Monday, June 18, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (ii) - Aren't Boat People Queue Jumpers?

Doubts: Australia has a permanent Humanitarian Immigration program for placement of refugees split into an 'Offshore' and 'Onshore' component. The Offshore program refers to people overseas, many of whom have already been determined by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to be refugees. They are granted official permission and assistance to enter Australia prior to arrival. The Onshore component consists of people who apply for protection in Australia, subsequently are determined by the Department of Immigration or the Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) to meet the criteria of a refugee.

The Offshore resettlement program is a positive and welcome initiative, one that Australia can be proud of. However, the Offshore program has created the impression that there is a 'queue' for asylum seekers to join. In countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries from which millions of people are fleeing persecution, Australia has no diplomatic representation. Refugee flows from these countries - and others - are chaotic. Few countries between the Middle East and Australia are signatories to the Refugee Convention, the human rights treaty that outlines the duty of care that countries must provide refugees, and so refugees are forced to continue to other countries to find secure and sustained protection.

There is no standard refugee process for these people to wait in line and have their applications considered. They must often flee suddenly without proper documentation or visas to a safe country, and those forced to flee this way must not be penalised for doing so.

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