Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:24 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 08 Apr 2020 | 23:24 | SYDNEY

Boat people in perspective: A trickle, not a tidal wave


Alex Oliver


23 April 2009 09:44

Here are some interesting numbers from the latest report from the the UN Refugee Agency which Mike Steketee cited on asylum trends in industrialised countries.

There was a 12 per cent increase in 2007 to 2008 in asylum applications to industrialised countries. But Australia accounted for only 1.2% (4,750) of the total (382,670). In the 2007-08 reporting year, only 25 boat people arrived illegally in Australia. 

While applications for asylum in Australia have increased somewhat in the last year, to read the news, the hyperventilating reactions of opposition parliamentarians and the polls, anyone would think we are being swamped. The comments of the Prime Minister were pretty inflammatory as well.

We are not one of the world’s top 10 ‘receiving’ countries for asylum seekers (but Sweden is, with a population of 9 million, and Norway, with a population of 4 ½ million, and Switzerland, with a population of 7 ½ million). We’re nowhere near the top 10 even on a per-capita basis, at 0.2 per 1000 inhabitants we’re behind Norway again (3.1), Sweden (2.7), Belgium (1.2), Liechtenstein (0.9), Luxembourg (7.8), Switzerland (2.2) and even Malta (6.4) and Cyprus (4.6). Do I need to point out their populations? And finally, on a GDP basis, we’re not in the same pond either.

Here are some others hosing down the hysteria on the level of boat people arrivals: 

  • Julian Burnside QC on ABC radio yesterday morning — ‘a trickle’.
  • Crikey on Monday — ‘a drop in the ocean’.
  • Mike Steketee in Australian last week — ‘tiny’.

If you like fiction try the denouement of Steve Toltz’s ‘A fraction of the whole’, a vividly-painted picture of life in a leaky illegal Pacific-crossing boat.