UNAA POSITION ON REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS
The world is experiencing unprecedented numbers of refugees and internally displaced
persons (IDPs) – an estimated 71m at the end of 2018 (around 26m refugees and 41.3m
other IDPs). Resolving this global problem is a high priority. Apart from the very real
humanitarian necessity to do so, mass displacement affects national and international
security and erodes economic growth and prosperity. This significant challenge requires
Australia to be both pragmatic and compassionate in its national planning and responses,
and to contribute purposefully to regional and global solutions.
The greatest burden of accommodating refugees and asylum seekers falls on developing
countries that are compelled to provide sanctuary for those fleeing conflict and/or
persecution. Very few displaced persons seek refuge in Australia.
Traditionally, Australia has been generous in its acceptance of migrants, and has a proud
history of their successful integration. Australia has also been generous in its acceptance of
refugees and asylum seekers, most of whom have contributed positively to our nation’s
economic development and enriched our multicultural identity
All governments have the right to determine who enters their country within the context of
their national immigration framework. Australia needs to have effective border security
policies and measures in place, and the Government needs to take all reasonable measures
to prevent people smuggling and illegal trafficking of people.
Australia needs to be alert to the threats of international terrorism and transnational crime,
and the Government needs to minimise threats to national security or public order.
UNAA believes that:
Effective resolution of the challenges of refugees and asylum seekers will require global
perspectives, regional solutions, and local Australian political action
Australia should contribute purposefully to the UN’s Global Compact on Refugees. This
Compact is designed to transform the way the international community prevents and
responds to refugee crises. As a major refugee re-settlement country, Australia can and
should make a positive contribution to the Global Compact.
Australia should take a leading role in developing regional solutions to displacement that
are supportive of the rules-based international order and prevention of people trafficking.
Current policies and measures to prevent refugees and asylum seekers from coming to
Australia need to be reviewed. Australia’s current policy only shifts the problem to other
Australia’s reputation as a welcoming host country and as a responsible global citizen is
diminished by our current treatment of asylum seekers and refugees arriving
spontaneously, as evidenced by arguments from within the Australian community and from
the UNHCR. There are alternatives
Australia’s current detention of refugees and asylum seekers compromises Australia’s
ability to effectively pursue broader regional and global aims in stabilising and supporting
people displaced by conflict and civil unrest.
Processing arrivals offshore is not cost-effective. Between 2012 and 2016 the cost to
Australia was an estimated $9.6b. Though costs have reduced as arrivals have decreased,
the estimated cost of offshore processing for 2017/18 was $714m.1
Effective resolution of the challenges of refugees and asylum seekers requires the
Australian Government to fully commit to the principle of international responsibilitysharing,
and fully abide by Australia’s international legal responsibilities. This includes the
proper care and protection of spontaneously arriving refugees and asylum seekers in
The UNHCR is currently inadequately resourced to deal with the massive caseloads of
refugees and asylum seekers worldwide.
The UNAA urges the Australian Government to address the following eight critical issues in
building a sustainable and comprehensive protection framework globally, regionally and
- To continue to play a positive role in seeking to address the current global crises regarding
refugees and asylum seekers.
- To fully consult with the Australian community as it continues to develop its position on the
Global Compact for Refugees, currently being developed by UN member states.
- In consultation with civil society and relevant UN agencies, to continue to forge a strategic
dialogue with countries in our region through the Bali Process and initiatives such as the
Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration in developing feasible regional responses to refugee and
asylum seeker problems. These should address respective responsibilities for transit
hosting, processing and accepting of refugees and asylum seekers who enter the region.
- To review the alignment of asylum seeker policies with other foreign policy objectives, and
to continue Australia’s commitment to a generous and expanded resettlement program for
refugees and asylum seekers.
- To ensure that Australia maintains robust immigration and border protection mechanisms
to prevent the efforts of people traffickers, but treat all refugees and asylum seekers
equitably and in accordance with international refugee law and human rights law – thereby
reinforcing Australia’s steadfast commitment to strengthening the rules-based international
- To review the refugee protection legislative framework in Australia with a view to
reinstating the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as an important
reference point for status determination arrangements, thereby ensuring that the
Convention once again serves the purpose intended through Australia’s accession to that
- To permanently close the offshore processing centres on Nauru and Manus Island, Papua
New Guinea, ensuring at least temporary protection in Australia of those individuals who
cannot yet be repatriated safely or resettled to another country. The UNAA believes this is
possible without compromising Australia’s strong border protection framework.
- To facilitate and support the work of the UNHCR and promote research and educational
projects in Australia on international refugee and statelessness issues.
The UNAA welcomes opportunities to work with the Australian Government in addressing these
eight initiatives and exploring innovative new approaches to build a sustainable and humane
global architecture in supporting displaced people.