The cries about the rate of arrival of asylum seekers in Australia are becoming ever more shrill. “It is out of control”, shrieks the Opposition, and in response the Government has chosen to freeze the processing of asylum claims by Sri Lankans and Afghans.
The numbers involved are trivial. Last year we had something of the order of 60 boats arrive – a little over one per week – carrying about 2,850 people. The largest number to arrive in any twelve month period in the last three decades is 4,100. As Julian Burnside QC pointed out in The Age on 9 April (see here), at the current rate of boat arrivals it would take thirty years to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
For a country with a real refugee problem, consider the case of Iran, which is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (see here), Iran currently has 976,500 registered refugees, of whom 933,500 were Afghans and 43,000 were Iraqis. The majority of them reside in urban areas – only 3 per cent in camps.
Some 70 per cent of the Afghan and Iraqi refugees remaining in the Islamic Republic of Iran have lived in the country for 20 to 30 years. Half of them were born and educated in the country, and half the refugee population is female.
To get an idea of the impact of these refugees on Iran, consider the fact that on a purchasing power parity basis, the Iranian economy is about the same size as the Australian economy (see the GDP rankings in the CIA World Factbook). On the basis of 2009 data Iran, with a GDP at PPP of $US 876 billion is the 17th largest economy in the world; Australia at $US 824 billion is the 19th. We have one third of Iran’s population of 66 million, so Iran’s per capita GDP is about a third of ours, and its economic capacity to cope is consequently much less.
And we think we have a refugee problem.