Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?

 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.
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