Key points

  • 3,127 people have been sent to Nauru or PNG as part of offshore processing arrangements
  • As of 21 October 2018:
    • 1,278 people (including 52 children) are still on Nauru or PNG (note: this number is constantly changing with transfers, with the latest estimate by refugee groups being 27 children as of 5 November 2018)
    • 415 people have been resettled in the US, and 188 people have been rejected for US resettlement as of the same date
    • By far the largest number of those refused are from Iran (91), although 16 Iranians have been accepted
    • There are 495 recognised refugees left in PNG, and 541 recognised refugees on Nauru
    • There are 107 families on Nauru, including 52 families with minors
    • There are 15 nuclear family units split between Australia and offshore processing, with 61 people split across Australia and offshore (30 in Nauru, and 31 in Australia)
  • As of 21 May 2018:
    • Since September 2012 to May 2018, 646 people have left Manus and 165 from Nauru ‘voluntarily’ to their country of origin, and 20 people were forcibly removed from Manus
    • 494 people have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment, and 460 of them were still in Australia as of 21 May 2018 (based on official information that 294 people had left for the US as of 30 April 2018 and reports of another 121 people resettling in the US since then)
    • 7 people had left for Cambodia

The Department of Home Affairs (formerly the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) published monthly updates on Operation Sovereign Borders, which began in September 2013. It used to publish monthly and operational updates, but now only publishes monthly updates.

These updates provide information on how many people are in our processing centres, boat turnbacks, refugee status determination and returns from offshore processing centres and detention in Australia. They do not provide information on refugees who  are still in Nauru or PNG but not in the offshore processing centre itself. From October 2017, the Department no longer publishes information about refugee status determination on Nauru or Papua New Guinea.

This page includes information from these updates as well as from the Department’s statistics on detention, and the more detailed information available through Senate estimates.

Thanks to our volunteers Sophie Boyle, Liam Rasmussen and Johan Ariff for extracting information from Senate estimates.

How many people are there, and where are they?

Since offshore processing began, 3,127 people have been sent to Nauru or Papua New Guinea (PNG). Unfortunately, while the Department reports on how many people are in the offshore processing centres (which the Department calls Regional Processing Centres), it does not report regularly on the numbers now living outside those centres.

That information is now provided mostly through Senate estimates. The most recent statistics, as at 21 October 2018, is that there are 652 people left in Nauru and 626 left in PNG.

Bar chart showing offshore processing statistics

Numbers of people in the offshore processing centres

The graph below illustrates the numbers of people in the offshore processing centres over time (called Regional Processing Centres by the government). The Manus Island centre was closed in October 2017. As at 30 September 2018, there are still 163 people in Nauru Regional Processing Centre.

The early days of Operation Sovereign Borders saw a rapid increase in the numbers sent to Manus Island.  In January 2014, the numbers peaked at 1,353 people. Since then, there has been a slow decline until October 2017, when there were 690 men before the centre was closed.

The trend on Nauru was similar. The numbers there peaked at 1,233 people in August 2014. The changes in the numbers of women and children are similar to those for the population as a whole. However, the rate at which children left Nauru is slower.

Note: The number of people for August 2016 includes 16 people in Port Moresby for medical reasons. 

Line chart showing offshore processing centres poulation

US resettlement

During Senate Estimates in October, the Department provided more detailed information on the process and outcomes of US resettlement. The Department confirmed that as of 21 October 2018, 415 people had left for the US, 272 of them from Nauru and 146 from PNG.

The Department also provided a breakdown of the composition of those resettled to the US from Nauru and PNG, and a breakdown of the 188 people whose applications for resettlement to the US have been rejected. Of significant interest is the statistical breakdown of outcomes by country of origin, which showed a very high rate of rejections of Iranians (91), although there had been 16 Iranians accepted for resettlement.

Bar Chart Showing Those Rejected By US By Nationality

Where do they come from?

By far the largest number of people sent to Nauru or PNG are from Iran. The second-largest group of people are stateless. There are also significant numbers of people from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq. The first graph shows the nationality of all people sent for offshore processing, between 19 July 2013 and 27 February 2017.

This holds broadly true for each location, although there are some variations. For example, there are many more people from Sri Lanka and stateless people on Nauru. These graphs show the nationalities of people still in Nauru and in PNG, as at 21 May 2018.

