12 September 2016
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Social Policy Section
Asylum seeker and refugee policy has attracted a great deal
of attention in Australia for many years. In particular, concerns over the
unauthorised arrival of asylum seekers by boat have occupied successive
governments and parliaments since the 1970s. With increasing levels of global
forced displacement, public and political debate on these issues appears likely
to continue for the foreseeable future.
The Parliamentary Library has produced several comprehensive
papers on asylum seeker and refugee issues and government policy responses,
many of which are regularly updated. This quick guide provides an overview of
the content and links to several of the recent publications on issues affecting
asylum seekers and refugees, both internationally and in Australia.
Asylum seekers and refugees
- E Karlsen, Refugee resettlement to Australia: what are the facts?, updated 7 September 2016. This paper explains how Australia’s resettlement program operates, focusing in particular on areas that are not well understood. For example, it examines whether refugees arriving spontaneously at the border (whether by boat or plane) take the places of refugees overseas, whether there is a resettlement ‘queue’ and Australia’s contribution to resettlement of refugees from transit countries in the immediate region, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
- J Phillips, Australia’s
Humanitarian Program: a quick guide to the statistics since 1947, updated
22 June 2016. This quick guide includes humanitarian entrant
estimates between 1947–48 and 1976–77 (provided to the Parliamentary Library by
the Department of Immigration in 2001) and Humanitarian Program visa grants
- J Phillips, Asylum seekers and refugees: what are the facts?, updated 2 March 2015. This paper answers commonly asked
questions about asylum and refugees, such as: ‘What is the difference between
an asylum seeker and a refugee?’, ‘Are asylum seekers illegals?’, ‘Do most
asylum seekers arrive by boat?’ and ‘Are boat arrivals genuine refugees?’
- L Buckmaster, Australian Government assistance to refugees: fact v fiction, updated 11 November 2014. In recent years a series of emails have
been widely circulated throughout Australia claiming to describe the social
security entitlements of refugees compared with those of other Australian
residents. A common claim in these emails is that refugees in Australia receive
higher social security benefits than age pensioners. Some suggest that refugees
receive free gifts such as houses. Claims of this kind are erroneous and appear
to have caused some confusion in the community. They are often brought to the
attention of senators and members by their constituents. This
paper describes the current situation with regard to refugee entitlements to
social security and other assistance in order to clarify this issue.
Law and policy
- The Parliamentary Library has produced a series of papers on
significant developments in refugee law and policy:
Karlsen and J Phillips, Developments in Australia refugee law and policy: the
Coalition’s first term in office 2013–2016, (forthcoming)
- E Karlsen and J Phillips, Developments in Australian refugee law and policy (2012 to August 2013), 25 September 2014. This paper provides a snapshot of
significant developments in refugee law and policy under the Gillard and Rudd
(Labor) Governments between January 2012 and August 2013 when the 43rd
Parliament was prorogued and the House of Representatives dissolved for a
Karlsen, Developments in Australian refugee law and policy 2010–2011, 12 April 2012. This paper provides a snapshot of
significant developments in refugee law and policy from September 2010 to the
end of December 2011 during Labor’s second term in office under the Gillard
Karlsen, Developments in Australian refugee law and policy 2007–10: Labor’s
first term in office, 18 October 2010. On
24 November 2007, Labor won the federal election, defeating the Howard
(Coalition) Government which had been in power for nearly twelve years. This
paper provides a snapshot of significant developments in Australian refugee law
and policy under Labor’s first term in office.
Harris Rimmer, Recent
developments in refugee and immigration law 2005, 17 October 2005.
Law–recent legislative developments (2001), 18 September 2001.
- J Phillips, A comparison of Coalition and Labor government asylum policies in
Australia since 2001, 28 February 2014. This
paper provides a comparison of key Labor and Coalition asylum and refugee
policies since 2001 when the Howard Government first introduced the practice of
offshore processing to deal with previous waves of boat arrivals. It includes
an overview of the recommendations made by the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers
in 2012 and analysis by experts in the field regarding policy alternatives.
Irregular migration and people
- J Phillips, Boat arrivals and boat ‘turnbacks’ in Australia since 1976: a quick
guide to the statistics, 11 September 2015. This quick
guide provides statistics on the number of asylum seeker boats that have
arrived in Australia since 1976 when the first wave of boats carrying people
seeking asylum from the aftermath of the Vietnam War began to arrive. The guide
also includes the number of boats that have been ‘turned back’ since the
practice of removing unauthorised maritime arrivals in Suspected Illegal Entry
Vessels (SIEVs) from Australian waters was introduced by the Howard Government
in 2001 and reintroduced by the Abbott Government in 2013.
