Guide

Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG: a quick guide to the statistics

12 Oct 2015
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Description

This guide contains statistics on the number of asylum seekers at Offshore Processing Centres, the number who are children, the number who are found to refugees, and more.

Introduction

On 8 February 2008, some seven months after Kevin Rudd was sworn in as Prime Minister, the former Labor Government announced that the last remaining asylum seekers on Nauru had been transferred to Australia ending the Howard Government’s controversial so-called ‘Pacific Solution’, which had begun in 2001 in response to rising numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat.

However, by July 2010, then Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced in her first major policy speech that the Government had begun having discussions with regional neighbours about the possibility of establishing a regional processing centre for the purpose of receiving and processing irregular entrants to the region. Whilst only 25 asylum seekers had travelled by boat to Australia to seek asylum in the 2007–08 financial year by the time Gillard made her announcement in July 2010, more than 5,000 people had travelled by boat to Australia to seek asylum.

Whilst Gillard acknowledged that the number of asylum seekers arriving by boat to Australia was ‘very, very minor’ and that at the current rate of arrival it would take about 20 years to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) with asylum seekers, she identified a number of reasons why the processing of asylum seekers in other countries was again considered necessary:

  • to ensure that people smugglers have no product to sell
  • to remove the financial incentive for the people smugglers to send boats to Australia
  • to ensure that those arriving by boat do not get an unfair advantage over others
  • to secure Australia’s borders and create a fair and orderly migration
  • to prevent people embarking on a voyage across dangerous seas with the ever present risk of death
  • to ensure that everyone is subject to a consistent, fair assessment process
  • to improve the protection outcomes for refugees by establishing a framework for orderly migration within the region
  • to prevent the piling up of unauthorised arrivals in detention in Australia
  • in response to increased numbers of unauthorised people movements in the region and around the world and
  • in acknowledgment that irregular migration is a global challenge that can only be tackled by nations working together.

Though it took another two years for her Government to secure the statutory and practical arrangements for asylum seekers to be sent to third countries, people began to be transferred to Nauru on 14 September 2012 and to PNG on 21 November 2012.

It was not until two months before the 2013 federal election and in the wake of growing support for the Opposition’s tougher border protection policies, newly appointed Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd made a surprise announcement on 19 July 2013 that Australia had entered into a Regional Resettlement Arrangement with Papua New Guinea (PNG). Under the Arrangement, all (not just some) asylum seekers that arrive by boat would be transferred to PNG for processing and resettlement in PNG and in any other participating regional State. He subsequently made a similar Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Nauru.

Notwithstanding Prime Minister Rudd’s announcement, the Australian Labor Party was unable to secure another term in office and on 7 September 2013, the Liberal and National parties were voted in to form a Coalition Government, led by Tony Abbott. The current Coalition Government continues to implement the former Government’s offshore processing arrangements. However, the offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG has in due course proved contentious for a number of reasons, including:

  • the financial cost (see statistics below)
  • ongoing concerns about the safety and security of asylum seekers in the Processing Centres and in the broader community
  • ongoing concerns about the sustainability of involuntary settlement (currently in Nauru, PNG and Cambodia)
  • prolonged duration of detention and harsh living conditions are seen by some as punitive which is said to be causing or exacerbating psychological harm and
  • inadequate independent oversight of the Processing Centres to ensure relevant international standards are being met (see Annex for further information about these concerns).

This publication contains statistics provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection from commencement in 2012 (where available) until September 2015.

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2203-5249
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No