I was following a link in a comment on The Australian’s amusing story about a Federal government media adviser accidently leaving an email trail on a media release (reminds me of the Windsor affair), which led me a document with some interesting factoids about the arrival of asylum seekers from 1976 to the present:
Boat arrivals only make up a small proportion of applicants. Estimates vary, but it is likely that between 96 and 99 percent of asylum applicants arrived by air originally.
— Parliamentary Library: Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?, p6.
In other words, for all the hype and rhetoric (from both sides of politics) about lots of boats arriving, they account for less than 5% of asylum seekers.
Past figures show that between 70 and 97 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat at different times have been found to be refugees and granted protection either in Australia or in another country.
In contrast, asylum claims from people who enter Australia by air on a valid visa and subsequently apply for asylum have not had such high success rates and the majority are not found to be refugees. This is demonstrated by the much lower onshore refugee recognition rates overall (air and boat arrivals combined) of around 20 or 30 per cent annually—the overall onshore refugee recognition rate for 2008 was 21.7 per cent.
— Parliamentary Library: Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?, p8-9.
So, in the best judgement of the authorities, most of the people arriving on the boats are genuine refugees. But the majority of those who have flown in and then claimed asylum (and they account for far, far more people) are not genuine refugees.
There’s a lot of other interesting information (with references) in the document, which is worth a read if you’re interested in this issue.
Related: There are around 3000 people are currently held in immigration detention centres (including Christmas Island), up about 300% in the last year.
In comparison, how many people have arrived using a temporary visa (eg on holiday) and have overstayed and are still in the country, not yet caught? Figures from 2005 said almost 50,000, though the figures don’t indicate how many were seeking asylum. (A quick search didn’t find newer figures.)
Update: Modified headline from “Less” to “Fewer” after a comment from the grammar police.