Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?

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Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?

Posted 11/01/2012 by Elibritt Karlsen


 Of the 145 States Parties to the 1951 Refugee Convention, only about 25 participate in the United Nations resettlement program and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. Australia has been involved in the UN resettlement program since 1977. The annual number of places Australia has allocated for the resettlement of refugees from overseas has varied significantly over the years, ranging from 20 000 in the early 1980s to just over 1 000 some ten years later.

However, Australia has consistently ranked as one of the top three resettlement countries in the world and for the last five years the Government has allocated around 6000 places for refugees (out of a total 13 750 places available under its 'Humanitarian Program') to be resettled to Australia from overseas.

Last year about 30 000 refugee visa applications to Australia were lodged overseas but only 6000 visas were granted to refugees and their immediate family members awaiting resettlement. More than 3000 of these visas were granted for the resettlement of refugees and their families from Iraq, Burma, and Bhutan. In comparison, about 5000 visas were granted to refugees that had arrived in Australia by boat or plane.

In recent times some politicians (past and present), academics, interest groups, prominent Australians, and former senior officials with the Department of Immigration have called on the Government to permanently increase Australia’s annual humanitarian intake to between 20 000 and 25 000.

This new Parliamentary Library Background Note, Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts? explains how Australia’s resettlement program operates, focussing in particular on areas that are not well understood and/or are controversial. For example, it examines:


  • whether there is a resettlement ‘queue’



  • whether Australia only takes people from refugee camps



  • how many refugees are resettled to Australia each year



  • how Australia’s refugee intake compares to other resettlement countries and to its overall permanent migrant intake



  • whether refugees arriving spontaneously at the border (whether by boat or plane) take the places of refugees overseas, and



  • Australia’s contribution to resettlement of refugees from transit countries in the immediate region, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
  • Comments

    • 21/01/2014 3:36 PM
      Vince said:

      Dear Elibritt, Thank you for producing a very informative fact sheet. I have just one question. On pp 9-10, you write that onshore arrivals do not take the place of other refugees because irrespective of how many onshore arrivals there are, the annual quota for Convention refugees remains at 6000. While one place is deducted from the SHP quota, you write that the remainder of this program is for immediate family members of onshore refugees and other family members of refugees resettled from overseas (plus humanitarian entrants) but NOT Convention refugees. However, would not these family members of onshore and resettled refugees also likely be Convention refugees who might be waiting for resettlement? Or does the SHP quota strictly exclude Convention refugees (apart from those who arrive onshore)? I hope you can follow what I mean! Thanks.

    • 21/01/2014 3:36 PM
      Harriet Spinks said:

      You raise a good point, noting that the family members of refugees applying for visas under the split-family provisions of the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) may also be recognised Convention refugees. While there is no requirement for people granted visas under the SHP to be a Convention refugee, there is also no rule which says they must not be. So in essence, yes, some people granted visas under the SHP may have been granted refugee status under the Convention, however Convention refugee status is not required for this category, as it is for the Refugee category.

    • 21/01/2014 3:36 PM
      Vince said:

      Great. Thank you very much for the clarification. I don't suppose there are any figures available for the number of those resettled via the SHP who are Convention refugees? In any case, I imagine the vast majority of those coming through the SHP, even if recognised refugees, would not have been referred by the UNHCR for resettlement? I'm assuming this because only a fraction of the world's refugees are eligible for resettlement anyway?

    • 21/01/2014 3:37 PM
      Harriet Spinks said:

      Hi Vince. No, unfortunately there are no figures available showing the number of people granted SHP visas who are also Convention refugees. You are right in thinking that those coming to Australia under the SHP are not referred by the UNHCR, although the reason for this is not because of the number of refugees around the world who are eligible for resettlement. While it is true that only a fraction of refugees around the world are referred for resettlement, there are still significantly more refugees worldwide awaiting resettlement than there are resettlement places available. The UNHCR report Global Trends 2010, states that “The number of resettlement places available has neither kept pace with global resettlement needs, nor with increased submissions by UNHCR. In 2010, UNHCR’s multi-year projections were that 747,000 resettlement places were needed. In 2011, this figure was increased to 805,000, a record high. However, annual quotas offered by States have remained largely unchanged, at 80,000 places available globally.” As for the SHP, the UNHCR has no involvement in referring applicants. Rather, applicants must be sponsored by an individual or organisation based in Australia.


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