What is the issue here? is asking someone.
According to the International treaties that Australia has signed and is bound to, it is NOT illegal to enter Australia via any means and then to apply for refugee status. That includes just boarding an old leaky boat and enter Australian waters.
This is what the vast majority of people in detention in various Australian facilities have done. I repeat: this is not illegal. They are not illegal immigrant, they have jumped no queue. There is no queue anywhere to join if you want to apply for refugee status in Australia.
Australia is then bound by treaty to process these people: their refugee status must be assessed. If they are found by a court of law to be genuine refugees then a refugee status visa must be granted to them. If they are not found to be refugees they must be returned to their country of origin, if safe.
The rethoric about queue jumpers and illegal immigrants has been brought up by the Australian governement to demonize these basically helpless people.
This is why the UN High Commission on Refugees has the power and is keen to find out what happens to asylum seekers in Australia.
Think of this mechanism as a two way street. Maybe in a few years time a facist and undemocratic government will take power in Australia. In this instance Australians will be damn pleased that at least the option of becoming a refugee in a friendly country is opened to them. Think it can't happen? It did in Germany some 70 years ago. Who knows what will happen anywhere within the next 70 years?
The people who are breaking the law or at least bending them to their furthest untested limit is the Australian government, who emprisons men women and children for months or years at a time.
Not only is it heartless, it's also stupid and short sighted. When you abuse helpless people like this, it eventually comes back to haunt you. Think of the `stolen generation' for example. (for non-Aussie: in decades past the Australian government had a policy of forced assimilation for some aboriginal children, which ended up forcing unwilling children into foster homes over the wish of their parents. These people are seeking compensation now in Australian courts for years of neglect and abuse).