Australians miss the mark on basic facts around refugees and seeking asylum

Australians are misinformed when it comes to some basic facts on refugees and asylum seekers. Most people think it’s a crime to come by boat without a visa seeking protection and most think there’s an official queue refugees and asylum seekers can join to be resettled. At least, that’s what new data collected by the Australian Red Cross indicates.

“It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection – yet almost seven out of 10 people think it is,” Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner says. The organisation surveyed 1000 people over the age of 18 across the country and found that people don’t really know the scale of the issue or the realities that refugees and asylum seekers face. Women are more likely than men to get the facts wrong.

The quiz-style survey questions included facts based on the most recent data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Mr Tickner corrects a common misconception. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution.

“It’s not illegal to cross boundaries without documents or passports to do so. People have been fleeing persecution for centuries,” he said and cited the fall of the Roman Empire, World War 1 and the Vietnam War as examples. Mr Tickner says his organisation is concerned that there is so much misunderstanding.

“We think if some of the myths are dispelled we will have a more compassionate and stronger community. People impacted by migration need our help. They are some of the most vulnerable in Australia today; they often face much hardship, limited choices and have few support networks.”

The survey found that even though there is no official queue for people coming to Australia seeking asylum more than six in ten people think there is, yet according to Mr Tickner, the UN system doesn’t work on a queue system, there is no orderly line, it’s a discretionary process and there is no guarantee that if a refugee waits for a period of time they will be resettled.

Last month for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June 2015) Red Cross ran a Fact v Fiction campaign challenging public misconceptions about refugees and seeking asylum.

There are some 17.9 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world today. But the Red Cross survey found close to one-third of people think there are more than four times (about 80 million) that amount, and almost a quarter think there are half as many (about 9 million).

“Added to this lack of knowledge of basic facts, our survey also found two-thirds of people think Australia is doing enough or should do less to help refugees and asylum seekers. Younger people (18 to 34 year olds) are the age group most likely to think we should do more,” Mr Tickner said.

“Red Cross works with people based on need regardless of how they arrived in Australia or their visa status because we believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Red Cross operates on the principle of neutrality and our work leaves us well placed to discuss the realities faced by asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants. ”

Find facts on refugees and seeking asylum at redcross.org.au/refugeefacts.

KEY FINDINGS

65% of people think there is an official queue all people who come to Australia seeking asylum could join if they chose to.

69% of people said it is a crime under Australian law to arrive here by boat without a valid visa and ask for protection.

56% of people knew that most of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers currently live in developing countries.

57% knew that Australia received 1% or less of the total new asylum seeker claims submitted around the world during the year.

74% of over 55 year olds say Australia is doing enough or should do less to help refugees and asylum seekers

39% of 18 to 34 year olds say Australia should do more to help refugees and asylum seekers

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