(CNN)The number of asylum claims by Chinese nationals in Australia more than tripled between 2017 and 2018, government figures show, raising fears some applicants are exploiting the system as regular migration visas become harder to get.
Chinese asylum claims in Australia jump by more than 300%
According to the Australian Department of Home Affairs, 9,315 Chinese nationals filed for onshore protection visas during the 2017-2018 financial year, compared to 2,269 the year before, an increase of 311% .
The figures suggest that Chinese nationals arriving by plane or those already staying in the country on student and tourist visas are requesting asylum. Malaysian nationals in Australia were the only group to have lodged more onshore asylum claims during the same time period, with 9,319 applications.
One reason for the rise in claims could be "a general increase in Chinese nationals coming to Australia for different reasons, including international students and visitors," Joyce Chia, director of policy at the Refugee Council of Australia, told CNN.
The surge has raised the possibility that unregistered migration agents may be making false claims for asylum on behalf of their clients, or encouraging them to apply for protection visas. There is also speculation that some Chinese could be taking advantage of Australia's slow asylum process to extend their stay.
"For plane arrivals, generally the waiting times (for asylum) have increased enormously in the last few years," said Chia. "We are now talking about averages of years instead of months for people waiting in Australia."
But despite claims of potential abuse, Chia said there are genuine cases of political and religious persecution among the claims.
Chinese authorities have cracked down hard on the country's Uyghur ethnic minority, and have placed them under heavy state-sanctioned surveillance. An estimated one million Uyghurs, a mainly Muslim minority in the country's far west, are being held in detention camps according to a US congressional report.
Australia granted just 10% of all Chinese protection visa claims made be