Boat arrivals and boat turnbacks
How many people have come to Australia seeking protection by boat? How many people have been subject to Australia’s ‘boat turnbacks’? This page provides the latest statistics on boat arrivals and boat turnbacks.
Since 2013, 873 people seeking asylum on 38 vessels have been returned to their country of departure, either with a very rudimentary assessment process, or no refugee status assessment at all. This number includes 124 children.
In February 2021, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) made a submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants in response to the Special Rapporteur’s call for input on pushback practices and their impact on the human rights of migrants. That submission contains a more comprehensive overview of Australia’s law and policy on boat turn-backs, existing restrictions in law and practice in relation to the right to seek asylum at international borders, and an appendix which lists all of the pushback operations since September 2013 and publicly available details on each operation, including whether the Government reported on them at the time.
Why do people come by boat?
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.
The following graph showa the number of people who have arrived by boat since 1976. It shows 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’).