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FORTY-FIVE nautical miles north-east of Scott Reef is the middle of nowhere.

It’s not the place to be one of 92 people adrift in a leaky boat.

The passengers experience crowding, seasickness and fear, and the constant self-doubt about the decision to deal with people traffickers and run from violence and war.

On the mainland we see a few seconds of telephoto news video and an official media release from the Minister for Home Affairs:

“HMAS Bundaberg, operating under the control of Border Protection Command, boarded a suspected irregular entry vessel north-east of Scott Reef this afternoon. Initial indications suggest there are 20 passengers and one crew member on board.” (22 August 2010 – Border Protection Command intercepts vessel)

Reality is adrift somewhere between cold factual information, hyped-up media coverage and political grandstanding.

In 2009 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report Asylum Levels and Trends in Industrialised Countries said arrivals to Australia were very low by world standards.

Last year 377,200 asylum claims were recorded in 44 countries with Australia receiving 6170 – less than 2 per cent of the total asylum applications.

Australia had a 29 per cent increase in asylum seeker applications.

By comparison, Denmark experienced a 59 per cent increase, Hungary a 50 per cent increase, Finland a 47 per cent increase, and New Zealand a 36 per cent increase.

But behind the numbers are stories of individuals – men, women and children who have fled persecution and possible death to claim their legal right of asylum in another country.

If there’s such a thing as a typical experience for the small number of asylum seekers who come by boat to Australia, a Journey source said it would be something like the following.

The price to smuggle a small family out of Afghanistan is around USD $15,000; the value of a family home.

One well travelled route is via Pakistan and Malaysia to Indonesia.

Many people are simply dumped in Jakarta, often without their belongings, the local language and any kind of map.

The family then goes to the United Nations office to discover it will take months to even schedule an interview during which they can apply for asylum.

If a local charity cannot find a place for this family in Jakarta they may end up in one of 15 detention centres throughout Indonesia.

They may find a place aboard one of the boats and risk their lives on a week-long voyage to Ashmore or Scott Reef.

Like every other nation, Indonesia is under no obligation to offer permanent homes to refugees in transit.

In 2008 the UNHCR helped 88,000 people resettle and worked with 10.5 million recognised refugees worldwide.

In Sudan there are more than 60,000 Eritreans whose families arrived at those refugee camps in the 1960s.

The unhelpful rhetoric that asylum seekers coming by boat have jumped a queue is often bandied around.

Research into finding a “queue” in Afghanistan found the Australian Embassy in Kabul operates from a number of undisclosed locations, but Australians could call the Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra. After eight minutes on the phone to Canberra none of the Consular staff were able to explain how or where to go to join a queue.