The dodgy asylum seeker dilemma (part 2)

I could have made this a comment to yesterday’s dodgy asylum seeker dilemma post, but I thnk it deserves a thread all on its own.  One of the more interesting but largely unexamined aspects of statistics about asylum seekers in Australia is the stark disparity between success/approval rates for “boat people” versus those arriving by air with valid visas (mostly tourist or student visas).

This Parliamentary Library paper by Janet Phillips is well worth reading in detail from several perspectives, not least in relation to the discrepancy mentioned above:

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are subject to the same assessment criteria as all other asylum applicants. 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. For example:

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.

  • according to the Refugee Council of Australia, in 1998–99, approximately 97 per cent of Iraqi and 92 per cent of Afghan applicants (the majority of whom would have arrived by boat) were granted refugee status and given permanent protection visas;
  • under the ‘Pacific Solution’ a total of 1637 unauthorised arrivals were detained in the Nauru and Manus facilities between September 2001 and February 2008. Of those, 1153 (70 per cent) were found to be refugees and ultimately resettled to Australia or other countries;
  • during the Rudd Government approximately 90–95 per cent of assessments completed on Christmas Island resulted in protection visas being granted. For example, of the 1254 claims assessed on Christmas Island between 1 July 2009 and 31 January 2010, only 110 people were assessed as not being refugees. These figures suggest that 1144 (approximately 91 per cent) of those claims were successful.
  • under the Refugee Status Assessment (RSA) process introduced in July 2008, people who arrive unauthorised at an excised offshore place are prevented from lodging a protection visa application until they have had their claims assessed by DIAC. Of the 2914 RSA assessments completed in 2009–10, 2126 individuals (73 per cent) were found to be refugees and 788 (27 per cent) were found not to be refugees and would not have been able to lodge an application for a protection visa. In 2009–10, 572 requests for review of their primary negative RSA outcome (Independent Merits Review) were received and 184 completed. Of those completed 81 (44 per cent) were found to be refugees.
  • the final protection visa grant rate for 2009–10 for people from Afghanistan (the majority of whom would have arrived by boat) was 99.7 per cent (this figure does not include those boat arrivals with a negative RSA outcome who would not have been able to lodge an application for a protection visa). Grant rates to people from Iraq, Iran and Burma, many of whom would also have arrived by boat, were also high, ranging from 96 to 98 per cent.

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 annually—the overall onshore refugee recognition rate for 2009 was 23.3 per cent.

In other words, past figures show that more asylum seekers who arrived by boat have been recognised as refugees than those who entered Australia by air.

As you will appreciate, the bottom line combined net figure necessarily means that the success rate for asylum seekers who arrive by air must be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent to account for the difference between the net figure and the success rates for boat arrivals. Slightly less than half the total number of onshore asylum seekers are “boat people”.  Slightly more than half arrive by air with valid visas.

But does that mean that the boat arrivals are getting away with protection visa blue murder by destroying their passports and other ID before arrival? Not necessarily.  We might get an indicative idea by comparing the Australian situation with that in Europe:

The figures for Europe are not as reliable due to its porous borders. While unauthorised arrival figures for Australia are more precise owing to our geography, those for Europe are only estimates. We know how many unauthorised arrivals there are in Australia because we are able to monitor unauthorised boat arrivals in Australian waters and all air arrivals at Australian airports.

It would appear that unauthorised boat arrivals in Europe make up only a very small proportion of the ‘irregular migrants’ intercepted across Europe each year as most arrive with a valid visa originally and only some of those go on to claim asylum. Even those countries along the European coasts (that naturally receive all the boat arrivals due to their geography) estimate that boat arrivals only make up a small proportion of their ‘irregular migrants’—in Italy, for example, only about 15 per cent of ‘irregular migrants’ arrive by sea. Nevertheless, in 2009 it was estimated that people on board these boats comprised 70 per cent of Italy’s asylum seeker arrivals. …

The fact that only a small minority of asylum seekers arriving in Europe are “boat people”, that nearly all arrive with valid passports or other ID, and that only around 30-40 percent are found to be genuine refugees, might at first blush suggest that Australia’s “boat people” are gaining an enormous (and unfair) advantage by destroying their passports/ID before arrival.  I suspect that this is in fact the case, and Monday’s Four Corners program tends to confirm that suspicion. But the difference is unlikely to be quite that stark.

If you’re a real refugee … your only realistic chance of getting to Australia is to apply offshore and wait a decade or more or expedite the process by taking your chances with the people smugglers.

Australia’s migration policies in relation to tourist and student visas involve “risk assessments” i.e. assessing the risk that a person if granted a visa will overstay (or, implicitly, make a protection visa application upon arrival).  If you come from a high risk country like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka or the Philippines, your chances of getting a tourist or student visa are greatly reduced.  An extreme example is the story I told here some time ago about a Filipina Catholic Mother Superior client coming to Darwin to run a convent, who was repeatedly refused an Australian visa because authorities apparently feared she might be a “mail order bride”!

