International Human Rights

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International Human Rights

Why is the of problem asylum seekers an issue in Australia?


The problem of asylum seekers is a big issue is Australia since it precipitates strong emotions that divide the country. Most Australians hate asylum seekers. The issue of asylum seekers within Australia has a long history and many people have settled in Australia through being granted refugee status
(Phillips & Spinks, 2013). However, with increase in conflicts, the population of people seeking asylum has continued to increase. Politicians have capitalized on this issue to appeal to the emotions of Australians. Asylum seekers in the country come by boat and by plane (Hatoss & Huijser, 2010). The population of asylum seekers arriving by boat has grown immensely owing to increased threats in their native countries. Instead of offering protection to asylum seekers, Australia has set up centers for processing offshore in New Papua Guinea and Indonesia where asylum seekers can wait up to a long period of 20 to 30 years before being accorded refugee status. The country has established tough policies against asylum seekers. The policy of mandatory detention was legislated by the Labour government in 1992 as temporary measure but has continued to be used following the growth of refugees’ population from Cambodia and other low income countries (Cameron, Frydenberg & Jackson, 2011). Asylum seekers face many challenges in that state since they are prone to mental torture, depression, and acute illness. Asylum seekers have fallen victims to people smugglers who organize dangerous boat journeys that have sometimes ended up tragically with people drowning to death in the sea (Fozdar, 2012). Following the strong opinions by politicians the challenge of asylum seekers has become a national preoccupation where unemployment and crime is blamed on refugees and other people who come to Australia. In the guise of protecting asylum seekers, Australia has set up processing offshore centers where asylum seekers are held in detention while waiting assessment of their asylum claims. Only close to 40% of the asylum seekers end up being cleared and given refugee status (Paxton et al, 2012). Offshore processing is inhuman. This essay looks at the problem of asylum seekers and why it is a big issue within Australia.

The issue of asylum seekers in Australia

Refugees as well as asylum seekers are described as forced migrants. A refugee is described in the 1951 United Nation Convention as any person due to fear that is well-founded of being persecuted due to reasons of religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership to a specific social group is found outside the country of his nationality as well as is unable or owing to such fear is not willing to offer himself to the protection of his country (Neuner et al, 2010). Asylum seekers refer to individuals whose applications for refugee or asylum status is still being processed due to legal or administrative processes. It is the right of refugees to lawfully enter into a country for the sake of looking for asylum, despite the manner of how they arrive or whether they have a valid identity or travel documents. Asylum seekers refer to persons whose applications for refugee status or asylum is pending in the legal or administrative processes. Refugees can be given permanent residency accompanied with free access to services, people claiming asylum in the country may be given curtailed entitlements according to visa categories (Schweitzer et al, 2011). The regulations have been changing. Asylum seekers as well as refugees differ in terms of their country of origin, purpose for leaving, their healthcare needs and their socio-economic status. There are a myriad of reasons why people flee from their home country. Some of the reasons include threats, exposure to violence, war, conflict, political instability and natural disasters (Weber & Pickering, 2011). People may be subjected to numerous human rights violations like rape, torture as well as other forms of persecutions. There are various challenges that asylum seekers and refugees face.

It is amazing that in such a country that is wealthy, large as well as multicultural as Australia, asylum seekers and refugees’ treatment is national preoccupation. The debate is not concerned on the rights or responsibilities, protection or assistance, but on how stop the boats carrying asylum seekers and putting to an end to business models of people smugglers (Crawley, Hemmings & Price, 2011). Politicians claim that asylum seekers commit themselves in the hands of criminal gangs and hence the clamour to stop them. Just like many other countries, the seekers are a soft target for anxieties concerning national security, demographic composition and unemployment. Asylum seekers are not entitled to voting hence there are often marginalized in political debates. They are moved out of Australia into detention centers that are described as offshore processing centers in very remote places (Hebbani, Obijiofor & Bristed, 2010). The creation of the myth of ‘us’ and ‘them’ is reinforced in this debates. Politicians do accentuate fears that asylum seekers pose a grave threat to Australian borders and integrity. National fabric is at stake hence national cohesion. Through media elements flames in the debate have been fanned and made the situation worse. The conversation regarding asylum seeker is miserable and demeaning. Politicians who engage in it have no regard for Australian people but use the asylum issue to appeal to the electorate. Australia cannot seek to avoid its obligations through shifting asylum seekers to other countries. The idea of swapping asylum seekers even children is obnoxious (Goodman & Burke, 2010). Refugees do have the right to get into a country for the purpose of seeking asylum, despite of how they come or whether they do not have identity or valid travel documents.

