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The humanitarian challenge of refugees

Who is a refugee?

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:
Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

However, the terms "refugees" and "migrants" are frequently used interchangeably. The two words refer to very different groups of people.

Boat people threats?

There's never been any credible evidence of a particular threat to national security. 
Five thousand arrivals a year by boat seeking asylum is a drop in the Pacific Ocean of a migration program of hundreds of thousands.

The number of refugees Australia accepts is set each year and has remained between 13,000 and 14,200 since 2003. This year the number will be 13,750, regardless of the number of boats that arrive.

Over 3 million people have arrived by plane in the last 20 and about 50,000 over-stayed visas etc thus making them illegal immigrants. Boat people in numbers terms are a lot less than numbers by plane for illegal immigrant status. The media and political parties play to the fear of “boat people” and illegal immigrants.

The illusion of control

An Australian born citizens who marries a foreigner will find it difficult to bring his/her spouse to Australia. This injustice enforces the illusion that Australia is seriously in control of who and how many people arrive at our shores.

Our politicians are deliberately making political use of the "security threat" from boat people and creating a smoke screen to hide the main source of our our population growth - skilled economic immigration!

The hype of the “boat people” and “border security” is a smoke screen to draw attention away from the real source of the drain on our resources, and an impediment to our obligation to the resettlement of genuine refugees – economic migration!

Challenges of settlement

Statistically, women from refugee backgrounds have the highest unemployment rates in the Australian labour market. Along with our own unemployed, and those who lack opportunities to gain skills, they need to be protected from being replaced by the skilled imported here from overseas.

Becoming economically integrated and maintaining financial security is difficult for newly-arrived immigrants to Australia, who in some cases are excluded from the social welfare system for a significant period after arrival.

Refugees tend to be in higher risk low skill jobs and tend to be employed in industries more affected by economic downturns. Some may have been tortured or experienced other trauma either before or during their journey.

There are also a significant number of entrants whose qualifications are not recognised in Australia and they need time to make adjustments. There is also the issue of learning English.

It is important that we recognise their specific needs and address these.

The challenge for Australia is to assist newly arrived refugees to process the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia.

In terms of global rankings, Australia comes in at 68th in terms of refugees per 1000 inhabitants and 77th in terms of refugees per gross domestic product per capita. In real terms, this is 1.1 refugee per 1000 inhabitants and 0.6 refugees per GDP per capita. This makes us mean-spirited and misers in regards to taking refugees.

According to the Green Left, nations like Australia need to throw open their doors and pay for the mass relocation of people who now have no choice but to abandon their homes to survive.

Climate change refugees

It is predicted that there will be millions of climate change asylum seekers in the future. Oxford University's Norman Myers believes that the number of climate refugees could be as high as 200 million by 2050. It will be the poorest countries that will be the worst affected. How many of these will also be from the impacts and direct consequences of overpopulation is also unknown.

More refugees will knock on Australia's door unless rich countries help poorer nations cope with climate change, a key UN scientist has warned.

Professor Martin Parry - a prominent UK scientist who chaired the last United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment of the impact of climate change - said wealthy countries such as Australia had “good, selfish reasons” to
spend money helping the developing world adapt to global warming.
Not selfish, just realistic.

Professor Parry said there are likely to be significant population shifts away from areas severely affected by global warming, but the process will be "manageable" if it takes place over a number of decades. Really?

In July 2008 the World Bank warned Australia that future climate change refugees present the government with a major policy challenge. in August 2009, Pacific members of the Alliance of Small Island States (SIS) underscored 'serious and growing threat posed by climate change to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and security of the SIS countries'.

In July 2009, an Oxfam report warned that:
By the year 2050, about 75 million people could be forced to leave their homes in the Asia-Pacific region due to climate change. Pacific island governments are already tackling climate change-related relocation and resettlement.

Policies based on Compassion?

Australia's system of immigration detention is failing on many fronts, and the Greens believe a more commonsense and compassionate approach is needed,
Greens Senator Hanson-Young said. However, environmental limitations don't respond to “compassion” but to “commonsense” and being responsible for keeping ecological balance.

Artificially replacing nature's bounties is energy consuming, costly or even undiscovered. There are limits to technology.

