Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Refugees in Australia - Q & A (iv) - Don't we already take our fair share of refugees?

Something to think about: 381 623 refugees applied for asylum in the European Union in 2002. 117 005 applications had been lodged in Europe during the first five months of 2003. In contrast, 5 645 reached Australia by boat or plane during the period of 2000-01; 1 523 applications had been lodged in Australia during the first five months of 2003. UNHCR estimates there were 1.1 million Afghan refugees in Iran and 1.2 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan at the start of the year 2003.

The burden of assisting refugees is borne mostly by the world's poorest nations, with Asian countries hosting 45 percent of all refugees, followed by Africa (30 percent), Europe (19 percent) and North America (5 percent).

Per capita, according to the Immigration Department Australia is the "second most generous" country after Canada with the Humanitarian Program taking 12,000 refugees every year. But this refers to a program in which only nine countries participate. Second out of nine is commendable (and more countries might consider similar programs) but second in the world is a misleading assumption.

Using per capita ratios, the US Committee for Refugee figures tell yet another story, listing the Gaza Strip (1:2) as having the most significant refugee population within its territory, followed by Jordan and the West Bank (both 1:3), then Lebanon (1:11) followed by a number of African countries. Australia, at about 1:1200, hasn't been ranked, but might be unfavourably compared with countries such as Germany (1:456) and Canada (1:566) who are much further up the list. Australia receives relatively few refugees by world standards. The Humanitarian Program allows for a maximum of 12 000 refugees per year - a number that has remained static for five years, despite the fluctuating numbers of refugees worldwide.

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