Somewhat counter-intuitively, the result of this policy may well be that the protection visa success rate of air arrival applicants is much lower than boat people, largely because anyone with a real chance of gaining refugee staus is unlikely to get a tourist, student or other general visa in the first place. If you’re a real refugee from a country that generates large refugee flows, your only realistic chance of getting to Australia is to apply offshore and wait a decade or more or expedite the process by taking your chances with the people smugglers.

Nevertheless, my gut feeling is that the general European success rate of 30-40 percent is likely to be much closer to the actual proportion of genuine refugees among irregular arrivals. That seems to be the result over a long period of time when authorities are in a position reliably to verify the identities of protection visa applicants (as is the case in Europe with all but a small number).

This entry was posted in Immigration and refugees, Law, Politics - national by Ken Parish. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic at Charles Darwin University, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law) and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 12 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in he early 1990s.

22 thoughts on “The dodgy asylum seeker dilemma (part 2)

  1. I mentioned in the previous thread that the clear majority of asylum seekers are Chinese. Was that confirmed in any of the data you looked at?

    I think the country of origin of asylum seekers is worth noting, since politicians and the media like to blow the dogwhistle about Muslim immigration.

  2. “the success rate for asylum seekers who arrive by air must be somewhere between 10 and 20 percent to account for the difference between the net figure and the success rates for boat arrivals.”

    Ken — unless I’m reading this all very wrongly — it was 43.7% for non-IMAs in 2010-2011.

    Exclude China, Fiji, India and Indonesia, and the success rate for non-IMAs jumps to 58%.

    All the info is here:

    http://www.immi.gov.au/media/publications/statistics/asylum/_files/asylum-trends-aus-annual-2010-11.pdf

    See table 19.

    Exclude the ‘other’ category as well (ie. all countries not in the top 20 non-IMAs granted asylum)…

    And it jumps to 76%.

    That’s compared to 89% of IMAs accepted.

    The UNHCR figures Janet Phillips’s quoting are from 2009 — see Table 1 in the DIAC report for why that’s important to note…

    And she’s reading the wrong line in the table. The correct figure was 50.8%, not 23.3%…

    Which all paints a very different picture. It’s not to say you’re incorrect, but the difference is nowhere near as stark.

  3. Many thanks for that Nick. However in some ways it actually makes my overarching hypothesis more likely (or at least more consistent). As I showed in the first dodgy asylum seeker dilemma article, the UK success rate is also just above 40% (once you allow for successful appeals). It rather looks like that is roughly the proportion of genuine refugees one gets in a pool of asylum seekers over time when their real identity can be verified (which is the case both with air-arriving onshore applicants in Australia and the overwhelming majority of UK applicants).

    It isn’t obvious to me what point you’re making by excluding various categories of non-IMAs (non boat people). One would expect that the success rates would differ somewhat between different nationalities. My point is that it seems that, irrespective of nationality, asylum seekers have much lower success rates i.e. on average about half (both in the UK and Australia) when their identities can be reliably verified.

    • “It isn’t obvious to me what point you’re making by excluding various categories of non-IMAs (non boat people). One would expect that the success rates would differ somewhat between different nationalities.”

      Ken, the success rates for different nationalities differ dramatically.

      Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Sri Lanka are all up between 75-90% with more or less exactly the same rates between IMAs, and non-IMAs.

      Those four nationalities make up the vast majority of boat people.

      As Sancho points out, Chinese nationals make up the largest percentage of non-IMAs. Out of 1053 processed last year, roughly 100 were accepted initially, and another 200 on review…

      Fijians are much the same –10-30% granted — as are lot of other countries. India and Indonesia are both down at 10%. The ‘other’ countries are even less…

      Those countries with the highest rates of refusal completely skew the overall percentage of grants for non-IMAs all the way down to 47%.

      It has everything to do with nationality – and, as I’m reading it, almost nothing to do with whether or not you destroyed your identification because that’s what the people smugglers instructed you to do.

      • OK. I see what you’re getting at now. It’s a strong argument. However I still think there’s something in my point, especially given the disparity with European rates (not just UK) and the now evident fact that people (e.g. Emad and assorted family and acolytes) CAN gain protection visas under false pretences.

      • I’m just being pretentious. Blackstone’s formulation is that it’s “better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer”.

        Should that apply to asylum claims? Because the number of false applicants doesn’t really matter if so, and arguing over the proportion of non-refugees is a distraction.

        • I’m certainly not suggesting that people be sent back to their country of origin if their identities can’t be reliably verified. That would breach the Refugee Convention. I am suggesting that they should not be be processed, approved and released into the Australian community until their identity has been verified.

          As I acknowledged in the previous primary post, that would no doubt lead at least in the short term to more people remaining in immigration detention for even longer than at present, which would not doubt lead to even louder screams from the refugee lobby. Moreover in many respects they’re right. Detention DOES traumatise people, and no doubt some of those who would be held in prolonged detention through inability to establish adequately their real identity actually WOULD be genuine refugees. That’s why I said there are no comfortable choices.

