Australia’s Humanitarian Program: a quick guide to the statistics since 1947

Updated 17 January 2017

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Janet Phillips
Social Policy Section

Australia has a long history of accepting refugees and other humanitarian entrants from all parts of the globe, including those in need of assistance during and immediately after World War II.  Since 1945, when the first federal immigration portfolio was established to administer Australia’s post-war migration program, over 800,000 refugees and other humanitarian entrants have settled in Australia. However, it was not until Indochinese asylum seekers, fleeing conflict during the Vietnam War, began to arrive by boat that the Australian Government developed a specific refugee policy. Australia’s first planned Humanitarian Program designed to deal with refugee and humanitarian issues, including the determination of onshore protection claims, was subsequently established by the Fraser Government in 1977.

Since then, permanent migrants have entered Australia via one of two distinct programs—the Migration Program for skilled and family migrants or the Humanitarian Program for refugees and those in refugee-like situations. The Australian Government allocates places, or quotas, each year for people wanting to migrate permanently to Australia under these two programs. Annual statistics on Migration and Humanitarian program ‘outcomes’ (visa grants) published by the Immigration Department since the 1970s, provide the most accurate source of data on the number of people granted visas to migrate to Australia.

It is important to understand that there are two main components of Australia’s Humanitarian Program—offshore and onshore:

  • the offshore component of the Humanitarian Program offers resettlement in Australia to refugees and humanitarian entrants from overseas under two categories. Most offshore refugees are referred to Australia by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and are formally accepted and resettled under the ‘Refugee’ category. These entrants have been assessed and accepted as refugees under Refugee Convention criteria. The Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) also offers resettlement to those offshore who, while not necessarily being refugees, face human rights abuses in their home country and have a connection with Australia. Applicants must have a sponsor (e.g. a permanent resident, Australian citizen or organisation). Applications from family members of people already in Australia are referred to as ‘split family’.
  • the onshore component of the Humanitarian Program offers protection to people who have arrived in Australia, lodged an asylum claim, and been granted protection. Onshore humanitarian entrants may have been found to be refugees under Refugee Convention criteria or may otherwise engage Australia’s protection obligations under other human rights conventions.

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 since 1977–78. For more detail specifically on Australia’s Migration Program see Migration to Australia: a quick guide to the statistics.

 

Table 1: Refugee and humanitarian entrants by category since 1947–48

Year Assisted refugees* (estimated) Unassisted refugees* (estimated) Total
1947–48 to 1974–75 264 053** 33 000 297 053

 

Year Refugee
(offshore)
Special
Humanitarian
(offshore)
Special
Assistance
Category
(offshore)
Protection
Visas
(onshore)
Safe
Haven
Total Government
planning
figures
1975–76 4374         4374  
1976–77 8124         8124  
1977–78 9326         9326  
1978–79 12 750 700       13 450  
1979–80 17 677 2277       19 954  
1980–81 20 795 1675   75   22 545  
1981–82 20 195 1722       21 917  
1982–83 16 193 861       17 054  
1983–84 12 426 3059       15 485  
1984–85 9520 4687       14 207  
1985–86 7832 3868       11 700  
1986–87 5857 5434       11 291  
1987–88 5514 5878       11 392  
1988–89 3574 7735       11 309  
1989–90 1238 10 451   726   12 415  
1990–91 1497 8287   1500   11 284  
1991–92 2424 4360 2363 2862   12 009  
1992–93 2893 2392 5657 903   11 845  
1993–94 4315 2524 5840 1391   14 070  
1994–95 3992 3675 5545 1646   14 858  
1995–96 4643 3499 6910 1200   16 252 13 000
1996–97 3334 2470 3848 2250   11 902 12 000
1997–98 4010 4636 1821 1588   12 055 12 000
1998–99 3988 4348 1190 1830   11 356 12 000
1999–00 3802 3051 649 2458 5900*** 15 860 12 000
2000–01 3997 3116 879 5741   13 733 12 000
2001–02 4160 4258 40 3891   12 349 12 000
2002–03 4376 7280   869   12 525 12 000
2003–04 4134 7669   2020   13 823 12 000
2004–05 5511 6585   1082   13 178 13 000
2005–06 6022 6736   1386   14 144 13 000
2006–07 6003 5313   1701   13 017 13 000
2007–08 6004 5110   1900   13 014 13 000
2008–09 6499 4586   2417 5*** 13 507 13 500
2009–10 6003 3233   4534   13 770 13 750
2010–11 5984 2966   4828   13 778 13 750
2011–12 5988 714   7043   13 745 13 750
(revised from 14
750 October 2011)
2012–13 11 985 503   7510   19 998 20 000
(revised from 13
750  August 2012)
2013–14 6499 4507   2753   13 759 13 750
(revised from 20
000 September 2013)
2014–15 6002 5007   2747   13 756 13 750
2015–16 8284 7268   2003   17 555 13 750

Sources:

Notes:

*The majority of these refugees and displaced persons were ‘Assisted’, that is provided with passage and other Government support. A small number were permitted to enter and settle as unassisted migrants.

