A new opinion poll conducted for Amnesty International has found that a clear majority of Australians believe all asylum seekers should be treated equally under Australian law. The survey also found that a majority of Australians mistakenly believe that most asylum seekers arrive in Australia by boat.

The results of the Nielsen poll commissioned by Amnesty International Australia show that 69 percent of Australians believe that asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat should have access to the same legal protections as those who arrive by plane.

“Currently under Australian law, asylum seekers who arrive by boat are discriminated against because of their method of arrival. The findings of this survey show that a clear majority of Australians disagree with this policy and support Amnesty International’s position that all people seeking asylum in Australia should receive equal treatment under the law,” said Dr Graham Thom, Refugee Coordinator for Amnesty International Australia.

“The Government should immediately move to end this discriminatory policy, provide the same legal protections to all asylum seekers, and stop processing asylum claims offshore on Christmas Island.”

The opinion poll also showed that a large majority of Australians have major misconceptions regarding the percentage of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat. On average, Australians believe that about 60 per cent of asylum seekers come to Australia by boat. More than a third of Australians believe that over 80 per cent of asylum seekers arrive by boat. In fact, only 3.4 per cent of people who sought asylum in Australia in 2008 arrived by boat - the other 96.6 per cent arrived by plane.

“The misconception regarding the number of asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat is deeply concerning,” said Graham Thom. “There has been an almost hysterical response to the relatively small number of people arriving by boat in recent years.

“In reality, the numbers are small, and disproportionate to the huge outlay of resources required to maintain the discriminatory policy of offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive by boat.”

Of those surveyed, only 31 per cent were aware that it costs more to process asylum seekers on Christmas Island than it would to process them on the Australian mainland. Of those who answered correctly, 51 per cent believed that the additional cost of offshore processing was unjustifiable.

“These findings suggest that some two thirds of Australians do not know what a heavy burden offshore processing places on taxpayers. Amnesty International believes that the excision policy is fundamentally unsustainable on a number of grounds, and is calling on the government to end its discriminatory excision policy and to close the Christmas Island detention facility - which cost over $400 million to build and many more millions each year to run” said Graham Thom.