skip to main page content.
A Just Australia
Australian Refugee Foundation
Refugee Week

Latest News

End to resettlement from Indonesia adds insult to injury

Australia's refusal to resettle refugees who sought protection in Indonesia after June 2014 will cement Australia's reputation as a bad neighbour. Read more here.

Temporary Protection Visas will separate families indefinitely

RCOA has highlighted the devastating impact of the Australian Government's proposed Temporary Protection Visas in forcing the indefinite separation of families. Read more here.

Australia must stop returns following torture of asylum seeker

RCOA president Phil Glendenning has again pleaded with the Department of Immigration to halt forcible returns of asylum seekers to Afghanistan. Read more here.

Australia condemned as nations focus on global refugee crisis

NGOs working with displaced people around the world have singled out Australia for strong criticism as senior officials of governments and the UNHCR met to discuss responses to the largest displacement crisis in more than 65 years. Read more here.

Governments challenged to end neglect of African crises

Delegates from 94 nations including Australia have been challenged to end the global neglect of Africa's 15 million displaced people. Read more here.

Internal investigation inadequate response to sexual assault allegation

The Australian Government's response to serious allegations of sexual assault in immigration detention must be reviewed by an independent body. Read more here.

Australia urged to take more constructive response to global refugee crises

The crises in Syria, Iraq, Central African Republic and South Sudan and efforts to eliminate statelessness will dominate discussions at a key UNHCR meeting. Read more here.

New legislation strips away checks on Ministerial powers

The Federal Government's new legislation to change asylum and maritime powers laws is a comprehensive assault on Australia's obligations to protect victims of persecution. Read more here.

Punishment not protection for refugees sent to Cambodia

The agreement to be signed this week between Australia and Cambodia to resettle refugees from Nauru will leave refugees at further risk. Read more here.

Australia ignores UN call for action on statelessness

As the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Statelessness Convention, stateless people in Australia have little to celebrate. Read more here.

Refugee Welcome Zone initiative reaches its century

RCOA's Refugee Welcome Zone initiative has reached a milestone with more than 100 councils signing on. Read more here.

National Party's call for more refugee places a positive step

RCOA has backed calls by the Government's Coalition partner the National Party for an expanded Refugee and Humanitarian Program. Read more here.

Australian Parliament must reject cruel Temporary Protection Visas

RCOA has written to Federal cross-bench parliamentarians, urging them to reject the Abbott Government's renewed push to force refugees on to Temporary Protection Visas. Read more here.

Australia must step up to support Syrian refugees

News that the number of Syrian refugees has passed three million confirms that Australia's decision to cut its refugee program could not have come at a worse time, says RCOA. Read more here.

Grave fears for asylum seeker forcibly returned to Afghanistan

News that the Australian Government has forcibly repatriated an Afghan asylum seeker has been met with alarm by RCOA. Read more here.

No excuse for ongoing detention of children

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has failed to offer an adequate justification for the ongoing detention of children on Christmas Island and Nauru, says RCOA. Read more here.

Efforts to return Syrian refugees unconscionable

RCOA is alarmed by media reports that Syrian asylum seekers detained on Manus Island are being pressured by Australian Government officials to return home. Read more here.

Government removes Refugee Council's core funding

The Australian Government has completely cut core funding to RCOA despite allocating $140,000 just two weeks ago in its 2014-15 Budget. Read more here.

Federal Budget summary 2014-15

RCOA has released a summary of refugee-related spending in the 2014-15 Federal Budget. Read more here.


'I am grateful to Australia for having allowed me to do what I love.'

Actor Henri Szeps was born in a Swiss refugee camp after his parents fled Poland in the shadow of the looming German invasion.


Boat arrivals

The majority of asylum seekers who seek protection in Australia arrive through authorised channels and with valid visas. Some, however, travel through unauthorised channels without travel documents and may enlist a people smuggler to assist their escape.

Asylum seekers are sometimes forced to flee in this way because it is not always safe or possible for them to obtain travel documents or travel through authorised channels. Refugees are, by definition, people fleeing persecution and in most cases are being persecuted by their own government. It is often too dangerous for refugees to apply for a passport or exit visa or approach an Australian Embassy for a visa, as this could put their lives, and the lives of their families, at risk. Refugees may also be forced to flee with little notice due to rapidly deteriorating situations and do not have time to apply for travel documents or arrange travel through authorised channels.

In the Asia-Pacific region, very few countries are signatories to the Refugee Convention and therefore have no legal obligation to provide protection to refugees. The average standard of protection for refugees and asylum seekers across the region falls well below international benchmarks, with many lacking access to the most basic of human rights – access to an asylum process, official permission to remain in the country, protection from arbitrary detention and refoulement, the right to support themselves, health care and access to basic education for their children. These conditions frequently drive refugees and asylum seekers to seek protection elsewhere in the hope of finding genuine safety and security.

Fleeing by boat is often very costly and extremely dangerous, and asylum seekers are vulnerable to exploitation by smugglers. It is not a form of escape which would be willingly chosen by asylum seekers if safer options were available.

More likely to be refugees

Asylum seekers who arrive by boat without authorisation are more likely to be found to be refugees than asylum seekers who arrive with valid visas.

In 2010-11, 89.6 per cent of asylum seekers arriving by boat were found to be refugees, compared to 43.7 per cent of those who arrived with valid visas.

"Illegal" entrants?

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are not acting illegally. The UN Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory) recognises that refugees have a lawful right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel or identity documents. The Convention stipulates that what would usually be considered as illegal actions (e.g. entering a country without a visa) should not be treated as illegal if a person is seeking asylum.

In line with our obligations under the Convention, Australian law also permits unauthorised entry into Australia for the purposes of seeking asylum. Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation. This means that it is incorrect to refer to asylum seekers who arrive without authorisation as “illegal” entrants, as they in fact have a lawful right to enter Australia to seek asylum.

Permitting asylum seekers to entry a country without travel documents is similar to allowing ambulance drivers to exceed the speed limit in an emergency – the action would be ordinarily be considered illegal, but the under the circumstances it's reasonable to make an exception.

Are we being swamped by boat arrivals?

The number of people arriving by boat in Australia is very small. In 2010-11, Australia received 11,491 asylum applications. Less than half of these (5,175) were from asylum seekers who arrived by boat. Over the same period, 2,696 Protection Visas were granted to refugees who arrived by boat. This is just 1.3 per cent of the 213,409 people who migrated to Australia during the year.

Between 2006 to 2011, 14,215 asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. Over the same period, more than 9,000 people arrived by boat in Malta, a country of 426,000 people (compared to Australia’s 23 million); and more than 340,000 people arrived by boat in Yemen, a developing country with a GDP per capita of just over US$1,500 (compared to Australia’s GDP per capita of over US$69,000).

The number of people arriving by boat in Yemen over the past six years was over 24 times greater than the number arriving in Australia. In October 2011 alone, 12,545 people arrived by boat in Yemen. This is equal to 88 per cent of the total boat arrivals to Australia over the past six years, in the space of a single month.

No. of irregular arrivals by sea, by country 2006-09






2010 2011 Total






6,555 4,565 14,215




15 300


1,765 1,030 57,210




36 000


4,348 61,000 152,821




2 700


28 1,574 9,372




13 400


3,632 5,443 79,760




50 000


53,382 103,000 342,192



For more statistics on asylum seekers arriving by boat, see our page of Asylum seeker statistics.


Last updated May 2012