Observations of an ordinary man


Boat People

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Doesn’t the very phrase itself sound distasteful. That’s a Pavlovian response, that is. We have been trained to look on those desperate souls making their way to our shores as invaders that will destroy our country. They come to take jobs away from hard working Australians. They threaten the very fabric of our society. They come in here using up our hard earned resources and will ultimately end life in Australia as we know it!


Who are these people that they offer such a threat to our way of life? For the most part they are desperate families trying to get away from a situation that could cost them their life. There are also those that just want a better life for themselves and their family. Are they following the rules? No, but desperate people do desperate things. As traditional refugees, these people can expect to spend years living in overcrowded refugee camps with poor sanitation and a lack of food and privacy.

Dadaab Refugee camp - airial view

The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.1
(click on the image to get the full story of this paradise)

And we wonder why they want to come here?

Now let’s have a look at some numbers:

  • There are approximately 9.7 million refugees in the world today2.
  • In the last 4 years we have had approximately 20,0003 people arrive illegally by boat. That equates to 0.09% of Australia’s population or 0.2% of the world’s total refugees. A large number of these are families with children.
  • According to the ABS4, there are around 700 thousand Australians unemployed (35 times the number of people that arrived by boat in the last 4 years).
  • In the last 5 years, over 100,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost, most to overseas5.
  • It is currently estimated that there are almost 54,000 workers in Australia that have overstayed their visa and are genuinely taking jobs from Australians6.
  • Each asylum seeker costs Australia around $119,000 per year to support with offshore detention7.
  • Australia currently supports 30,000 refugees. The Netherlands which has a similar population to Australia has almost 75,0008.

So what do all these numbers mean?

I asked myself the same question. Here’s what I get from it:

  • On a global scale, Australia takes in a disproportionately small number of refugees compared to other developed countries.
  • Australians’ jobs are more at risk from jobs being moved offshore than they are from boat arrivals.
  • Australians’ jobs are more at risk from people overstaying their visas than they are from “boat people”.
  • Keeping asylum seekers offshore costs at least twice as much as it does to support an unemployed person.

Assuming we give asylum seekers the same benefits we give the unemployed until we determine whether they are genuine or not, we save around $70,000 per person.

If we spent some of the savings tracking down and deporting the people overstaying their visas, we would free up 54,000 jobs for Australian job seekers. This would see a drop in unemployment of almost 0.5%. This drop in unemployment would more than pay for the care and management of the asylum seekers.

But once in won’t they just vanish into the community? What? You mean like the 54,000 currently overstaying their visas? Well the fabric of our society hasn’t unravelled with those overstayers, so I’m fairly sure another couple of thousand asylum seekers hiding out will not have a significant impact either.

Shut down the overseas processing centres and turn most of the current detention centres into pre-processing places where asylum seekers are housed until we get them settled in the community (a couple of months at the most). Keep a few detention centres to house those that are to be deported for breaching their visa conditions.

I may be oversimplifying things but it seems to me that it saves us money and makes us a little more human into the bargain.


1. http://womennewsnetwork.net/2012/10/04/poor-sanitation-kenyan-refugee-camp/

2. http://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/questions-and-answers-about-refugees-asylum-seekers

3. http://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BN/2011-2012/BoatArrivals

4. http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/6202.0

5. https://theconversation.com/factcheck-is-australia-losing-one-manufacturing-job-every-19-minutes-15917

6. http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/86overstayers-and-other-unlawful-non-citizens.htm

7. http://rightnow.org.au/topics/asylum-seekers/the-economic-cost-of-our-asylum-seeker-policy/

8. http://unhcr.org/globaltrendsjune2013/UNHCR%20GLOBAL%20TRENDS%202012_V05.pdf

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