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Face the facts: Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Wednesday 25 February, 2015

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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. 

Australia has ratified the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 1951. This Convention defines who is a refugee, sets out the basic rights that countries should guarantee to refugees and requires signatories to assess asylum seekers’ claims for protection from persecution.  

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

In August 2012, Australia 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), where they will have their claims for protection assessed under Nauruan or PNG law.

Our role

The Commission undertakes extensive work in the area of Australian law, policy and practice relating to asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detention. This includes 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 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.

Other reports include: