Surge in asylum seekers defies world trend
March 24, 2010
THE number of asylum claims lodged in Australia rose by almost a third last year, with Afghans replacing Sri Lankans as the second-largest group seeking protection.
A UN report released last night found Australia received 6170 asylum seekers last year, up 29 per cent on the year before. The largest group to claim protection were Chinese, all of whom arrived in Australia by air.
Despite the sharp increase in the number of asylum claims in Australia, numbers globally remained stable. In the US and Canada, numbers dropped 5 per cent.
''This suggestion of a global surge was confined to Australia,'' said Scott Morrison, the opposition spokesman on immigration. ''Other major countries experienced declines.''
The Coalition has consistently attributed the increase in boat arrivals to Labor's changes to immigration policy.
But the regional representative for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, said the report highlighted regional disparities. It measured all asylum claims to Australia, not just those lodged by people who arrived on boats.
''Conflict and human insecurity in places of origin are the key reasons why people flee their homes to seek protection further afield,'' he said. ''This is borne out by recent arrivals.''
Across the 44 nations measured in the UN report, Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries 2009, 39 received Afghans fleeing persecution.
Of them, all but Britain reported an increase in the number of asylum seekers from Afghanistan, with numbers seeking refuge in Sweden more than doubling.
Asylum seekers lodging claims in Australia peaked in 2000 and 2001, with numbers in both years doubling those in 2009. Yesterday, Border Protection Command intercepted another two boats – carrying a total of 79 people – off the north-west coast.
''The government can spin and play musical chairs all it likes. This just highlights its state of denial about the problem,'' Mr Morrison said.
Australia receives less than 2 per cent of the world's refugee applications. It is ranked 16th among industrialised countries receiving them.
''Australia and New Zealand receive only a very small percentage of the world's asylum seekers,'' Mr Towle said.
''UNHCR hopes that the report will serve to increase awareness of regional and global trends, and as a timely reminder of the need to maintain a balanced perspective on the numbers of people in need of international protection.''