of these countries have an established in-country method of applying for refugee status in Australia
  • Refugees have contributed to the economy by being gainfully employed
    • Different groups from different areas contribute to the economy in differing levels
      • Some of these refugee groups exceed the national average workforce participation rate (Table 3.2 [5])
        • The high participation rate in some groups show promise that they will not be a severe burden to the welfare state
        • Average weekly earnings in this group are likely to be lower than than in the general population, and hence may still be net receivers of welfare even with high participation rates
    • Children of migrants tend to be highly productive in terms of their workforce involvement (Figure 3.4 [5])
  • Many Australians want to provide help to as many people as we can within the resources we have
    • There are some costs associated with doing so.
      • Costs of refugee status assessment
      • Costs of health checks, quarantine and security checks
      • Costs of detaining people
        • These costs can be reduced significantly by expediting movement into the community
      • Costs of initial settlement into the community
      • Initial welfare costs
      • English and other education costs
      • On going associated costs
    • Rapid expansion of immigration intake requires a similar expansion of the housing supply and our infrastructure to accommodate new people
      • The expansion of the housing supply and infrastructure may, in fact, be highly beneficial to the Australian economy. However, we must ensure that this expansion is planned for or face the risk of further tightening housing supply and the failure of our infrastructure.
    • Australians are seemingly happy to have some refugees, but not if the costs come at significant detriment to quality of life in Australia
    • There are too many refugees in the world to provide for all of them in Australia on our own
      • We want to help refugees, but we also need to be sure that we have the resources to ensure a smooth transition into the community
    • The current policy of “no advantage” forces refugees who arrive by boat (i.e. irregular arrivals) into the welfare system for up to 3 years
      • Refugees who arrive irregularly are not allowed to work or to attend education or do volunteer work
        • Less income for refugees
        • More costs to the taxpayer (3 years of welfare payments to those in the ‘no advantage’ system)
        • Once the period of no advantage is finished, refugees have been out of the workforce and without education for 3 years
          • Harder to find employment and break the welfare cycle
        • Without having any purpose (work, education or volunteering) we are likely to see higher levels of depression among refugees
        • Slows integration into the community
      • During the implementation of the ‘no advantage’ system, the number of refugees coming to Australia by boat increased
        • Current evidence does not show that this is a deterrent for people using boats to travel to Australia.
  • Measures to prevent refugees arriving in Australia are expensive
    • Costs to defence force
    • Costs of detention
  • Moving refugees as political turmoil, discrimination, famine and persecution occur may not be in the best solution to the problems that exist
    • Resources may be better spent stabilising the homelands of asylum seeker source countries
      • Provide assistance to rebuild destroy infrastructure and homes
      • Provide assistance to new authorities to prevent corruption, ensure efficient use of government and aid resources
      • Observe human rights violations and make continued support dependent on eliminating violations of human rights
    • Some refugees return to their homeland within short periods of time in Australia after violence has ended
  • Refugees move countries for a variety of reasons
    • Discussions around “economic migrants” ignore the fact that most people seek asylum due to some mix of economic and political reasons and few people are only moving simply because they are persecuted
      • People who make claims of asylum solely because of persecution are typically ‘defectors’, people who attract the ire of their home nation for exposing corruption and illegal behaviour. Other examples may include political opponents who have caught wind of their impending imprisonment or execution and move before that happens. Refugees that are personally targeted make up a small proportion of people who seek asylum.
    • Many people choose stay in countries, even when facing generalised persecution or human rights violations, if the economic outlook is good
    • The combination of generalised persecution/discrimination and poor economic outlook may be the tipping point for those people who end up leaving their country
    • Poor economic outlook is quite often linked directly to the persecution and discrimination that asylum seekers suffer.
      • Corruption and persecution have negative impacts on the ability of business to perform in these source countries
    • Wanting a better life for your family should not be grounds to refuse those who seek asylum
      • An assessment of refugee status should be based on the criteria of the refugee convention
  • An asylum system in which risk to human life is minimised is preferred
    • Implementing measures to reduce the risk to human life through stopping the arrival of boats also reduces the total number of expected refugee arrivals
      • If we want only to prevent deaths at sea, punitive measures for people who arrive by boat may be acceptable. However, couple with that should be an immediate increase in the number of refugees that we take in through organised asylum seeker migration systems.
    • Refugees arriving by air would be much safer
      • Airlines currently face hefty fines for allowing individuals who are racially profiled to be a high ‘risk’ of being an asylum seeker
        • Prevents people from using a safe method to travel to Australia
    • Towing boats back “if safe to do so” as proposed by the coalition will likely result in increased deliberate destruction of vessels which will further endanger lives.
  • Immigration detention and offshore processing
    • Offshore processing has previously been used to prevent refugees from multiple rights of appeal in Australia
  • The “PNG solution”
    • Might be morally justified if
      • The actual number of people who arrive on boats goes to zero
      • The total refugee intake increases
        • There is no immediate plan to increase refugee intake
          • Those people seeking asylum will remain in limbo
    • Papua New Guinea does not have the capacity to take asylum seekers in the volumes that they are currently arriving in Australia
      • Not a problem if boat arrivals drop to zero
      • Serious problem for both asylum seekers and the people of PNG if flow of migrants maintained
    • The Australian government acknowledges that PNG has serious issues with crime etc on its SmartTraveller website [6]
    • Should those people who departed Indonesia prior to the PNG announcement and arrived following the PNG announcement be banned from seeking asylum in Australia?
      • This measure is framed as a disincentive mechanism, these people could not have known about the disincentive mechanism prior to departure
    • The implementation of this policy was done without research into the social impact on the people of PNG.
      • There are a number of issues that are yet to be resolved, such as how the new arrivals are expected to find employment and land issues which are already quite complicated in PNG[8]
        • Land is currently 97% held by indigenous groups, leaving refugees with little opportunity to generate income for themselves
  • Administrative burden is created by constantly changing rules regarding refugee immigration
  • Possible alternatives
    • Open borders
      • Great strain on welfare state
      • Removes need to travel by boat
    • Sell humanitarian visas in Indonesia and in locations that are known sources of irregular maritime arrivals (e.g. Sri Lanka)
      • Conditional on standard security checks
      • Open to people already found to be refugees by UNHCR
      • Set prices at a price comparable to the cost of people smuggling
      • Refugees take a plane from wherever they are to Australia
      • Eliminates people smuggling
      • Eliminates risks to those travelling by sea
      • Would likely increase rate of refugee intake, but still provides some financial disincentive to steady the number of migrants to a level which is sustainable.

