An Immigration Discovery Centre Reference Sheet

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has gained refugee status under United Nations criteria. According to Article 1A (2) of the convention, a refugee is "a person with a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…”

A Sudanese refugee assisted by aid workers at Farachana camp, Chad

A Sudanese refugee assisted by aid workers at Farachana camp, Chad.
Source: The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

The 1951 United Nations Convention and its 1967 Protocol is an internationally recognised convention or agreement relating to the status of refugees.

Initially, the convention was developed with the aim of protecting the mostly European refugees in the aftermath of the Second World War. The 1967 protocol expanded the scope of the agreement by removing geographical and time limitations on refugees as the problem of displacement spread around the world.

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone who has yet to have gained formal recognition of his or her refugee status and is seeking protection within the country of refuge. Under the Declaration of Human Rights any person has the right to seek asylum from persecution. Australia is a signatory to the Declaration of Human Rights. Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants. The current Federal Government refers to asylum seekers as ‘unauthorised arrivals’.

Panel Five, Green-Boat Voyage (turbulent water), painted by Thomas Le 1998

Panel Five, Green-Boat Voyage (turbulent water), painted by Thomas Le, 1998.
Source: Museum Victoria

Then who is an illegal immigrant?

An illegal immigrant or ‘unlawful non-citizen’ is someone who has stayed in Australia without valid immigration documentation and overstayed the visitors visa. There are currently estimated to be 58 000 illegal entrants residing in Australia who arrived by aeroplanes (from the UK, Europe and the USA) and who work in Australia without paying tax.

How do people ‘get in’ to Australia?

Migrating to Australia (as a migrant or refugee) means travelling to Australia with a visa that gives you the right to live permanently in Australia. There are two programs designed to help people wanting to come to Australia permanently:

One is the Migration Program which is made up of:

  • a skill migration stream, which has a number of categories for people who have particular occupation skills, outstanding talents or business skills;
  • a family migration stream, within which people can be sponsored by a relative who is an Australian citizen or a permanent resident;
  • special eligibility migrants, who are former citizens or residents wanting to return to Australia, or New Zealanders.

The second program is the separate Humanitarian Program, which is designed for refugees and others in special humanitarian need.

Where do migrants in Australia come from?

The top 10 birthplaces of individuals by population according to the 2011 Census are:

1.Australia 15017846  
2.England 911594  
3.New Zealand 483398  
4.China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) 318969  
5.India 295363  
6.Italy 185402  
7.Vietnam 185039  
8.Philippines 171233  
9.South Africa 145683  
10.Scotland 133432  


Further Reading

The Immigration Discovery Centre has many books in its library collection to assist with research on this much debated topic:

Asylum, Border Control and Detention. Parliament of Commonwealth Australia.
Call no. 328.094 A938

Displaced People and Refugee Studies: A resource guide. University of Oxford
Call no. 325. 210 16 D612

Migration and Refugee Law: The principles and practices in Australia. Cambridge University Press.
Call no. 342. 940 83 V978

Refugee and Humanitarian Issues: Australia’s Response. Department of Immigration 
Call no. 325. 210 994 R 332

Berry, Joy. Mine and Yours: Human Rights for Kids by for Kids.
Call no. 323.352 B 534

Hawthorn, Lesleyanne. Refugee: The Vietnamese Experience.
Call no. 325. 210 9597 R 332

Jupp, James. Exile or Refuge: The settlement of refugee, humanitarian and displaced immigrants.
Call no. 362. 878 J95

Kilner, John. Australia and the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Issue.
Call no. 342. 082 K 48

Mares, Peter. Borderline: Australia’s Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers.
Call no. 325.210 994 M325

McMaster, Don. Asylum Seekers: Australia’s Response to Refugees.
Call no. 325. 210 994 M167

Mignot, Michel. Kampuchean, Laotian and Vietnamese Refugees in Australia.
Call no. 325. 210 950 16 M636

Saikal, Amin. Refugees in the Modern World.
Call no. 325. 21 R332

Victory, Michael. Crossing Borders: The Refugee experience in Australia.
Call no. 325. 94 V646

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