No evidence that asylum seekers bring terror risk

3 November 2020

UQ Law School researchers have debunked the theory that asylum seekers pose a terrorism threat in Australia.

Terrorism and Asylum book cover
Terrorism and Asylum, edited by James C. Simeon

Professor Peter Billings and Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh wrote a chapter of the book Terrorism and Asylum, which features an international collaboration of experts from Europe, the UK, North America and Australia.

“Our chapter challenges the dominant political narrative around asylum seekers in Australia,” Professor Billings said.

“We expose the false link with terrorism, especially about those asylum seekers who seek to enter the country by boat.

“This is important because, post 9/11, politicians have used the public’s fear of terrorist attacks to restrict access to refugee protection in Australia. 

“Our chapter shows there’s no credible evidence or data to suggest asylum seekers are a national security risk.”

Professor Billings said Australian anti-terror and refugee laws and policies had become increasingly tough in the past 20 years.  

“Our work demonstrates that Australia’s Migration Act is much harsher and more exclusionary than international refugee or human rights law,” he said.

“It casts a wide net in terms of who can be excluded from refugee protection. For example, asylum seekers can be excluded if they’re suspected of planning or inciting terrorism – no conviction necessary.

“People in this situation are denied visas to stay in Australia, or they may have existing visas cancelled.

“The outcome is legal limbo; they aren’t allowed to settle in Australia and can’t return to their home country because they’ve fled persecution.

“What that means in practice is they may be left in immigration detention for prolonged periods, deprived indefinitely of their liberty and other fundamental human rights.”

Dr Ananian-Welsh said asylum seekers in indefinite detention were denied protections given to others in the Australian criminal justice system.  

“They don’t have access to lawyers, fair trial rights or the presumption of innocence,” Dr Ananian-Welsh said.

“The character tests and security assessments they undergo are not fair or open, and the penalties asylum seekers face are potentially as bad or worse than for people charged with criminal offences.

“At least with a jail sentence, you know when you are getting out.”

However, the researchers said it was important to acknowledge that security threats required considered and sometimes severe responses.

“We need to look at our laws and policies, understand how they work and ask whether they’re effective,” Dr Ananian-Welsh said.

“We know now that cracking down on asylum seekers isn’t stopping terrorism or protecting Australians, so it’s time to rethink the problem and take a fresh look at the solutions.”

The researchers said they aimed to shine a light on the negative impact of these laws and policies and to encourage law reform.

“Change won’t happen overnight, but we hope over time we can chip away at the entrenched beliefs and attitudes around terrorism and asylum in Australia,” Professor Billings said.

“At the very least, we would like to help dispel the broader community’s fears of asylum seekers and explain how these complicated legal frameworks function and how they’re being implemented.”

Terrorism and Asylum is relevant to students, legal scholars, legal practitioners, policymakers and advocates, and anyone with an interest in terrorism and asylum issues.  

Edited by York University academic Dr James C. Simeon, the book examines national and international perspectives on terrorism and asylum, highlighting how countries around the world are dealing with these issues.

The project also intersects with Professor Billings’s 2019 book Crimmigration in Australia, which looks at the blending of criminal law and practice with immigration law and practice.

Listen to a recording from the North American Terrorism and Asylum book launch here.

Media: Professor Peter Billings,, ph +61 (0)402 702 802; Dr Rebecca Ananian-Welsh,, ph +61 (0)404 818 411.