The magnitude and complexity of the issues arising from the flow of asylum seekers and refugees globally poses huge challenges for the world’s destination countries, including Australia. These countries universally struggle to maintain a balance between controlling national borders and offering protection to millions of displaced people.
When the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was established in 1951, there were approximately 1.5 million refugees internationally. At the end of 2011 there were an estimated 42.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 15.2 million refugees (10.4 million under UNHCR mandate), 895 000 asylum seekers and 26.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). Almost three quarters of the world’s refugees under UNHCR mandate, approximately 7.1 million, remained in protracted situations at the end of 2011.
The Australian Government has recognised the magnitude of these global trends noting that the numbers of people seeking asylum in Australia are small compared to those seeking asylum in Europe and other parts of the world.
Australia has a long history of accepting refugees for resettlement and over 750 000 refugees and displaced persons, including thousands during and immediately after World War II, have settled in Australia since 1945. However, despite this long-term commitment, there is a great deal of confusion and misinformation in the public debate in Australia particularly around the terms asylum seekers, refugees, ‘illegals’, ‘queue jumpers’ and ‘boat people’ which are often used interchangeably and/or incorrectly.
This updated background note presents information to help address some of the popular misconceptions that surround asylum issues. It includes information on asylum claims, unauthorised arrivals and irregular migration in Australia and Europe.