Initial conclusions:

  • The ‘no advantage’ system does not prevent boat arrivals, is costly to the taxpayer, prevents timely integration of migrant groups into the community and is unnecessarily punitive on refugees. This system should end immediately.
  • If the only reason to implement a punitive system is to prevent travelling by boat such as to reduce the risk to human life, then that system should be complemented by an immediate increase in the intake of asylum seekers through other means.
  • “Regular” and “irregular” refugee intake should be delinked to prevent a positive feedback loop that threatens the viability of the “regular” refugee arrival system which targets refugees most in need of protection and delivers them in a safe manner to Australia
  • There is scope to increase refugee arrivals, but sufficient resources need to be diverted to ensure smooth settlement into the community occurs. As with increases in any form of migration, consideration must be given to the stresses that increases in population put on housing supply and infrastructure, and policies should be implemented that increase housing supply and infrastructureto ensure that migrants aren’t scapegoated for the failure of governments to plan ahead for increasing populations.
  • IF the government plans to maintain the ‘PNG solution’ as a disincentive mechanism, those who departed prior to the announcement and arrived following it should be processed as per the previous system
  • IF the government plans to maintain the ‘PNG solution’ as a disincentive mechanism, then refugee intake should be increased significantly

Reading material
[1] Arrival trends 2012
[2] The Australian article with totals and recent figures for arrivals
[3] Sri Lanka’s assault on dissent (Amnesty report)
[4] Refugees increase AFTER the conflict ends, just like in Vietnam and in Europe post-world war 2
[5] Economic Social-Civic Contributions
[6] Travel advisory for PNG
[7] Report of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers
[8] Discussion of issues regarding settlement of refugees in PNG
[9] Refugee contribution to the economy
[10] Refugee report 2000
[11] Asylum Seeker Resource Centre discussion

The Science Party is staffed entirely by volunteers. We don't take money from corporations, only from people like you. If you want to help us bring truth and honesty back into politics please consider a tax deductible donation today.