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Boundless Plains

ACCORDING TO the Australian Government Department of Immigration, up until mid 1989 Australia processed fewer than 500 refugee applications a year.

In June 1989 the Tiananmen Square massacre in China brought the issue of asylum seekers abruptly into the Australian consciousness.

Then Prime Minister Bob Hawke made an emotional speech after the Tiananmen Square massacre and granted permanent residency to 40,000 Chinese students studying in Australia.
The number of people claiming refugee status in Australia peaked at 16,248 during 1990-91.

Compare that to the 6170 refugees Australia received last year (2 per cent of the world’s refugee population). We are not ‘overrun’ as media and political reports would have us believe.

The Australian Immigration Department estimated that in the 2007-08 financial year around 14,000 people overstayed their visa.

According to the Australian Visa Bureau most illegal overstayers are young British men. Americans are also high on the list.

In 2006 I interviewed a remarkable Ethiopian refugee who had been on temporary visas in Australia for 16 years, living with the constant threat of deportation.

A journalist, Ephrem Dehne Wold-Mariam was told he would be executed on the spot if caught by the wrong people in Ethiopia.

At the age of 63 and with deteriorating health Mr Wold-Mariam was granted a permanent Australian Visa.

He was finally able to work in Australia, but after a breakdown and a stroke it was unlikely that he would be physically able to.

This is a man who has done two masters degrees, neither in his first language.

Imagine the knowledge Mr Wold-Mariam brought to Australia in 1990. Since then he has been marginalised and reliant on charity.

Is this what we do to refugees in our land “with boundless plains to share”?