Between 2001-2003, Australia adopted a policy of forcibly returning boats, known as Operation Relex. The graph below shows the number of people turned back under this policy.
A similar policy, known as Operation Sovereign Borders, was reintroduced in 2013. This graph plots the number of people intercepted on boats since 2013, combining data taken from Senate Estimates with previously published data by the Australian Border Force.
Australia’s asylum policies
This graph includes boats that are ‘turned back’ to the country of departure, or ‘taken back’ (where those intercepted are handed over to another government, such as Sri Lanka or Vietnam with which the Australian Government has agreements to return people), and ‘assisted returns’ (where a vessel is in distress).
The next graph breaks down the number of people, including the number of children and crew.
There are some differences between the different sources of information. The government has explained that not all interceptions are recorded in the monthly updates, and are only publicly made available if it is no longer considered operationally sensitive.
The graph above includes information made available in Senate estimates in March 2020. In December 2020, it was confirmed that there had been no change to this information since.
In March 2020, the government also provided information about boats that came after September 2013 but could not be safely returned. This is reflected in the graph below.
The government also gave information about where the people on those boats were now.