Fewer than 5% of asylum seekers arrive by boat

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 annuallyโ€”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.

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12 Replies to “Fewer than 5% of asylum seekers arrive by boat”

  1. A really difficult issue.
    On the one hand, you don’t want people risking their lives coming here on leaky boats, often paying a lot of money to intermediaries. However, we have an obligation to accept genuine refugees who would be persecuted if returned home. And certainly, most “illegals” in Australia came here on some sort of valid visa.
    Oh, and I hear there is an election soon!

  2. One of my jobs is to help the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre put together their quartlerly newsletter.

    I was pretty shocked to discover that these people are allowed into our country whilst their claims are being ‘processed’ (and we know how long that can take) but are not allowed one single smidgin of help from the government. Nothing. No centrelink funds, no housing, no food, no english classes, no medical assistance, no transport, no help with working out just where to find things, nothing.

    Have a look here – http://www.asrc.org.au/ – they also have some pretty interesting statistics too.

  3. While I don’t pretend to have a magic solution for a sometimes complex problem, I do offer this suggestion to the Government:

    Anyone who used the services of a people smuggler doesn’t get a look in.

    It might break a few obligations under various treaties, but so did Howard’s policies.

    The advantages I see
    * People smugglers are criminals who deserve to go out of business.
    * Asylum seekers would probably choose air travel instead (most use air travel to get to Indonesia). Or they would be prompted into thinking twice.
    * No more sinking boats, deaths, or injuries at sea.
    * Makes the whole issue more manageable, and less prone to the media.

    Here’s another suggestion for Government:

    Build many more consulates in or near source countries, make it as easy as possible to apply for asylum there.

    There’d be a bit of expense – but deciding asylum claims there is cheaper and easier, and refusing an application is a lot cheaper – no deportation required. Perhaps other countries like New Zealand could be persuaded likewise.

  4. i’m with Nick!

    why should taxpayers money go towards people smuggling over here? and if we make it easier for them when they come here the word will spread and the problem will get 10 times worse!

  5. Shaz/Nick, interesting ideas, and yes, the increasing numbers of boats is definitely an issue (to which I don’t pretend to have an answer for).

    But what do you propose to do about the twenty times more people who are NOT arriving by boat, and then claiming asylum (with most of them not being deemed to be genuine refugees)?

  6. Now let me get this out first- I am all for Australia taking in refugees, that is the country we are! Indeed, I know quite a few people from work who were refugees from the Bosnian war. One I work with almost daily. He came here in 1997, and when I asked him about the process, he stated that the Federal Government were a huge help to them! So I am all for refugee intakes, but there has to be some sort of control, otherwise the system gets abused, as it appears to be now.

    Imagine someone you didn’t know was to sneak into your house with his whole family and plant themselves on you couch. You then enter and find them watching TV- you would be rightly upset, and demand they leave before you called the police. If they then said they were seeking asylum from the outside world, what would you do? Now, that is a bit of a stretch, but extrapolate that out to our country- don’t you want the government to know who is entering our country?

    You’re wondering what is wrong with all these boat people arriving, as most of them are supposed to be refugees. How do you know? Ever since Rudd was handed the solution by Howard, and then created the problem, the number of people coming by boat has exploded exponentionally. Unfortunately, our ability to investigate and process these people hasn’t! It was reported a month or so ago that ASIO, who investigate all the cases, is stretched to breaking point, unable to cope with all the cases. The thing is, we don’t know who are genuine refugees, and who are the ones cheating the process. I mean, there are all sorts of reasons that one would subvert the process- if I were a terrorist trying to get in, that would be one method to consider. True, it could also be through an overstayed visa, and indeed, we need to tackle that problem just as seriously. But the point is, there has to be some sort of control, otherwise the system just can’t handle it. Like it or not, Howard’s Pacific Solution achieved that. By implementing such tough measures, it discouraged the opportunists, as only those with nothing to lose (refugees) would risk the journey!

    Think about the problem Rudd has created with people smuggling, and indeed the number of deaths that have occurred because of it. This had been largely solved under Howard. And I admit I’m a big Howard admirer, but you have to admit, it worked. No deaths, people smugglers were deterred because of it. It may have been tough, but sometimes that is the only thing that’ll work.

    I also think another issue that should be looked at is the whole immigration process. I don’t blame any particular government, rather a bloated bureaucracy, which makes people jump through hoops to enter this country. There are thousands of decent hard working people who want to live in our wonderful country, and are forced to go through stupid rules to get through. An example is a friend of Andrew S, whose wife ( his friend’s) has finished medical school in Sri Lanka, and has had an impossible time getting a permanent resident visa here. Indeed, because the Federal Government doesn’t recognise her uni, she has to do her internship over there, then come here. She’s an oncologist! But yet, the guys on the Oceanic Viking, from the same country, were understood to be fast-tracked, just so they’d stop their defiance. So in other words, it would have been better off for her to sneak aboard that ship than do it the right way. Indeed, I think a lot of legal immigrants get upset at what they went through, and what they see happening there!

    Legal immigration is what has made this country great! I owe everything to it- I am the son of Italian immigrants, and both sides of my family arrived over 40 years ago, and worked hard to get where they are today. Indeed, as they always say, they got no handouts from the government, they earned it all themselves. It is that which has made me proud of the Italian community, but even prouder to call myself Australian. Indeed this is a vital issue, one which should be openly discussed, not controlled by some segments of society. Indeed, this post is one such forum, one which could see all sides, and try to come up with a solution.

  7. They are deviously mixing up their statistics there. The asylum seekers who arrived by air are not overstaying holidaymakers. When they add up the statistics going back 30 years, it is dominated by the huge number of chinese “refugees” in 1990, who were already students ( mostly from communist ruling families ) already on the ground in Australia when the riots occured. The fact that these people got asylum says more about the australian government than anything the socaled refugees did.

  8. If you look at that parliamentary library paper you refer to, and then you look at the documents it claims to be based on, there are multiple discrepancies.

    One thing it says is that most Afghans and Sri Lankans are coming by boat. There are wars in those places. If 20 times more people are coming by plane, and they are not Afghans and Sri Lankans, then where are the coming from ? Is there some big war going on somewhere that nobody is talking about ? Or is the chinese one-child policy still considered to be a basis for personal persecution.

  9. During the Oceanic Viking event I heard interviews with Sri Lankans here who were speaking with the people on the boat by mobile, I wonder if they were fiends or relatives? Either way it seems the people on the ship had planned the journey with advise and help from Sri Lankans in Australia.

    I’m not sure I buy the demonising of the people smugglers, from what I’ve heard they are mostly Indonesian fisherman trying to feed their families partly due to diminishing fish stocks and limited opportunities, much like Somalian pirates.

    I’m sure refugees like the Jews in Europe during WW2 paid smugglers a lot of money for safe passage to asylum, it’s probably always happened when people are in fear for their safety where they are?

  10. The increase in boat people may have less to do with the change of government and more to do with the location of current political strife in the world. Groups close to home may be in exodus due to persecution, such as the Tamils in Sri Lanka. These people flee to nearby countries – Australia is close.

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