**Includes an estimated 170,700 displaced persons (DPs) who arrived between 1947 and 1954. Displaced persons included those who had been forced to leave their country of origin, but who were not necessarily considered to be refugees, such as prisoners of war or slave labourers. 

***Includes 5900 Safe Haven visas, comprising 4000 grants to Kosovars offshore and 1900 grants to East Timorese onshore; and another 5 Safe Haven visas issued in 2008–09 to people living in IOM facilities in Indonesia for five years or more (Department of Immigration, Annual report 2008–09).

The increase in humanitarian entrants in the late 1980s and early 1990s reflected a Government decision to allow Chinese nationals affected by the Tiananmen Square incident to remain in Australia.

The increase in refugee entrants in 2012–13 was due to a Government decision to increase the Humanitarian Program to 20,000 in that program year.

The increase in the SHP category in 2002–03 was partly due to the cessation of the Special Assistance Category in 2001 which was then absorbed into the Special Humanitarian Program.

Glossary:

Refugee = an individual found to be a refugee under the UN 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.

Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) = introduced in 1981 for people who have suffered discrimination or other violations of their human rights, but are not refugees under the terms of the Refugees Convention.

Special Assistance Category (SAC) = introduced in 1992 to assist groups in vulnerable positions overseas with close links to Australia that did not fit into traditional humanitarian categories (closed in 2001 and now included in the SHP category).

Safe Haven = a temporary Humanitarian Stay (subclass 449) visa created in 1999 to offer safe haven in a humanitarian crisis (most notably for Kosovars and East Timorese).

 

Table 2: Migration and humanitarian program visa grants compared since 1984–85

Year Migration Program Humanitarian
Program
   
Family Child Skill Special Eligibility Total Humanitarian as
percentage of
total migration
and humanitarian
 intake
1984–85 44 200   10 100 200 54 500 14 207 20.7
1985–86 63 400   16 200 400 80 000 11 700 12.8
1986–87 72 600   28 500 600 101 700 11 291 10.0
1987–88 79 500   42 000 600 122 100 11 392 8.5
1988–89 72 700   51 200 800 124 700 11 309 8.3
1989–90 66 600   52 700 900 120 200 12 415 9.4
1990–91 61 300   49 800 1 200 112 200 11 284 9.1
1991–92 55 900   41 400 1 700 98 900 12 009 10.8
1992–93 43 500   21 300 1 400 67 900 11 845 14.9
1993–94 43 200   18 300 1 300 62 800 14 070 18.3
1994–95 44 500   30 400 1 600 76 500 14 858 16.3
1995–96 56 700   24 100 1 700 82 500 16 252 16.5
1996–97 44 580   27 550 1 730 73 900 11 902 13.9
1997–98 31 310   34 670 1 110 67 100 12 055 15.2
1998–99 32 040   35 000 890 67 900 11 356 14.3
1999–00 32 000   35 330 2 850 70 200 15 860 18.4
2000–01 33 470   44 730 2 420 80 610 13 733 14.6
2001–02 38 090   53 520 1 480 93 080 12 349 11.7
2002–­03 40 790   66 050 1 230 108 070 12 525 10.4
2003–04 42 230   71 240 890 114 360 13 823 10.8
2004–05 41 740   77 880 450 120 060 13 178 9.9
2005–06 45 290   97 340 310 142 930 14 144 9.0
2006–07 50 080   97 920 200 148 200 13 017 8.1
2007–08 49 870   108 540 220 158 630 13 014 7.6
2008–09 56 366   114 777 175 171 318 13 507 7.3
2009–10 60 254   107 868 501 168 623 13 770 7.5
2010–11 54 543   113 725 417 168 685 13 778 7.6
2011–12 58 604   125 755 639 184 998 13 745 6.9
2012–13 60 185   128 973 842 190 000 19 998 9.5
2013–14 61 112   128 550 338 190 000 13 759 6.8
2014–15 61 085   127 774 238 189 097 13 756 6.8
2015–16 57 400 *3512 128 550 308 189 770 17 555 8.5

Sources: Immigration Department, Migration Program reports, annual reports and Australia’s refugee and humanitarian program, fact sheet 60 (various years). For further historical background and migration statistics see J Phillips, M Klapdor and J Simon-Davies, Migration to Australia since Federation: a guide to the statistics, Background note, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 27 August 2010; and J Phillips and J Simon-Davies, Migration to Australia: a quick guide to the statistics, Quick guide, Parliamentary Library, Canberra, 4 September 2015.

Notes: *Child places are now identified separately from the Family stream in response to recent reforms to the inter-country adoption processes. See DIBP, Annual report 2015–16, p. 61.

 

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