Refugee Council of Australia
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How many people seeking asylum have come by boat?


These statistics are sourced from the Parliamentary Library of Australia’s guide, ‘Boat arrivals and boat turnbacks: A quick guide to the statistics’ (17 January 2017). For boat turnbacks since that time, we have added in numbers as reported through other sources. You can download the data, including notes and sources here.

People seek asylum by boat for many reasons. Australia operates a universal visa system, which makes it very difficult for many people from certain countries to enter Australia by plane with a valid visa. Often, people from countries with a high number of refugees are excluded through strict border controls from entering many countries. It is not always possible for people to seek refuge in a refugee camp, and the number of resettlement places available for refugees is extremely small.

Seeking asylum by boat

The following graphs show the number of people who have arrived by boat since 1976, by calendar and financial year. (Note that, due to different systems of reporting, the numbers of people exclude crew from a specific year.) They show two peak periods for people arriving: from 1999-2002, and from 2009-2014. The rapid drop in numbers after these periods reflect a policy of forcibly returning boats (‘boat turnbacks’), which is discussed next.

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