Our own carrying capacity could easily be compromised if we take the route of compassionate response and try to accommodate them all. Our environment, our ecological "services", have no obligation to increase their outputs, their bounties, to accommodate more people, no matter how urgent and pitiful their plights are.

Tight guidelines

Thus, we need some very tight and water-proof guidelines to how we treat asylum seekers to avoid the floodgates being opened, under the assumption that we have limitless land and resources here in Australia.

Politicians do not have the capacity to paint broad strokes even on such a large canvas!
The UN should be trying to advocate a global responsible human population challenge to limit family sizes, but the "sacred cow" of population growth still roams at large!

Clearly, our limits to growth are already being stretched, and we have a high reliance on oil and a globalised economy! Prime Minister Julia Gillard must make some tough, long term, policies and put the interests of Australians FIRST while maintaining a limited humanitarian intake!

Whose responsibility?

The problem is not just overpopulation, and it is not just of “non-whites”. It is a global responsibility.

The majority of Australia's growth, 66 per cent, was due to overseas migration, with the remainder, 34 per cent, due to there being more births than deaths. Australia's population growth is double the world's average!

People settling in Australia adapt our lifestyles, our consumption levels, and add to the local/global population pressures.

Carrying capacity

According to Paul Kelly, Editor-at-large of The Australian , the idea that Australia could not "carry" 36 million people is absurd, and the idea of a “carrying capacity” is loopy!

He believes that environmentalists will “construct principles that make this seem untenable”. Thus, environmental science is not tangible, substantive or concrete?

NSW premier Bob Carr has told a forum that Australia's population should be capped at 28 million. Back in January this year, Tony Abbott's “instinct” was “to extend to as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia.” Should such serious policies be left to “instinct”?

Professor Tim Flannery believes the long-term human carrying capacity of the Australian continent and Tasmania could be as low as 8 million people. It looks big on the map but its mostly desert and non arable land.

The idea of a “carrying capacity” has been buried by the growth lobby and other deniers of reality.

Whereas most farmers have an accurate understanding of the carrying capacity of their land, we really have very little idea of what level of population this land can support.


The solution to the world's displaced is left for politicians driven by economics, philosophical and idealistic arguments. What we can deduce from our current knowledge is that our present population in Australia is already more than enough, indicated by our lack of fresh water, the demise of our food bowl, and lack of arable land.

What is the answer to the escalation of our looming humanitarian crisis of countless refugees?

We have no new colonies to plunder, and the capacity of developed countries to accommodate millions is doubtful. It's like changing the deck chairs of the Titanic. Once a vessel is full, it is reckless to keep adding more passengers.

Do we start to turn away the haunted, the rejected, the persecuted, the homeless? It's a serious ethical challenge, a dilemma!


Most animals don’t need to concern themselves with overpopulation because predators take care of the problem. Starvation handles it for predators. In the animal kingdom, only two offspring survive to adulthood even if many young are spawned.
We humans have developed technology to consume Nature's bounty and pile layer upon layer over the land. Vaccines have helped.
We pack ourselves in, we still strive for ever higher populations out of an ancient biological drive, due to culture, survival instincts, economics and greed. Outdated religious creed also propagates our numbers. "Go forth the multiply" of Genesis is no longer appropriate. People also have children for status reasons, to increase their family size and promote their family's powers. They also have children to provide for them in their old age.
Social institutions refuse to adjust to the new reality of overpopulation. Market forces are left to decide how our numbers grow, or decline.
Governments are still intent on maximising populations even though our planet's resources and fertile soils are shrinking.
# Woman who want children are to be encouraged to have two children at most. Any more should not receive any form of government support such as Baby Bonus or paid maternity leave.
# Any families that have more than 2 children should mean that only two of them can reproduce
# No support for underage pregnancies
# Ban on IVF for public patients and encouragement for adoptions and fostering of children
# End of economic immigration and foreign students applying for PR
# Economic benefits for working after retirement age
# Age limit for Baby Bonus and other benefits
# Encouragement of the use of condoms and other contraceptive devices, for free

Of course an economically-driven government like ours in Australia still seeks skilled migrants, and still thinks tonnes of refugee people will not be in sure need of asylum. This is 1950s thinking - to grow, and consider our region's desperate as something really 'out there' and not too much in the present or near future.

