13 June 2024

Across the globe, people make the difficult decision to leave their home countries in search of better lives in Australia.

Image: A woman wearing a green, tan and yellow headscarf holds a baby.

National Refugee Week (16 - 22 June), is an important time to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our community, and to learn about refugees and asylum seekers' experiences and the many challenges they face coming to Australia.

The experience of a refugee or asylum seeker often includes trauma and loss. People seeking refuge do so because they are not safe and often leave their home country without warning.

Refugees and asylum seekers are forced to leave behind their homes, family members, and communities to face a difficult journey to a new country and an uncertain future.

The confusion between the terms Refugee, Asylum Seeker and immigrant adds to the challenges faced by people seeking refuge. These terms are often used interchangeably despite the significant differences.

In essence, all refugees were once asylum seekers, but not all asylum seekers are ultimately granted refugee status. Here are some other key differences:


A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

In Australia, a refugee is someone who has been recognised as meeting the criteria under the United Nations Refugee Convention. This recognition can occur either: - Offshore: Through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) referral process, where individuals are identified and resettled in Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. - Onshore: Through the asylum process, where individuals who arrive in Australia seek asylum and are then recognised as refugees. Once recognised as refugees, they are granted a visa (typically a Permanent Protection Visa) which allows them to live, work, and access services in Australia. They have similar rights and protections to other permanent residents.

Asylum Seekers

An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined. Asylum seekers apply for protection on the grounds that returning to their home country would put them at risk of serious harm due to persecution, conflict, or violence.

An asylum seeker in Australia is someone who has entered the country (legally or otherwise) and lodged an application for protection. Just like people who are considered refugees, there are two main pathways for asylum seekers in Australia: - Onshore Protection Applications: For those who apply for asylum after arriving in Australia, either by air or by sea. - Offshore Processing: For those who arrive by boat without a valid visa. They are often transferred to offshore processing centres in Nauru or Papua New Guinea while their claims are processed. Asylum seekers are not guaranteed refugee status and must go through a lengthy application and assessment process. During this time, their legal status is uncertain. This means these people have restricted access to work, education, and social services compared to recognised refugees.

Conditions in offshore processing centres have been criticised for their harshness and impact on mental health. Australia's approach to asylum seekers, particularly those arriving by boat, has been subject to significant political debate and criticism from various human rights organisations.

Who is an Immigrant?

An immigrant is a person who is seeking better opportunities and chooses to leave their home to settle in another country. They can return home whenever they choose; however, many choose to seek permanent residency or citizenship. The important part to note is that for immigrants, it is a choice to leave their countries.

Image: A young child wearing a hooded jumper, holding a soft bear and sitting in a refugee camp.

Why should we welcome refugees and asylum seekers?

One important fact to remember is that seeking asylum in Australia, or elsewhere, is a basic human right. All people are entitled to protection of their human rights, including the right to seek asylum, regardless of how or where they arrive in Australia, or in any other country.

As human beings, we are united by the rights and personal freedoms that we all enjoy; the right to self-determination, the right to be valued and respected, and the right to personal freedom. Everyone deserves to live in safety and have their human rights respected.

We live in a globalised world, and Australia shares the global responsibility to create a world where people who are in danger can rebuild their lives in a safe place.

Australia is a multicultural nation and has vibrant communities thanks to the contribution of people who have made a life here from across the globe. Our country is strengthened by diversity, and refugees who settle here contribute to this. When given the opportunity, refugees give back to the community that has provided them with a safe home.

Image: A young girl in a striped hoodie with brown hair smiling at the camera.

At Life Without Barriers, we support refugees and asylum seekers to gain access to vital services such as housing, employment, medical, and legal services.

"Life Without Barriers has been providing services to refugee and asylum seekers for many years and we fundamentally believe it is critical that we continue to do so." Said Claire Robbs, Chief Executive.

"Our Life Without Barriers' Board have always been incredibly supportive and committed to these services and we will continue to be a welcoming, helpful and committed partner to refugees for years to come."

Through our National Immigration Support Services (NISS), we have seen first-hand the contribution refugees can make, like Tayeb, a hardworking and community-minded asylum seeker who created a community garden in his residence determination housing, or Ebrahim, a refugee who relaunched his career as a barber with the support of his NISS team.

During National Refugee Week, we encourage you to visit the Refugee Week website to learn more about refugees, the challenges they face and the contributions they have made to communities across Australia.

Support for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Life Without Barriers provides services through our National Immigration Support Service (NISS)

Related Stories