Last week I visited the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab in northern Kenya, home to almost 450,000 Somali refugees.
I also visited the Yida refugee camp in northern South Sudan which has 60,000 Sudanese inhabitants fleeing from the conflict in South Kordofan, Sudan.
My expectations of an African refugee camp were shaped by the images on our TV screens of skeletal starvation and desperately malnourished kids.
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Australia’s immigration detention system is at breaking point.
Events on Christmas Island over recent weeks are a clear expression of the frustration and despair felt by asylum seekers, some of whom have spent over two years behind bars in remote, overcrowded centres, waiting for their claims to be processed.
The escalation of turmoil follows months of increasing unrest in detention centres around the country. Incidents of self-harm, including hunger strikes and attempted suicide, have been steadily rising.
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On Tuesday, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released the statistics on global asylum trends for 2009.
Somewhat predictably, a lot of fuss has been made about the increase in asylum applications received by Australia. While numbers of asylum seekers globally have remained steady, Australia has seen a 30 per cent increase. A crude reading of this statistic may seem to support the “pull factor” argument, namely that Australian domestic legislation, not international situations, is to blame for seemingly large increases in the number of asylum applications.
But statistics, and percentages in particular, can be misleading. Australia receives so few applications for asylum that a 30 per cent increase means only 1400 additional people sought asylum here last year, as compared to 2008.
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