- J Phillips and H Spinks, Boat arrivals in Australia since 1976, updated
23 July 2013. This paper provides a more detailed history of boat
arrivals in Australia since Indochinese refugees began to arrive by boat in the
aftermath of the Vietnam War. It includes information on public opinion on boat
arrivals and Government policy responses since the 1970s.
- H Spinks, C Barker and D Watt, Australian Government spending on irregular maritime arrivals and
counter-people smuggling activity, updated 4 September
2013. This paper outlines the various programs and agencies involved in
the interception, detention and processing of asylum seekers who have arrived
unauthorised by boat. The paper also examines the programs relating to
counter-people smuggling activities and the prosecution and incarceration of
alleged people smugglers. It does not attempt to place a definitive figure on
these costs, but highlights the available information on expenditure relating
to these activities.
- J Phillips and H Spinks, Immigration detention in Australia, updated 20
March 2013. This paper provides a brief overview of
the historical and political context surrounding mandatory immigration
detention in Australia. It includes government policy responses and a
statistical appendix with data drawn from available sources, including
committee reports, ministerial press releases and figures supplied by the
Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
- C Barker, The people smuggler’s business model, 28
February 2013. While discussions continue on how best to disrupt the
people smugglers’ business model, those participating in the debate have not
publicly articulated the business model to which they refer. This has
significant policy implications, given that the first step in developing a
response is defining the problem to be addressed. This paper examines recent international research as well as
relevant Australian case law and research on people smuggling to determine
whether this business model can be identified. It does not seek to evaluate the
appropriateness or efficacy of specific anti-people smuggling policies that
have been, or are currently being pursued by Australian Governments.
- H Spinks, Destination anywhere? Factors affecting asylum seekers’ choice of
destination country, 5 February 2013. 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.
- E Karlsen, Australia’s
offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG: a quick guide to the
statistics and resources, updated 30 June 2016. The transfer of asylum seekers to
offshore processing centres in the Pacific was first introduced by the Howard
(Coalition) Government in 2001 and reintroduced in 2012 by the Gillard (Labor)
Government. In 2012, asylum seekers began to be transferred to
Nauru on 15 September 2012 and to Papua New Guinea on 21 November 2012. This
guide contains detailed statistics, including data on women and children,
provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection from 2012 to
- R de Boer, Health care for asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island, 28 June 2013. This paper provides background on the concerns
expressed by refugee advocates and human rights groups over the mental health
status of asylum seekers being accommodated in offshore processing centres on
Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. This concern stems from the
perceived lack of specialist mental health resources available and the
indefinite nature of detention. Previous experience has shown that offshore
processing of asylum seekers can have serious consequences for both physical
and mental health. The paper also provides an overview of the contractual
provisions governing the provision of health care on Nauru and Manus Island for
- J Phillips, The ‘Pacific Solution’ revisited: a statistical guide to the asylum
seeker caseloads on Nauru and Manus Island, 4
September 2012. This paper provides a brief overview of the Howard Government’s
offshore processing regime commonly referred to as the ‘Pacific Solution’. It
outlines some of the concerns expressed by many on the practice of
accommodating asylum seekers in offshore processing facilities in the Pacific.
However, the primary focus of this paper is to provide a guide to the
statistics on the asylum seeker caseloads on Nauru and Manus Island between
2001 and 2008. The data in this paper has been drawn from a range of sources, including
committee reports, ministerial press releases and advice provided to the
Parliamentary Library by the Immigration Department.
Budget reviews and briefing books
- Each year the Parliamentary Library produces a Budget Review to assist parliamentarians in
considering the key issues posed by the Federal Budget. The 2016–17 Budget
Review included an asylum seeker and refugee policy related article:
- At the start of each new Parliament, the Parliamentary Library
also produces a Briefing Book providing analysis and background on some of the
key issues of the day that may be of interest to the incoming Parliament. The
Briefing Book for the 45th Parliament includes the following article:
Phillips, Immigration—issues for Australia’s humanitarian program, August 2016,
The Parliamentary Library regularly produces other
publications of relevance to asylum and refugee law and policy such as:
- FlagPost—the Parliamentary Library’s blog provides posts
on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament. FlagPost
regularly includes asylum
and refugee posts.
- Bills Digests—Bills Digests provide an independent
perspective on legislation and are written to assist members of Parliament in
their consideration of Bills. Migration related Bills Digests are produced
regularly, including many involving asylum seeker and refugee issues.
- Research publications—the
Parliamentary Library provides research services to senators and members in the
Australian Parliament, including the production of publicly available research
papers and quick guides that are published on its Research publications web page.
For copyright reasons some linked items are only available to members of Parliament.
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