Asylum Seekers’ Contributions Overlooked by Negative Media & Response

By Shae Courtney and Andrew Williams

By Shae Courtney and Andrew Williams. This article is part of our December 2012 and January 2013 focus on Asylum Seekers.

Asylum Seekers’ Contributions

By Shae Courtney.

The generosity bestowed upon asylum seekers by the Commonwealth contains some caveats; perhaps, most notably, the stigma attached to new arrivals and the role of the Australian Government to facilitate social integration as swiftly as possible. Right Now, furthering its commitment to the promotion of inalienable human rights, explores the economic and cultural contributions asylum seekers make to Australian society in this article and the response to it (below).

In a communication to this Right Now, A Just Australia, which campaigns for the rights of the refugee, highlighted the 2008 detention values policy which has yet to be adopted by the Federal Government. Significantly, the policy stipulates “Children, including juvenile foreign fishers and, where possible, their families, will not be detained in an immigration detention centre.”

the continuing stigmatisation of asylum seekers is not simply inaccurate and sensationalist, but wholly intolerant

Recent developments, particularly the re-introduction of offshore processing by the Labor Government, means detention is no longer a last resort. A Just Australia maintains; “health, security and identity checks can be done within 30 days and any detention after this period should be decided by independent judicial review.” Questions remain over the financial cost of offshore “solutions” which far exceed that of onshore processing or processing whilst in the community. In the 2011-12 Budget, $800 million was allocated to detention costs. This amounts to a tripling of detention costs in real terms over two years.

One of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ core objectives is to foster the acceptance and integration of displaced or threatened peoples in nations party to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Australia is party to both the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.

The Commonwealth may be contravening its obligations to the Refugee Convention by continuing  mandatory detention. Beginning in 1992, mandatory detention was a central policy of Prime Minister Paul Keating’s tenure, with an upper limit for detention set at 273 days. In the 2010-11 period, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship delivered 13,799 visas under its Humanitarian Program. It remains a concern, however, that inequality pervades  the processing of asylum seekers on the grounds of means of arrival. There is also a lack of coherent information from Government agencies and a heated public debate centred on the effectiveness of offshore processing as a deterrent.

Outside the legal particulars of the human rights of asylum seekers and the provisions, or lack thereof, after arrival in a host country, there are significant social, cultural and economic contributions that new entrants can offer Australia.

As David Koch, Germaine Greer and other prominent Australians have signalled, the continuing stigmatisation of asylum seekers is not simply inaccurate and sensationalist, but wholly intolerant. According to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, vetting procedures are stringent and exhaustive, despite the news media portraying a chaotic and feckless government department. The subtle, or perhaps not so, seam of racism lying beneath Australian society is peddled by the reactionary news media, which depends upon fear as a catalyst for greater consumption of tabloid mastheads, compounded by an island-nation mentality which fears invasion by sea.

Australia being “girt by sea” is an inherent geographical deterrent. Continental Europe, for example, cannot secure national borders as effectively as the ocean surrounding Australia. Perhaps it is an island-nation mentality which generates fear of asylum seekers more than the financial cost of offering protection visas. In 2011-12, almost half of the 14,415 people who applied for a visa under the onshore component had arrived in Australia by plane (7,036), whilst 7,379 had arrived by boat.

Taking the United Kingdom as a comparable case study, in the year 1999-2000, statistics from the Home Office demonstrate asylum seekers made a net contribution to the British economy of £2.5 billion. These statistics amount to a contribution of ten per cent more than asylum seekers received from the UK government.

In 2010, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship published a literature review of work completed by the Refugee Council of Australia. Most notably, the report highlighted:

 … while there may be short-term costs as refugees are resettled and adjust to their new surroundings, after successful integration they make permanent cultural, social and economic contributions. 

Moreover, five of the eight Australian billionaires come from families who originally arrived in Australia as refugees. It is imperative, consequently, that the Australian government remains focussed on permitting refugees to contribute economically and culturally by allowing them into the workforce and facilitating access to education and healthcare.

The report’s most pertinent and enduring remark, however, remains:

Refugees make substantial contributions to their new country –  expanding consumer markets for local goods, opening new markets, bringing in new skills, creating employment and filling empty employment niches. There may be short-term costs as refugees are resettled and adjust to their new surroundings but once successful integration has occurred refugees are able to quickly make permanent cultural, social and economic contributions and infuse vitality, humanitarian values and multiculturalism into the communities into which they are resettled.

Shae Courtney is a British undergraduate student of the University of Melbourne, majoring in English, and has previously studied at Queen Mary, University of London. He is an aspiring journalist and a research associate at the New Zealand Centre for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice at the University of Auckland. Shae has a particular interest in current affairs, human rights legislation and international diplomacy.


By Andrew Williams.

Australia is setting a bad example by making asylum seekers and refugees wait years under the “no advantage” principle for a protection visa, while denying them the right to work and contribute to this country.

Asylum seekers will receive the lowest level of financial support, be denied access to family reunion and have the uncertainty of knowing the Australian Government could send them to Nauru or Manus Island at any time.

The denial of family reunion is particularly worrying because we have concerns that women and children will travel by boat to Australia to reunite with husbands and fathers.

This was the effect of Temporary Protection Visas (TPV), when they were introduced in 1999.

Both the Government’s denial of work rights and the Opposition’s work-for-the-dole approach will cause extreme financial hardship and deny asylum seekers the dignity of being able to work.

Refugees and asylum seekers are highly motivated, and in some cases desperate to work. Nearly all of them are trying to support relatives and friends still in appalling situations overseas.

When we consult with communities, one of the most common complaints from refugee community members are barriers to work and the lack of recognition for their qualifications.

Refugees have made and continue to make enormous contributions to the economic, cultural and social life of Australian communities.

International responsibilities

As a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Australia must take its responsibilities to asylum seekers seriously.

Australia must also take into consideration the impact these types of policies have in our region.

Asylum seekers in countries in the Asia Pacific region are denied work rights. It is one of the reasons that force people to look further afield for refugee protection.

Such a policy undermines the efforts to build refugee protections in our region that will have the best chance of deterring people to risk their lives on a boat journey to Australia.

Andrew Williams is Communications Manager, Refugee Council of Australia.

Contact: Twitter: OzRefugeeCounc. F/book: RCOA