  4. British figures are not comparable with Australian figures.

    Refugees passing through a country that has signed the Refugee Conventions en route to a third country (in this case the UK) void their status as refugees as soon as they leave the first country that has signed the Refugee Conventions.

    By far the greatest number of persons seeking asylum in Britain have probably arrived in Britain from another Western European country, all of which are signatories of the Refugee Conventions.

    On the contrary, virtually no boat people arriving in Australia have voided their status as refugees by passing through another country that is a signatory of the Refugee Conventions.

  5. Over-generalising, it seems a pretty fierce designed system, like the Aboriginal Intervention driven too much by extraneous factors at the expense of its stated real world task and goals.
    You have a global Mossie conspiracy?
    Better ensure that message gets emphasis in complementary legislation, the detention of ewige Afghanis obviously demonstrates a terrorist problem, other wise why would we lock them up; it’s as much about reinforcing an impression on a separate issue as any thing to do with deterring queue-jumping.
    And the decade has provided a glorious opportunity to use this as bearer for security legislation and vice versa. Under the current circumstances Obama is now encouraged to play god employing executive orders, this would not have tolerated a decade ago, but in the hysterical climate generated during the decade it’s clear that the masses have been duped into some thing that has developed enough critical mass to replace McCarthyism with Islamophobia and the pretence has to be kept up, regardless of collateral damage.

  6. if you are poor, part of a persecuted group (for whatever reason) and possibly illiterate in a country like Afghanistan or Iran and fleeing an imminent threat there is very little prospect that you will be able to secure a passport, a visa or other valid travel documents. So if you arrive in Australia by boat without such documents it may well be that you never had them, rather than having them destroyed by the “people smugglers”. Proof of identity then has to be established by other means eg links to other people, knowledge of localities, religion etc. Immigration has well established procedures for doing this, although it often gets it wrong in the first instance, requiring an appeal to conform refugee status.

    On the other hand if you are able to have a passport, visa (travel or student) and buy a plane ticket it is intuitively less likely that you will have been subject to the type and level of persection that would qualify you for refugee status. Many who come by plane are actually “economic” refugees which doesn’t come under the Refugee Conventions.

    So comparing success rates of those who arrive by boat or plane is comparing apples and pears.

    And I agree with Katz’s comments about arrivals in Australia and arrivals in the UK.

    You might like to get advice from refugee advocacy groups such as Amnesty International or the Edmund Rice Centre and also the Human Rights Commission.

    There is so much misinformation floating around regarding refugees it is wise to seek advice from the experts.

    • Amnesty International, the Edmund Rice Centre, the Human Rights Commission.
      You’ve missed the point of the article (objectivity).
      Misinformation peddled by advocacy groups is never going to be objective.

    • Interesting, that comment, because today’s papers are announcing Anthony Abbott’s “new, tougher”, asylum seeker policy, with emphasis on further delegitimisation of asylum seeker claims for entry on the basis of missing documents, the documents asylum seekers apparently throw overboard to make their entry even more difficult.
      No doubt, coming from Sri Lanka, Burma or an Arab or African country with a hail of bullets after you after a bunkerbuster blasted your village, home and half your family back to the Stone Age, you of course still managed get all the paperwork right. Documents in your pocket, you reached some poverty stricken country in SE Asia, where you were forced to rot in some Malarial dead hole until you bribed someone to get you onto some fishing scow, because otherwise you’d go nuts.
      Is it just the old Dictation Test in a different form?
      Everyone has been very ruthless in criticising Labor’s nervous nelliness on the the subject.
      But tell me, someone, how a government is supposed to finesse a new approach to asylum seekers, surely tricky social policy on the sunniest of days, through with a bloody minded, opportunistic, dog in the manger and perverse opposition, willing to spill blood on the issue?
      No bipartisanship leaves gore on Australia’s hands.

      • Documents in your pocket, you reached some poverty stricken country in SE Asia, where you were forced to rot in some Malarial dead hole

        If SE Asia is so bad Paul, surely we should accept anyone from that region automatically then?

        Personally I find it hard to believe your description of South East Asia given that I live in South East Asia.

  7. Young Yobbo has it that we are conned into remaining here in our wretched hovells rack rented to us by fibbing socialist profiteers.
    The Land of Promise actually resides in the teeming Barrios of Manila, Djakarta and KL..Magic Mountain, here we come!
    You, too, can spend your life living the Life of Reilly, if you head to Se Asia, provided that leaky clinker fishing dinghy you pinched from the marina doesn’t sink near Ashmore Reef.

    • Hey Paul, if they stayed in South East Asia (their point of origin), they would never have to risk their lives on Ashmore Reef in the first place.

      Feel free to continue your dribbling though.

  8. the documents asylum seekers apparently throw overboard to make their entry even more difficult.

    There’s no “apparently” necessary in that sentence. The illegal immigrants are ordered to get rid of their papers by the people-smugglers.

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