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).