Applying for asylum status in Australia is legitimate process. It is a fundamental human right. Every individual is entitled to protection by human rights which are inclusive of seeking asylum regardless of how they access Australian soil. Countries which have ratified the Convention covering Status of Refugees 1951 like Australia are mandated to evaluate the claims being made by asylum seekers regarding their protection from any form of persecution (Robinson, 2013). A refugee is defined in the Refugee Convention which defines the fundamental rights that member countries have to accord to refugees. The policy ensuring mandatory immigration detention in Australia was put in place in 1992 (Levy, 2010). Any person who is in Australia and he is a non-citizen and does not have a valid visa has to be detained. The way the asylum seekers are treated in Australia is a big issue. In the course of 2012 the government of Australia introduced what is known as ‘third country’ processing. Using the system, asylum seekers coming into the country by boat but without a visa that is valid are transported and consequently detained within Papua New Guinea (PNG) or Nauru (Crawley, Hemmings & Price, 2011). The transferred asylum seekers have their protection claims reviewed under PNG or Nauruan law, but not under Australia law. It is it lawful to seek asylum status owing to persecution as well as other grave human rights issues. This is a right of every person enshrined within international law but Australia has made the asylum seeker issue to be about Australia and not those seeking the refugee status.

A report by United Nations Human Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in 2014 records that Australia received 8,960 asylum applications in the course of 2014 which represent one percent of all applications made across the world in that year (Phillips & Spinks, 2013). This was a drop as compared to 2013 when application by asylum seekers received by Australia was 11,740 (Phillips & Spinks, 2013). The policy of Australia directed towards asylum seekers arriving by boat has attracted a lot of attention. Asylum seekers have tried to reach Australia on boats from Indonesia parting with huge sums of money to smugglers. Many people have died trying to make the dangerous journey in the sea. The leading political parties in Australia the Labour opposition as well as the ruling Liberal-National Coalition both support tough asylum policies (Phillips & Spinks, 2013). They agree that the journey that asylum seekers make through the sea is dangerous and often controlled by criminal gangs, and they have the mandate to stop them. The coalition government when it came to power in 2013 made Australia’s asylum policy even tougher introducing Operation Sovereign Borders that put the country’s military in control of asylum operations (Rees et al, 2013). Using this policy military vessels patrol Australia waters and are mandated to intercept boats, tow them back to Indonesia or send asylum seekers back in inflatable dinghies or life boats (Hebbani, Obijiofor & Bristed, 2010). The government holds that its strict policies have restored integrity on the borders of Australia as well as prevented deaths at sea. Critics point out that asylum is usually racially motivated and damages the reputation of Australia internationally.

Australia has developed one of the most restrictive immigration detection systems in the world. It is indefinite, mandatory and offers no one a chance to challenge the requirement of detention in court. Detention that is prolonged has a long-lasting as well as devastating impact on the mental health of asylum seekers particularly children (Gibney, 2004). The rights of asylum seekers are a very contentious divisive issue in Australian politics. Some international and Australian human rights organizations have suggested that policies developed by Australia are an appeal to racism and fear. The way asylum seekers who arrive on boat are treated is one of the most divisive political issues within recent political history in Australia. Asylum seekers arrive in Australia by boat or by plane (McDonald, 2011). Those using the plane have travel documents from their home country as well as a visa to come to stay in Australia, if they do not; they are put back on a plane that brought them to where they boarded the plane and the airline billed. Those asylum seekers who come by plane mostly have short-term visa like tourism, study and business, however, when they clear passport control in Australia they go ahead and apply for asylum. Upon expiry of their original visa they are permitted to remain in the community on a bridging visa while waiting for assessment of their asylum claim. Close to 40% of the group are eventually accepted as refugees. Asylum seekers who come in by boat have various disadvantages (Phillips, 2013). They usually come from hose nations that make it impossible or difficult for them to attain travel documents. They also come from countries that make it difficult for them to get visas to enter Australia.

