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Seeking asylum in Australia is not illegal. In fact, it is a basic human right. All people are entitled to protection of their human rights, including the right to seek asylum, regardless of how or where they arrive in Australia. Asylum seekers and Refugees statistics

Countries that have ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951, such as Australia, are required to assess asylum seekers’ claims for protection from persecution. The Refugee Convention defines who is a refugee and sets out the basic rights that countries should guarantee to refugees.

Australia’s policy of mandatory immigration detention was introduced in 1992. Under the Migration Act 1958, any non-citizen who is in Australia without a valid visa must be detained.

In August 2012, the Australian Government introduced “third country” processing. Under this system, asylum seekers who arrive by boat without a valid visa are transferred to and detained in Nauru or Papua New Guinea (PNG). Those asylum seekers who are transferred will have their claims for protection assessed under Nauruan or PNG law, not Australian law.

About asylum seekers and refugees in Australia

  • As at 30 June 2014, there were 3,624 people in immigration detention facilities and 3,007 people in community detention in Australia.[1] Thirty-nine per cent (2,547) were detained in facilities on the mainland, 45 per cent were in community detention (3,007) and 16 per cent were held on Christmas Island (1,077).[2]
  • As at 30 June 2014, there were 1,169 asylum seekers who had been transferred by the Australian Government and detained in Nauru. There were a further 1,189 asylum seekers detained on Manus Island in PNG.
  • As at 30 June 2014, there were 699 children in immigration detention facilities in Australia and 193 children detained in Nauru.[3] By 22 August 2014, there were 26 unaccompanied children held in immigration detention facilities on Christmas Island who had been detained on average for 300 days.[4] The average age of children in closed detention facilities in September 2013 was 10 years.[5]
  • The number of people seeking asylum in 2012 (15,963) made up less than 7 per cent of Australia’s annual immigration intake and 4 per cent of our overall population growth.[6] The top five source countries for asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat in 2012 were Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.[7]
  • On average around 90 per cent of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat over the last six financial years were ultimately found to be refugees and granted protection visas.[8]

Key issues for asylum seekers and refugees

  • Australia has one of the most restrictive immigration detention systems in the world. It is mandatory, indefinite and provides no opportunity for people to challenge the need for their detention in court.[9] As at 30 June 2014, the average length of time a person spent in immigration detention was 11 months and 20 days. However, 168 people had been held in immigration detention for over two years.[10]
  • Prolonged detention can have a devastating and long-lasting impact on the mental health of asylum seekers, especially children. Further, the cost of treating mental illnesses caused or made worse by prolonged detention is conservatively estimated at an average of $25,000 per person.[11]
  • In 2012–13, there were 846 reported incidents of self-harm across Australia’s immigration detention system.[12]
  • Asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat on or after 13 August 2012 who have been granted bridging visas are not allowed to work.[13] This restriction on working and earning an income can have serious effects on a person’s well-being and contribute to problems with physical health, mental health, social isolation and family breakdown.[14]
  • Implementing Australia’s policy of mandatory immigration detention cost Australian taxpayers $1.235 billion in 2011–2012.[15]

Supporting asylum seekers and refugees

  • Australia has resettled around 800,000 refugees and displaced persons since 1945 and consistently ranks among the world’s top three resettlement countries.[16]Resettlement is the process of offering permanent residence status in a new country to refugees who cannot return to their home country for fear of continued persecution.
  • A total of 13,750 people were accepted through Australia’s Humanitarian Program in 2013-2014.[17]
  • Alternatives to closed immigration detention, such as community arrangements, save Australian taxpayers money and involve fewer risks to the health, safety and well-being of asylum seekers and refugees. This helps lower rates of self-harm and leads to fewer claims for compensation.[18]

Did you know?

As of August 2013, there were 52 refugees who faced indefinite detention in Australia because ASIO had deemed them a security risk.[19] The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that the indefinite detention of a group of refugees with adverse security assessments was inflicting serious psychological harm upon them, amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.[20]

Our role

The Commission has undertaken extensive work in the area of Australian law, policy and practice relating to asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detention. This has included conducting national inquiries; examining proposed legislation; monitoring and reporting on immigration detention; and investigating complaints from individuals subject to Australia’s immigration laws and policies.

We have also developed minimum human rights standards for immigration detention and advocated for stronger federal laws to ensure that the conditions in immigration detention meet international standards.

The National Children’s Commissioner works collaboratively within the Commission to protect the rights of child asylum seekers and unaccompanied children.

Find out more about our work in this area.

In 2014, the Commission conducted a National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, an investigation aimed at examining the ways in which life in immigration detention affects the health, well-being and development of children. The inquiry sought to determine what changes had taken place in the ten years since the Commission’s 2004 report, A last resort? Report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

Find out more

 


[1] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Government, Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary: 30 June 2014 (2014) p 3.
[2] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Government, above, p 3.
[3] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Government note 1, pp 3-4.
[4] The Hon Scott Morrison MP, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Fourth Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Canberra, (22 August 2014), p 34.
[5] Australian Human Rights Commission, Asylum seekers, refugees and human rights: Snapshot Report, October 2013 (2013), p 7.
[6] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 5.
[7] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 5.
[8] Average calculated from the statistics provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the last six financial years in Asylum Trends - Australia: 2012-13 Annual Publication (2013), p 30 and Asylum statistics-Australia: Quarterly tables –June quarter 2014 (2014), p 16.
[9] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 2.
[10] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Australian Government, note 1, p 10.
[11] T Ward, Long-term health costs of extended mandatory detention of asylum seekers (2011), p 1.
[12] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 3.
[13] Australian Human Rights Commission, Tell Me About: Bridging Visas for Asylum Seekers (April 2013).
[14] See the report of the Network of Asylum Seeker Agencies Victoria, Seeking Safety, Not Charity: A report in support of work-rights for asylum-seekers living in the community on Bridging Visa E, (2005), pp 27-31.
[15] Australian National Audit Office, Individual Management Services Provided to People in Immigration Detention, Report No 21 (2013), p 12.
[16] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 3.
[17] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Fact Sheet 20 - Migration Programme planning levels (viewed at 17 December 2012).
[18] Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 11.
[19]Australian Human Rights Commission, note 5, p 9.
[20]Australian Human Rights Commission, Refugees with adverse security assessments (January 2014).