There are 144 states that are signatories to the 1951 Refugee Convention and 145 to the 1967 Protocol, which extended the scope of the Convention.
So how does Australia's asylum policies compare to other countries? Here is a brief rundown of the policies in some countries:
Number of applications in 2011: 74,020
Application: The US has been the top receiving country for asylum seekers in the past five years. Applicants have to apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the United States under the "Affirmative Asylum Process". They can also apply for "Defensive Asylum Processing" against being removed from the US. Once the application form is received by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), asylum seekers will receive and receipt and be asked to visit their nearest Application Service Centre for fingerprinting.
Waiting period: An interview notice is then sent to the asylum seeker within 21 days after the application is received by the USCIS. Interviews for applications are required to take place within 45 days from the date they are filed. A decision on the case has to be made within 180 days of the application being filed. An asylum officer reviews the applicant's case and their decision is further reviewed by a supervisor. Added reviews may be undertaken by other senior staff. Most applicants should expect to receive a decision on their case within 60 days of submitting their form. According to the USCIS, applicants are "rarely detained" by the immigration service, but are mostly not allowed to work.
If the application is rejected: If the application is not approved by the USCIS, the asylum seeker starts undergoing removal proceedings as the case is referred to an immigration judge for review. If the application is rejected after the review, the asylum seeker is sent a "Notice of Intent to Deny" and is given 16 days to respond to the court. A final denial is then issued if no new evidence is submitted and the applicant is removed from the US.
Number of applications in 2011: 25,420
Application: Asylum seekers who submit an application are assigned a "case owner". Their application is expected to be completed within six months, by which time the asylum seeker will be allowed to stay in the UK or returned home voluntarily or forcibly.
Waiting period: The UK hosts an asylum seeking unit in Croydon. Asylum seekers who make their claim there will be "screened". The asylum seeker's biometrics are recorded, a series of question have to be answered and the case owner retains identity papers until the application is accepted or rejected. While asylum seekers wait for their applications to be processed, they have supply their residential addresses and could be eligible for housing and living support.
If the application is rejected: Asylum seekers who are denied refugee status may be detained at centres prior to their removal. Failed asylum seekers can appeal to the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. Children have not been detained at these centres since May 2011 following a change in government policy. But the UK's Refugee Council said child asylum seekers continue to be detained as they are wrongly classified as adults, The Observer newspaper reported in May.
Number of applications in 2011: 25,350
Application: Asylum seeker applications are made via an immigration officer at a port of entry or at an immigration centre. Claims that are deemed to be eligible are then referred to the Refugee Protection Division under the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) of Canada.
Waiting period: Asylum seekers' cases are heard before the IRB. Priority is given to unaccompanied minors, people who have been detained, those who are a danger to public health or safety, and others. According to the board, some cases are decided within six months, while more complex cases have a longer processing period. Some asylum seekers are detained. The decision is made by the Canada Border Services Agency and is made if the asylum seeker is deemed to be unlikely to appear for a hearing or for deportation, is considered a danger to the public, is unable to identify him or herself sufficiently to authorities. The detained person is brought within 48 hours to the Immigration Division for review. If the detention is extended, there is another review within seven days. Reviews are then conducted every 30 days after that.
If the application is rejected: If a "removal order" is issued, the asylum seeker has to apply for a certificate of departure and leave Canada within 30 days. Some asylum seekers are also banned from returning to Canada for one or two years. Others are deported and not allowed to set foot in Canada again without written permission. Appeals against the "removal order" can be made to the Immigration Appeal Division under the IRB.
Number of applications in 2011: 3810
Application: In the Scandinavian country, people who enter Denmark and apply for asylum are called "spontaneous asylum seekers". They are required to contact the police's National Aliens Division, who will fingerprint and photograph them.
Waiting period: The asylum seekers are assigned to an accommodation centre, most of which are run by the Danish Red Cross. Some asylum seekers are also allowed to reside in private accommodation.
If the application is rejected: Cases that are found to be "manifestly unfounded" by the Immigration Service are referred to the Danish Refugee Council for assessment. If the council disagrees with the Immigration Service's ruling, the applicant's case is referred to the Refugee Appeals Board for a final ruling. Asylum seekers who are rejected are given seven days to leave Denmark voluntarily or forcibly. They can be banned from entering Denmark for two years if they do not leave voluntarily.
Signatories to the Refugee Convention and/or the Protocol are expected to adhere to the principle of non-refoulement, where a person is not allowed to be returned to a country if their safety or security is threatened, even if their asylum seeker application is rejected.