Are most asylum seekers and refugees Muslims?

Apr 5, 2013

Well, as a matter of fact, most asylum seekers and refugees are not Muslims.

But I am sure that many commentators and a lot of the community believe that most are Muslim. The dog-whistlers like Scott Morrison feed on this assumption .According to Jane Cadzow in the Sun Herald he urged the Coalition parties “to ramp up its questioning … to capitalise on anti-Muslim sentiment”.

Figures on this issue are extracted from the DIAC Settlement data base. One reason for the difficulty in analysing the figures is that a religious test is not applied to persons seeking refugee status, and neither should it. Ascertaining religious background often then depends on voluntary declarations.

The Refugee Convention is blind to religion but the Convention recognises that religious persecution is a valid ground for claiming protection.

But based on DIAC Settlement data the general picture becomes reasonably clear. For settlement purposes refugees are asked on a voluntary basis to declare their religion as it is likely to assist in settlement in the community.

In the figures for the year from January 1 2010 there were 8,342 arrivals of refugees and other humanitarian entrants. The religious affiliations were as follows:

  • Christian 4,263 – 51%.
  • Muslim 2,223 – 26%
  • Hindu 1,125 – 13%
  • Other 731 – 10%
  • Total 8,342 – 100%

In the period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012, humanitarian arrivals including refugees were as follows.

  • Christian 5,523 – 34%
  • Muslim 6,732 – 42%
  • Buddhist 445 – 3%
  • Hindu 1,089 – 7%
  • Other 2,255 – 14%
  • Total 16,044 – 100%

These figures give a fairly reliable guide to the religious background of humanitarian entrants in recent years. The increase in Muslim arrivals in the year to 31 March 2012 is largely due to the persecution of Hazaras both in their own country Afghanistan and more recently in Pakistan. This trend is continuing.

The pattern will vary from year to year, depending on the religious composition of the country where the persecution is occurring, and if a particular religious group is being persecuted.

I would expect that the number of Christians currently facing persecution in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt and Syria, is likely to increase. Christians represent about 10% of the population in both countries the highest in the Middle East. If the Assad regime in Syria falls both minority Alawite and Christian communities are likely to be in jeopardy. Over a million Syrians have already fled to neighbouring countries.

Christians in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity, have fallen from 20% in the early 20th Century to about 5% today.

The religious pattern of asylum seekers and refugees is hard to predict. What is clear is that it is nonsense to assume that most of them to date are Muslim.

John Menadue

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