In Australia, there is a history of politicians and the press labeling asylum seekers trying to reach the country by boat as ‘queue jumpers’, implying that they are bypassing the screening and resettlement processes other asylum seekers in immigration camps have to go through.
However this idea assumes that there is an orderly queue at refugee camps around the world, resettling recognised refugees in the order in which their claims are lodged. This is not the case.
Resettlement has been described as “more like a lottery than a queue” and cases are prioritised by need, rather than by the order in which people lodge their claims. Demand for resettlement is simply too high and many refugees will never be granted settlement in a new country, even those fleeing the most extreme circumstances.
Also, seeking asylum directly, like travelling to a new country by land or boat, is the standard way that persecuted peoples apply for refugee status.
As a 2015 report from the Refugee Council of Australia said, “resettlement is the exception rather than the rule”.
“There are currently 15.4 million refugees in the world but only around 85,000 resettlement places are available annually, meaning that less than one per cent of the world’s refugees are resettled each year.
“At this rate, it would take over 180 years for all of the world’s refugees to be resettled.”
The report also said that in many cases, it is more “practical and desirable” for refugees to be granted asylum and move permanently to the country where they first seek refuge, as opposed to being resettled.
As the National Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia, Graham Thom, has written, linking Australia’s two refugee programs, or components – onshore (asylum seekers who’ve arrived in Australia and apply for refugee status) and offshore (refugees resettled from overseas) – has muddied the dialogue on this issue and had negative consequences.
“It has meant that an asylum seeker who is granted refugee status onshore is perceived as ‘taking’ a place from a humanitarian entrant offshore,” he writes.
“This policy has pitted refugee communities in Australia against each other and created a perception in the Australian community that one refugee group is more deserving than another.”
In Australia there significantly more applications for offshore resettlement than there are available visas, so desperate asylum seekers will attempt alternate ways of reaching the country. This is not “jumping the queue”, but simply hoping to find a safe haven to live your life.