The last chart also shows the number of children born to offshore processing, as at 23 October 2017. There have been at least 100 children born to people subject to offshore processing (the Department does not keep track of all births in the Nauruan or Australian community).

Bar Chart Showing Nationalities Of People Sent To Nauru Or PNG

Medical transfers

In the five financial years to 30 June 2017, there have been 494 people transferred for medical reasons, and 322 family members have been transferred to accompany them. More recent figures also show medical transfers by location between 1 January 2017 to 26 Feruary 2018. We also have statistics for how many children (in the five financial years to 30 June 2017) have been transferred for medical reasons, and how many people have been transferred to terminate a pregnancy.

Number Of People Transferred For Medical Reasons

People in Australia for medical reasons

As of 21 May 2018, there are 460 people in Australia for medical reasons (called ‘transitory persons’ by the Government). Most of these people (293) are in community detention. Eighteen are in held detention, and 149 are on Final Departure Bridging E visas. This means another 87 people have been moved from community detention to Final Departure visas since the last Estimates on 27 February 2018. On these visas, the people are released into the community but do not have access to any income support.

There is a statistical breakdown of where those people on bridging visas are by State/Territory for 27 February 2018 (but not for those more recently released).  There are also statistics breaking them down by nationality although for most of these nationalities, the numbers are under 5.

Column Chart Showing Where Transitory Persons Are By Location

Boat turnbacks 

The turning back of boats has not been as regularly reported, with many details still unclear to the public. While the number of boats and crew being irregularly turned back is low, the numbers of people on the boats varies significantly. However, the apparent ‘peaks’ in this graph are partly caused by unknown data for some boats.

On 21 May 2018, the Government confirmed that so far 32 vessels had been intercepted with 800 individuals on board. However, as the dates of those turnbacks are unknown, they are not included on the graph, which maps the Parliamentary Library of Australia’s more detailed chronology. Another turnback was reported in the June monthly Operation Sovereign Borders update, but no further details were provided.

Line chart showing numbers of boats turned back and people
Pie chart showing recognition rate on Manus Island
Source: Senate Estimates, Answer to Question on Notice B18/246, Legal and Constitutional Affairs, 21 May 2018

Refugee status determination on Manus

Even with the unfair refugee status determination process on Manus Island, the percentage of decisions (initial and final) recognising these people as refugees was 71%, at 31 October 2017. These statistics are no longer being reported by the Department.

Of those still on PNG as of 22 October 208, 79% (583) were recognised refugees.

People on PNG by refugee status
Source: Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Transcript, Senate Estimates, 22 October 2018
Stacked column chart showing refugee status determination in Manus

The making of decisions took a long time to start, and increased very quickly in the first quarter of 2016. Since June 2017, there have been no new decisions.

Pie chart showing recognition rate on Nauru

Refugee status determination on Nauru

The process on Nauru has reportedly been much fairer, and this is reflected also in the very high number of decisions recognising them as refugees: 1,062 positive decisions, with only 154 negative decisions (as at 31 October 2017). These statistics are no longer being updated by the Department.

As of 22 October 2018, 83% of those still on Nauru (821 people) had been recognised as refugees, while 13% were still waiting for final determinations.

Pie chart showing percentage of people recognised as refugees on Nauru
Source: Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Transcript, Senate Estimates, 22 October 2018
Stacked bar chart showing RSD in Nauru over time

Similarly to Manus, the processing on Nauru rapidly increased in August 2015. There has been relatively little change since 2016.

Line Chart Showing Returns From Offshore Processing Centres
Line Chart Showing Returns From Offshore Processing Centres
Line Chart Showing Removals And Returns From Manus And Nauru
Line Chart Showing Returns From Offshore Processing CentresLine Chart Showing Removals And Returns From Manus And Nauru

Returns from Australia and offshore processing centres

The Department’s monthly updates (from January 2014) show that there has been a consistent, small number of people who ‘voluntarily’ leave the offshore processing centres. There is a clear increase in the number of ‘voluntary’ returns in the past year or so. The graph also illustrates returns from detention in Australia (voluntary or forced).

At the May Senate estimates, a full breakdown was provided for all returns (‘voluntary) and removals (‘involuntary) from Nauru and Manus since September 2012 to May 2018. This is shown in the second graph in the gallery on the left.