Analysis: Australia's tough asylum policy

25.Jan.02,  first published by BBCnews: read the original article here.

By the BBC's Eurasia analyst Pam O'Toole

The series of riots and protests at Woomera immigration detention centre in South Australia reflects the continuing controversy over Australia's mandatory detention of illegal-entry asylum seekers.

While many other developed countries detain some asylum seekers, in most cases it is in relatively small numbers and for a limited period.

Australia has traditionally been relatively generous to recognised refugees who want to settle there, setting aside thousands of resettlement places for them every year.

It has been keen to point out that over half a million people have been given refuge under its refugee and humanitarian programmes since 1945.

But when it comes to the treatment of asylum seekers arriving illegally, Australia is one of the toughest countries in the world.

Held on arrival

Although only a few thousand such people turn up in Australia each year, they are detained while their cases are being assessed.

The only other developed country with comparable policies is the United States, which detains all asylum seekers arriving on its shores without legitimate documents.

Like Australia, the US has traditionally been generous to refugees who apply to be resettled there legally, taking in some two million such people over the past 25 years.

But it also has a far larger number of asylum seekers than Australia - more than a million over the past decade.

European treatment

In Europe, the detention of asylum seekers is far more limited.

Although a number of European countries are taking steps to increase the number of detention places available, the number of people detained is usually only a fraction of those arriving illegally to claim asylum.

They often include those awaiting deportation after their asylum applications have failed.

Austria has perhaps the strictest policy, with most illegal immigrants being detained until they are formally admitted into the asylum determination process.

Again, Europe has a far larger number of asylum seekers than Australia.

Over the past decade, Germany alone has seen 1.7 million asylum applications.