The Department of Home Affairs (formerly the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) publishes on its website monthly and yearly statistics about  people it detains. Its monthly statistics include the number of people in detention facilities in Australia, offshore processing centres, and in the community (either under a ‘residence determination’, or with a ‘bridging visa’.)

The following statistics focus on detention in Australia. There are different kinds of places where people are detained, known as Immigration Detention Centres (IDCs), Immigration Residential Housing (IRHs), Immigration Transit Accommodation (ITAs), and Alternative Places of Detention (APODs).

Please note that as of 12 November 2018, the latest official statistics are still only from 31 August 2018.

You can download the graphs and the data here. You can also click on a graph to view a larger version.

Key numbers (31 August 2018):

  • Numbers of people in held detention: 1,303 with key sites being Villawood (485) and Yongah Hill (306)
  • Average length of detention: 468 days, with 273people having spent more than 730 days in detention
  • Numbers of people held in detention because they came seeking asylum by boat: 231
  • Number of children: in detention facilities including ‘Alternative Places of Detention’: less than 5, in community detention: 185, and in the community on a bridging visa E: 2,756
  • Number of people in community detention: 413,from Iran (234), stateless (48) or from Sri Lanka (33), with 244 people having spent more than 730 days in community detention
  • Key nationalities of people in detention: New Zealand (180), Iran (106), Vietnam (102), and Sri Lanka (81).

Number of people in detention in Australia

On 31 August 2018, there were 1,303 people in detention facilities.  This included 79 women, 9 children and 1,215 men.

Number of people in held detention by month

Change over time

There has been significant change in the number of people detained in the past ten years. The current figure is a significant decrease from 5,697 in January 2013. However, it is high when compared to 375 in January 2009.

Line chart showing detention over time

Where people are in detention

The monthly statistics include the numbers of people in different immigration detention facilities, including the numbers of men, women and children.

The largest populations are in Villawood (in Sydney) and Yongah Hill (in WA). Numbers on Christmas Island have been decreasing in preparation of the effective closure of the centre in early October 2018.

Bar chart showing where people are by place

Children in detention

This graph shows the number of children in held detention (usually not in immigration detention centres, but in other kinds of facilities), as well as the number living in the community under a residence determination.

While children are not generally placed in detention centres, there have been some cases. In April 2013, 31 children were placed in Northern IDC in Darwin. In July 2014, 157 Sri Lankan people seeking asylum by boat were detained on an Australian customs vessel for four weeks. People in this group, including 50 children as young as one, were detained in Curtin detention centre in WA before being transferred to  Nauru. These 50 children are not included in the graph as they were not included in the monthly detention statistics published by the Department of Immigration.

Area chart showing number of children in detention

Time in detention

These graphs show how long people are spending in detention in Australia. The first graph shows the length of detention over the past year, as reported in the monthly statistics.

The second graph shows the changes in the length of detention over a longer period. Each bar shows how many people have been detained for the corresponding time period, as at the end of each financial year (30 June). Before 2013-14, individuals were mainly spending three months or less in detention. Since then, the time spent in detention has increased very significantly.

Note: in earlier years, only the period ’91 days or less’ were indicated in the statistics. This has been broken down in later years.

Chart showing length of time held in detention over time
Stacked column chart showing periods in detention

Average time in detention

The average number of days people spend in detention has been increasing since late 2013, although in late 2017 the average reduced a little.

However, according to the Department of Home Affairs in an answer to a question on notice in Senate estimates, the average number of days in detention for people seeking asylum was 826 days at 26 February 2018.

A Commonwealth Ombudsman’s report on long-term immigration detention found that 13% of the long-term cases of detention it  reported on had been in detention for 4 years or more, compared with 25% in 2014-15. There were also 42 people who had been detained for 5 years or more, who were unlikely to be released.

Line chart showing average days in detention

Reasons for detention

These graphs show the proportion of people in detention according to the reason for their detention. The first graph shows the numbers of people in detention in the past month because their visa was cancelled for character reasons (under s 501 of the Migration Act), because they were seeking asylum, and for other reasons.

The second graph shows the numbers of people in each detention facility by the reason they were detained.

Stacked bar chart showing reasons for detention

The second graph shows the numbers of people in each detention facility by the reason they were detained.

Stacked bar chart showing numbers in detention facilities by reason

The third graph shows the changing trends of detention on an annual basis. It is clear that, from a low point in the period of 2002-08, the proportion of people detained for arriving by boat has greatly increased. However, since the start of offshore processing and changes that have increased the cancellation of visas on character grounds, the percentage of people seeking asylum in detention has decreased.

By 2016-2017, 27.1% of people in detention were detained for arriving by boat, 20.2% for overstaying their visa, 47.5% as a result of visa cancellation, and 4.5% came by plane without a valid visa.

Chart showing proportion of people in detention by arrival type

People detained by nationality

This graph shows the nationalities of the people detained in the past month.

Stacked bar chart showing people in detention centres by nationality

Community detention (or residence determinations)

As well as holding people in detention, the Australian government also uses a form of detention referred to as ‘community detention’, where people live in the community but in a specified place determined by the government (known as ‘residence determinations’), under certain restrictions.

The number of people in community detention has decreased in recent years. The graphs below show where people in community detention live, their nationalities, and the length of time they spend in community detention.

Stacked bar chart showing where people are in community detention
Stacked column chart showing people in community detention by nationality
Column chart showing length of time people spend in community detention

This work was only made possible through the contributions of volunteers, past and present, including: Amna Bakhtiar, Stephen Fodorocy, Michael Li, and Andrew Lok.


Number of people in onshore detention

Number of children in onshore detention

Length of time in onshore detention

Reason for detention