Our refugee quota should be increased; numbers and applications handled in light of the waves that will be seeking asylum here, while having the correct and humane application process needed, far away from the detention centre idea...

Australia's skilled workforce should naturally begin with its local people - it's called vocational education and training. But vocational training seems to have been relegated to being a 'cost' both in private and public enterprise across Australia. In reality, across industry, vocation training is an investment in an industry and in people.

Since Laboral government tax policy and divestment in the educational sector, Australian industry, commerce and even government agencies themselves, with their quarterly timeframes now habitually import skills. In so doing they brush aside Australians denying them training and career advancement.

And of course, Australia's education sector is contracting from being overlooked, underfunded by sucessive Laboral governments and forced to rely on international students, who are now also falling away.

The refugee quota needs to be lifecycle costed - the full lifecycle of each individual to be processed, transported, resettled, fed, housed, clothed, educated in language and life skills, provided with childcare, health benefits, the bare costs of living, assimilated into Australian society, brought up to a self-resourceful condition that allows that person and his/her dependents survive and live a life above the poverty line to an acceptable humanitarian Australian standard.

How much each?

Let's say that full life cycle process from a penniless, non-English speaking unskilled refugee would typically take 10 years. I offer a guess that the full cost at a broad stab over that ten years would be about $500,000 per individual.

Australia's refugee intake thus far in 2010 is 13,000 accorinding to .
So the full lifecycle cost to Australian taxpayers of refugees is about 6.5 billion per year!

This is equivalent to the
$6 BILLION REGIONAL INFRASTRUCTURE FUND announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan back in June 2010.

And yet Australia's infrastructure is bursting at the seams with its immigration-fuelled population growth - hospitals, public housing, childcare, water, electricity, roads, rail, you name it.

And yet Australia has its growing underclass of homeless and tens of thousands of Australians below the poverty line, who receive less from the government than foreign refugees. Where's the justice?

And how are past refugees coping? Who monitors their condition?
Australia clearly is accepting refugees beyond its means.

New Zealand's current UNHCR annual refugee quota is 750 per annum.

New Zealand's population is just over 4 million. Australia's population is just over 26 million (6.5 times that of NZ), so to be in line with New Zealand proportionately Australia's annual refugee quota should be 5000. Even then the annual Federal refugee budget would need to be $2.5 billion!

Emphasis has been added to contribution below by editor.

According to Paul Kelly, Editor-at-large of The Australian , the idea that Australia could not "carry" 36 million people is absurd, and the idea of a “carrying capacity” is loopy!

According to his biography, he has no environmental, biological or ecological qualifications.

Paul Kelly holds a Doctor of Letters from the University of Melbourne and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Sydney. In addition, he has honorary doctorates from the University of New South Wales and Griffith University.

He is currently researching economic, social and foreign policy outcomes for Australia during the Keating and Howard periods.
In 2006 Paul Kelly was a visiting fellow at the Lowy Institute for International Policy where he wrote a research paper on ten years of Howard's foreign policy.

He joined 2009 Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow and author of the Garnaut Climate Change Review Professor Ross Garnaut, Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change the Honourable Greg Combet and Director of Port Jackson Partners Limited, Rod Sims, to speak about the social, political and environmental challenges that climate change presents. Garnaut never mentioned population growth either in his reports, or livestock industries.

He said that Kevin Rudd's 2009 invoking of Big Australia was a mistake. Any prime minister who embraces a target commits a grand folly. The direction Gillard wants, signalled in her Lowy speech in which she said she didn't want to hurdle towards a "big Australia", is clear. She wants to slow immigration but we don't know how much. She wants a new policy method based in regional needs and requirements. Her rejection of "big Australia" was to sooth voter concerns after Labor doing poorly in highly populated areas. It is all about re-distributing population, not limiting growth.

Mr Frank Lowy, Lowy Institute:

Frank Lowy is executive chairman and co-founder of the Westfield Group - major shopping centre developers! Four Lowy family members on the board have interests in growth.