Iranians – refugees or migrants? John Menadue

Jul 28, 2013

In my blog of July 5, I compared the March quarter 2013 primary refugee protection visa rate for various nationalities and the finally determined grant rate.

In the case of Iranian nationals the grant rate rose from 55% at the primary stage to 86% on appeal. That is 86% of Iranian boat arrivals were finally found to be genuine refugees in the March quarter 2013. Because of this I queried Foreign Minister Carr’s comments about Iranian boat people being mainly economic migrants.

I have had to rely on the March quarter 2013 figures as they are the latest available from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. However it should be acknowledged that this March quarter Iranian cohort would be in respect of Iranians who had arrived six or twelve months before. The refugee determination process would normally take six to twelve months or more.

There could have been a significant change in the profile of Iranian asylum seekers over the last six to twelve months or so.  The first indication of this is that the Indonesian Government has apparently been persuaded of the changing profile of the Iranian boat people by the Australian Government and has now refused to grant visas on arrival to Iranians entering Indonesia. Iranian nationals wanting entry to Indonesia will now have to apply for a visa in Iran or in a third country.

The second factor is that Foreign Minister Carr has now been much more explicit about Iranian boat arrivals. He recently said ‘The advice I have got is that overwhelmingly the Iranians coming here are middle-class Iranians. They are from the majority ethnic and religious group in the country. And they are coming here as economic refugees. They are coming as economic migrants, not as refugees.’ He added later ‘The profile [of Iranian boat people] has changed’.

The third factor is that undoubtedly the proportion of Iranian boat arrivals has increase significantly. In the June quarter 2012 they represented about 10% of boat arrivals.  According to media reports they now represent close to 40 % of boat arrivals. The actual numbers tell the same story, up from 352 in the June quarter 2012 to an estimated 3600 in the June quarter this year

We will have to wait for further information on the refugee determination rates for Iranians and others. But I would not now dismiss completely, the comments by Foreign Minister Carr.

But there is another way to address this issue if the profile of Iranian asylum seekers is changing.

The population of Iran is increasing very rapidly. It has been referred to as a “population time bomb” The population is young. The middle class is also growing rapidly. It is well educated.

Iranians have a lot of “get up and go”. My observation is they make very good migrants. They are determined people and perhaps for that reason they get up the nose of Immigration officials.

They are repressed by the mullahs but probably more importantly the sanctions imposed by the west are biting hard. Not surprisingly with population and economic pressures at home many want to leave Iran.

It must be possible to open a different migration pathway for eligible Iranians through some type of skilled migration program, perhaps a 457 visa or sponsored migration. Surely we have Australian companies that would be supportive. Iran is an important market for Australian wheat

Perhaps the Government is considering this option if, as seems likely, the profile of Iranian boat arrivals is changing. Unfortunately the Government is so paralysed by boat arrivals it seems unable to focus on more creative and workable programs that would address an ever changing situation.

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