Asylum seekers are not refugees until accepted by appropriate authorities that they satisfy the UN Convention on Refugees. They need to provide evidence that they have a genuine fear of persecution by officialdom on return to their country of nationality. They need to be outside that country, having fled for protection.
Persons displaced by war or comparable conflict are termed refugees, but they would not satisfy this Convention. They can return home after the turbulence has settled. Many may not choose to return, if they are resident in refugee camps, and if there is a possibility of re-settlement in a Western nation. Only the middle class (broadly described) would have such ambitions although, judging by reported events in Africa, the motivations for non-return can be variably confusing.
Australia successfully repatriated Cambodian boat people from a rural background; they would not have been able to integrate into the nation. Displaced middle class Muslims from Kosovo were given only temporary visas when the Balkans split into ethno-religious enclaves. They were required to go home when stability there was achieved. Vietnamese boat people selected for humanitarian entry by Australia from the nations of first asylum, especially Malaysia, were known to return to their former country as Australians, without fear, after the communist government had settled in.
Temporary (3-year) visas also applied to accepted asylum seekers until recently. Its removal represented an invitation to economic migrants (who would not await the due process of selection) to enter Australia any way possible; they must be aware that now 4 out of every 5 applicants would eventually be permitted to stay. No confirmation seems necessary as to the validity of their claims. Would validity mean anything when we do not know who or what 90% of the boat people are when they land?
The UN Convention is not the only contentious issue in this opaque process. What of our politicians, the bureaucracy, the courts, and segments of the Anglo-Australian community? A recent report, based on information obtained from Immigration officials, members of the Refugee Review Panel, and workers at detention centres, is scathing about the process of deciding asylum claims.
Greg Sheridan in ‘The Weekend Australian’ of 8/9 and 15/16 June 2013 said ‘The refugee determination process in Australia is a sick and dysfunctional farce … the system is so loosely designed, so completely open to manipulation by asylum seekers, people smugglers, and community groups emotionally committed to asylum seekers, and then interacts inappropriately within the Australian legal system, that it has become a multi-billion dollar joke that is more or less completely worthless.’
To which, one might ask: What of the morality involved? What of the multi-billion dollar taxpayer burden? What of the social consequences for a nation which has been very successful in integrating immigrants and refugees coming in by the front door, through due process?