Rethinking Refugees

“We need to stop the boats” is what we often hear when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers. However, Julia Gillard perceived the matter and the number of boat people as  “very minor…[and] less than 1.5 per cent of permanent migrants each year”.  Notwithstanding, there is a need to address the fundamental difference between refugees and asylum seekers in order to achieve a comprehensive understanding of the issue at hand.

What is a refugee?

The 1951 Convention of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) defines a refugee as an individual who fears persecution on the grounds of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his / her nationality” and, as a result, is reluctant to seek safety from their home country. However, an asylum seeker is an individual who seeks to become a refugee. It is apparent that there is a distinction between the two definitions.

A common misperception of unauthorised boat arrivals in Australia is that they are illegal immigrants and “queue-cutters”. However, it is not illegal to seek asylum under the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Asylum seekers are assessed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and are reviewed by the Refugee Review Tribunal.  Likewise, boat people are assessed under the same criteria as other asylum applicants.

Can we stop the boats?

Bowen (2012) clarifies the fundamental rationale for the arrival of unauthorised boats. He states that the quantity of asylum-seekers will “change depending on factors in [their] home countries”.  Thom (2012) supports this notion with the belief that the fundamental motive for the arrival of boat people highly depends on the fact that they are “facing severe persecution” and that they have come to flee to Australia because it is “a safe, stable country, and a signatory to the Refugee Convention”.

What is the current situation?

Asylum seekers on Christmas Island are currently being sent to Nauru. Although the number of boat arrivals have decreased, there have been “threats of self-harm from detainees who do not wish to go”. The detainees have been admitted to the Christmas Island hospital.


“No one wants the horrors of the last “Pacific Solution” repeated, but our politicians seem determined to reopen Nauru before sorting out the most basic details. We need answers urgently:

  • What will happen to children sent to Nauru – especially those with no one to look after them?
  • How long will people languish on Nauru – given that we know long-term detention can cause severe psychological trauma?
  • Will independent organisations be able to visit and monitor what is happening on the islands?”

– Amnesty International


Act now and send a message:


“Last time Australia sent asylum seekers to Nauru, conditions were so bad that a child swallowed a lightbulb to try and end his own life. Why will this time be any different?”

For more information regarding refugees and asylum seekers, visit the following link:



Alexandra Medrana is in her first year at Bond University. In her time at Bond University she has developed her passion for international relations.


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