The asylum seekers come to Australia on boats since they cannot use planes and it is a lie when politicians say they come using boats since they are affluent. Some these people travel to Indonesia or Malaysia using forged papers. Most of the time they use routes that do not go through nations that have signed the UNHCR Refugee Convention hence their position is dangerous in case the people smugglers take back their travel documents. When found out; they can be jailed or returned to countries that have been persecuting them. Those going through Indonesia live in perpetual fear of being put in detention. The asylum seekers can go to the UNHCR office in Indonesia and ask for refugee status. Those being assessed as refugees can wait for 20 to 30 years before being offered a safe place within a safe country (Mountz, 2011). During this process they cannot get jobs and their children can attend school for fear of detention. Some of them hand themselves over to people smugglers and get onto a frightening boat trips and end up in Australia. Over two decades more than ninety percent of people coming to Australia by boat have ultimately been evaluated as refugees as well as are entitled to protection legally. Their irony of the position that they are the focus of political attack whereas the larger number who come by plane arrivals do not create a ripple of concern (KhosraviNik, 2010). Majority perception is that boat people who sneak into Australia looking for asylum pose a grave threat to Australia borders as well as the sovereignty of the country. This is the outcome of dishonest statements used by coalition governments, by Howard government and now the Abbot government.

Some of refugees as well as asylum seekers spent a very long time in ears camps or detention. Some have little or no access to healthcare. Many come from nations with low incomes and with high prevalence of Hepatitis B, HIV/AIDS, and TB (Asgary & Segar, 2011). Asylum seekers have lost their income, housing, social support system, and position in society employment, cultural norms, language and religious customs (Fozdar, 2012). Some individuals face psychological trauma by death or separation from family. Some are not aware of the whereabouts of their family members even if they are still alive (Crumlish & O’Rourke, 2010). Some find it hard to adjust to a brand new life in a new environment after being a refugee for a long period of time. Some have faced hostility while trying to find somewhere to settle into communities that are totally new them. Grief and loneliness are main issues. They suffer from both short term and long term health challenges. This can be in form of escalated mental illness, anxiety and complicated grief or depression. Psychological distress can also be accentuated when their immigration status is not certain (Bischoff & Denhaerynck, 2010). Those asylum seekers subjected to torture may experience ongoing medical conditions, pain and disabilities. Implications for health professionals comprise of acute illness as well as disease that has to be attended to. There a likelihood of absence of medical records or history, and health screening that happens before coming into Australia is focused on public screening as opposed to individual risk factors with harsh conditions of deprivation that they are exposed to (Mckay, Thomas & Kneebone, 2012). Health professionals may not be familiar with health issues of asylum seekers and refugees that are presented with. All these issues raise the concern against asylum seekers and create fear among Australians hence making politicians to take advantage of them in appealing to emotions particularly during elections.


The debate concerning treatment of asylum seekers in Australia comes with strong emotions from politicians who use the issue to appeal to the electorate. The concern that the borders and sovereignty of Australia is at stake owing to the influx of asylum seekers looking for refugee status is a misguided perception. Australia avoids her role as a signatory of the United Nations Convention by setting up processing centers in other countries. The human rights of asylum seekers have been largely violated. Human rights groups internationally and within Australia have criticized the way Australia handles refugees under inhuman conditions. The mandatory detention policy has been heavily criticized by human rights groups. The high-handedness of handling asylum seekers by Australia is worrying. Asylum seekers face myriads of health problems that endanger their lives and that of their children. The issue of asylum seekers will continue to raise emotions if politicians continue to use it as campaign tool to appeal to electorate emotions.


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