Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Asylum seekers are not illegal immigrants

About 400 migrants are feared drowned after their boat capsized off Libya, survivors have told Save the Children. The Italian coast guard had rescued 144 people on Monday and immediately launched an air and sea search operation in hopes of rescuing others. More than 7,000 migrants have been rescued from the Mediterranean since Friday. An estimated 3,400 migrants died in 2014 while trying to make the treacherous crossing into Europe.

“280,000 people entered the EU illegally last year, many fleeing from conflicts in from Syria, Eritrea and Somalia.”The BBC website repeats once more the mistaken accusation that political asylum seekers are “illegal.” This is wrong under international law.

The UN Refugee Convention recognises that refugees have a right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel or identity documents. The Convention stipulates that what would usually be considered as illegal actions (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not be treated as illegal if a person is seeking asylum. This means that it is incorrect to refer to asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation as “illegal”, as they in fact have a right to enter to seek asylum. In line with our obligations under the Convention, the law also permits unauthorised entry into Australia for the purposes of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers do not break any laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation. International law make these allowances because it is not always safe or practicable for asylum seekers to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels.


Refugees are, by definition, persons fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own government. It is often too dangerous for refugees to apply for a passport or exit visa or approach an embassy for a visa, as such actions could put their lives, and the lives of their families, at risk.


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