SEATTLE, Washington — For seven years, Australia has sent asylum-seeking refugees to live in camps offshore in Papua New Guinea, Nauru or to return to live perilously in their home countries. Refugees in Australia, sent to live in camps in squalor, receive only minimal accommodations. Here are seven facts about refugees in Australia.
Refugees in Australia once found hope in Australia’s refugee policy
Australia was once a model for countries receiving asylum seekers. Since its establishment in 1977, Australia’s resettlement program has overseen the resettling of over 880,000 refugees. However, Australia has also seen a recent economic recession that may account for its waning support of refugees.
Australia has since relegated thousands of refugees to live in offshore camps
The country has decided to utilize camps in Papua New Guinea—one of the most impoverished nations in its region—and Nauru to deal with asylum seekers. Australia has sent over 3,000 refugees to the camps since 2013. Some refugees were allowed to return to Australia in 2019, but over 900 people are still living in camps in what Amnesty International called an “open-air prison.”
Asylum seekers have died while being processed by the Australian government
Health conditions in Australia’s offshore camps for refugees are beyond poor. Around 80% of residents suffer from mental illness, and a total of 24 people have died while in some form of Australian refugee detention—14 of whom died by suicide. Hostile conditions in these camps also include attacks from locals, poor medical facilities and little security.
Almost no refugees are allowed to stay in Australia without a medical need
Australia has allowed a total of around 1,200 refugees to return for medical treatment. However, others have spent years living in offshore camps. The average length of detention sits presently at over a year, with some people living in detention for as long as nine years.
Those allowed to live in Australia do so detained in hotels or without support
Of those allowed to return to Australia, over 200 live as prisoners in hotels, unable to leave their rooms. Some have been allowed to live amongst the community, but without the legal capacity to work or sustain themselves. This manner of detention currently exists as the only alternative to life in a squalid camp or in the dangerous country from which these refugees flee.
Australia’s economic situation may not be capable of supporting new refugees
While refugees coming to Australia require financial support, Australia’s current situation is not conducive to filling that role. Between bushfires ravaging the country and COVID-19 stressing its population, Australia’s economy could have difficulty supporting an influx of refugees. According to BBC News, Australia is experiencing a rare recession—the first in 29 years—this year. From January to March, the Australian economy shrank by 0.3%, and it has since declined. However, the Australian government has promised its businesses support in the form of hundreds of billions of dollars in order to stimulate its economy. This show of national solidarity will potentially allow Australia to bounce back from its recent struggles.
The situation at home for Australia’s refugees is worse
Australia’s refugees come from numerous impoverished nations, such as Iraq, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Syria. Australia’s economic situation may seem severe by its standards, but the nations from which its refugees hail have even worse conditions. These refugees flee from poverty and war so extreme that they would rather remain in Australia’s inadequate care than return home. Syria, one of the main producers of refugees on Earth, has lately seen over 80% of its population living below the poverty line. This has resulted in approximately 12.7 million of Syria’s people fleeing. Similarly, Iraq’s war has led to 31.7% of its population living below the poverty line and many people leaving for the shores of Australia. Just since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of children or adolescents in Iraq living in poverty has doubled.
Thousands of asylum seekers in Australia’s care still need help. Australia may not currently be in a position to provide that help, and while things are primed to improve, the refugee situation in Australia has a long way to go. The U.S. has agreed to provide over 700 such people with much-needed aid, but Australia must do more to ensure the health and wellbeing of these refugees.
– Will Sikich