As asylum seekers continue to arrive by boat to Australia’s shores and heated debate continues, PhD candidate Sue Hoffman and Senior Lecturer Dr Anne Pedersen at Murdoch University are sorting through the myths and misinformation.
The Murdoch researchers say there is a lot of misinformation surrounding asylum seekers whose own countries are unwilling and/or unable to offer them the safety and security that Australians take for granted.
“One myth is that asylum seekers are illegal immigrants,” Dr Pedersen said.
“Asylum seekers have not broken either Australian or international law by arriving without authorisation seeking protection.
“They are not ‘illegal’.
“Over 90% of unauthorised boat arrivals are found to be genuine.”
Ms Hoffman’s research has provided her with insights into people smuggling operations and she disagrees with the perception that all smugglers are major criminals.
“While there are large, transnational people smuggling syndicates, many people smugglers do not fit this profile,” Ms Hoffman said.
“Some smuggling operations are unsophisticated grassroots affairs that arise in response to local demand.
“People fleeing terror may have to evade authorities to travel overseas so they need the help of smugglers to escape.”
Many people wonder why asylum seekers don’t go to neighbouring countries when they leave their homeland, or remain in transit countries like Malaysia or Indonesia, rather than travel to Australia to seek asylum.
“These countries don’t have legislation that recognises asylum seekers or refugees” Ms Hoffman said.
The asylum seekers/refugees don’t have work rights so they can’t support themselves for very long. Plus if they come to the attention of authorities, they are treated harshly and can be locked up for years or deported.
“In our region, only Australia and New Zealand are signatories to the Convention and allow asylum seekers permanent residence once their claims as refugees are found to be true.”
Dr Pedersen said that there is a false belief that refugees receive special payments from Centrelink and that they are paid more than pensioners.
“There are no special payments for refugees; their claims are assessed in the same way and against the same rules that apply to other Australians,” Dr Pedersen said.
Ms Hoffman is a long-time advocate for refugees and asylum seekers and is currently writing up her doctoral thesis on the journeys of Iraqi refugees to Australia. Dr Pedersen is also a long-time asylum seeker/refugee advocate and an applied social psychologist with a particular interest in prejudice-related issues.