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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 14 Hansard (11 December) . . Page.. 4354 ..

MS TUCKER (continuing):

When Mr Smyth used a less specific description of human beings, Ms Dundas interjected, "Human beings."The point she was making by doing that was very good, and I want to put it on the record. Mr Smyth also said, "If you want to know what it is like, talk to Mr Pratt."If you want to know what it is like, go to Villawood and spend a day or two or three there, and you will find out what it is like for people in detention. That is the Club Med of detention centres in Australia. That is not a convincing argument either.

I want to correct some statements that were made. It was said that boat people are not refugees. Most asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia are refugees. More than 80 per cent have been granted refugee status by the Australian government. A couple of speakers have said that asylum seekers are queue jumpers. There are no queue jumpers. There is no standard refugee process whereby people wait in line to be selected to enter Australia.

There are currently over 22 million refugees in the world. Mr Pratt underestimated the number. Most are living in refugee camps. Most are waiting to return to their own country. It is true that anyone can apply to migrate to Australia, whatever his or her background. However, for many of those who want to get to Australia there is no queue, not even a counter. In some countries there is no Australian embassy. In many countries Australian officials do not visit the camps to see whether people might need to be taken to safety. Often there are roadblocks, curfews and travel permits that make it dangerous and expensive to travel to the capital city where a refugee might try to make application.

I understand that Mr Pratt does not want to listen to this because it is going to make him look silly. For some it is also impossible to go to neighbouring countries to seek asylum. Few countries between the Middle East and Australia have signed the refugee convention, so asylum seekers are forced to keep travelling. Country borders are very dangerous to cross, and neighbouring countries are sometimes also dangerous. Asylum seekers who use people smugglers are mostly desperate people whose options have run out. They see their route as their only opportunity to build a future for themselves and their families.

Mr Smyth said that only poor people can be refugees and that boat people are too wealthy to be genuine refugees. One does not have to be poor or uneducated to be a refugee. Anyone rich or poor can become a refugee. The refugee convention says that refugees are people who are outside their country of nationality or usual country of residence and are unable or unwilling to return to, or to seek the protection of, that country because of well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

Many asylum seekers are educated middle-class people. Their education, professional and political backgrounds have often led to their persecution, torture or terror. Those who have fallen into the hands of people smugglers have often lived on tiny incomes for years to raise enough to send just one member of their extended family abroad. That person is expected to work long and hard to send money back to pay for other family members to escape. Many families in refugee camps are in debt to people smugglers. Some have paid people smugglers to get out of their own country to a neighbouring country. Asylum seekers pay people smugglers because they are desperate, not because they are rich.

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