Destination anywhere? Factors affecting asylum seekers' choice of destination country

5 Feb 2013

The arrival of asylum seekers on Australian shores, particularly those who arrive irregularly by boat, has for many years been a matter of significant political and public concern. This concern has ebbed and flowed in line with the numbers of boat arrivals, and corresponding attempts to crack down on people smuggling and deter asylum seekers from journeying to Australia. In Australia, after a period of relative quiet in the middle of the last decade, the issue has been very much back on the policy agenda as numbers of arrivals have steadily increased over the last four years.

In the current debate, much discussion has centred on perceived ‘pull factors’, which are assumed to draw asylum seekers to Australia. Changes to asylum policy made by the Rudd Government in 2008, such as the abandonment of offshore processing and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), have been accused of acting as pull factors, as have Australia’s comparatively generous welfare arrangements, and relatively high refugee recognition rates. However, beyond a simple correlation between policy changes and the numbers of boat arrivals at certain points in time, little empirical evidence has been presented to demonstrate that such pull factors are actually at play.

There is a small but growing body of literature examining the choices made by refugees and asylum seekers at various stages of their journeys, and the factors influencing their choice (to the extent they are able to make such a choice) of one destination country over another. Most of the research in this field has been undertaken in the European context. There is a significant gap in the research when it comes to asylum seekers who have made their way to Australia. Nonetheless, the literature provides some insights into the choices made by asylum seekers which should be of interest to policy makers in Australia. While every asylum seeker’s circumstances, journey and choices are different, numerous studies have concluded that a series of common factors influence where an asylum seeker goes upon leaving their country of origin.

This paper examines the literature on refugee and asylum seeker choice of destination, and provides an overview of the key factors that figure in such peoples’ decision-making. It then considers the extent to which attempts at deterring asylum seekers from arriving can be successful, given what is known about the nature of asylum migration, and the factors that influence the choice of destination country.

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