Refugees and asylum seekers: Australian public misses the mark on basic facts


Australians are misinformed when it comes to some basic facts on refugees and asylum seekers. Most people think it’s a crime to come by boat without a visa seeking protection and most think there’s an official queue refugees and asylum seekers can join to be resettled. redcross

Our survey of 1,000 people 18+ across Australia found the public don’t really know the scale of the issue nor the realities refugees and asylum seekers face.  Further, women are more likely than men to get the facts wrong.  The quiz-style survey questions included facts based on the most recent data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“It’s not a crime to come to Australia by boat without a visa and ask for protection – yet almost seven out of 10 people think it is,” Australian Red Cross CEO Robert Tickner says. “Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries, and it’s not illegal to cross boundaries without documents or passports to do so. People have been fleeing persecution for centuries; think the fall of the Roman Empire, World War 1, the Vietnam War.

“Red Cross is concerned there’s so much misunderstanding. We think if some of the myths are dispelled we will have a more compassionate and stronger community,” Mr Tickner says. “People impacted by migration need our help. They are some of the most vulnerable in Australia today; they often face much hardship, limited choices and have few support networks.”

Our survey found that even though there is no official queue for people coming to Australia seeking asylum more than six in 10 people think there is. ”The UN system doesn’t work on a queue system, there is no orderly line, it’s a discretionary process and there is no guarantee that if a refugee waits for a period of time they will be resettled.”

There are some 17.9 million refugees and asylum seekers in the world today. But we found close to one-third of people think there are more than four times (about 80 million) as many as there actually are, and almost a quarter think there are half as many (about 9 million).

This year for Refugee Week (14 to 20 June 2015) Red Cross is running a Fact v Fiction campaign challenging public misconceptions about refugees and seeking asylum.

“Added to this lack of knowledge of basic facts, our survey also found some two-thirds of people think Australia is doing enough or should do less to help refugees and asylum seekers. Younger people (18 to 34 year olds) are the age group most likely to think we should do more, while people over 55 are more likely to think Australia does enough,” Mr Tickner says.

“Red Cross works with people based on need regardless of how they arrived in Australia or their visa status because we believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Red Cross operates on the principle of neutrality and our work leaves us well placed to discuss the realities faced by asylum seekers, refugees and other migrants.

Find out more on our website at