Recent years have seen numerous changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, largely as a political response to an increase in the number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat (51,637 arrivals in the five years to December 2013) and a consequent increase in deaths at sea between Indonesia and Australia (at least 862 deaths recorded over the same period). Both of Australia’s major political parties have attempted to address this issue through deterrence-based policies which block access to protection in Australia and impose penalties on people who arrive by boat. This document summarises some of the more recent policy changes.
- 3,127 people have been sent to Nauru or PNG as part of offshore processing arrangements
- 1,655 people are still on Nauru or PNG as of 21 May 2018, and as of 31 May 2018 245 oare still in Nauru Regional Processing Centre
- 855 people have left ‘voluntarily’, including through resettlement, as of 31 May 2018, 530 of those ‘voluntarily’ to their country of origin and 3 of those involuntarily
- 494 people have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment, and 460 of them were still in Australia as of 21 May 2018
- 249 people have left for the US, and 7 for Cambodia, as of 30 April 2018
- 372 people have been accepted by the US (including those who have left), and 121 have been refused by the US
- By far he largest number of those refused are from Iran (70), although 15 Iranians have been accepted
- There are 170 families on Nauru, including 99 families which have 158 minors, as of 26 February 2018
- There are at least 100 children who have been born to people subject to offshore processing, as of 23 October 2017
- There are nine nuclear family units split between Australia and offshore processing, as of 23 October 2017
- There are 589 recognised refugees in PNG, and 877 recognised refugees on Nauru, as of 26 February 2018
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 on the numbers now living outside those centres.
That information is now provided mostly through Senate estimates. We have combined those numbers together with the numbers of people reported in the monthly updates as having ‘voluntarily departed’, and media reports of those leaving with the US, to identify that there are around 1,695 people still in Nauru or PNG. (The estimate is because the information given at Senate estimates was for 26 February, and the reporting period for the next monthly report began on 1 March. As well, although the Senate estimates statistics provide breakdowns for Nauru or PNG, the monthly updates only report the global number of departures). The graph to the right reports the latest numbers for those still on Nauru or PNG, and those who have now left.
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. There are still 245 people in Nauru’s centre, as of 31 May 2018.
The breakdown of men, women and children in Nauru’s centre is reported in the Department of Home Affair’s monthly detention statistics, and the May statistics have not yet been released. There are also sometimes inconsistencies between the numbers reported by the Operation Sovereign Borders monthly updates and the detention statistics.
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.
During Senate Estimates in May, the Department provided more detailed information on the process and outcomes of US resettlement. The Department confirmed that as of 30 April 2018, 249 people had left for the US, 165 of them from Nauru and 84 from PNG.
The Department also provided a breakdown of the composition of those resettled to the US from Nauru, and the outcomes of assessments by the US so far. Of significant interest is the statistical breakdown of outcomes by country of origin, which showed a very high rate of rejections of Iranians (70), although there had been 15 Iranians accepted for resettlement.
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 or PNG, as at 23 October 2017.
The last chart also shows the number of children born to offshore processing. 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 Nauran or Australian community).
Since offshore processing began, there have been 494 people transferred for medical reasons, and 322 family members have been transferred to accompany them. It is clear that the numbers being transferred for medical reasons dropped sharply in 2015-2016, and in the past years more people are being transferred to Port Moresby and even Taiwan. We also have statistics for how many children have been transferred for medical reasons, and how many people have been transferred to terminate a pregnancy.
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.
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.
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 on 26 February 2018, 78% (589) were recognised refugees.
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.
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 26 February 2018, 88% of those still on Nauru (877 people) had been recognised as refugees, while the rest were still waiting for final determinations.
Similarly to Manus, the processing on Nauru rapidly increased in August 2015. There has been relatively little change since 2016.
Returns from Australia and offshore processing centres
The Department’s monthly updates do not say whether a person is returned from Nauru or Manus Island. There has been a consistent, small number of people who ‘voluntarily’ leave the offshore processing centres. As of 31 May 2018, 530 people have been returned ‘voluntarily’ from offshore processing centres, and 3 involuntarily. 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).
This work was made possible by our volunteers, past and present, including Sophie Boyle, Liam Rasmussen, Amna Bakhtiar, Stephen Fodorocy, Michael Li and Andrew Lok.
Senate estimates questions (listed in the downloadable spreadsheet and under relevant graphs or linked to relevant text)
2013-18: Newsroom, Operation Sovereign Borders, monthly, DIBP, Canberra
2013-18, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Immigration Detention and Community Statistics
June 2016: Parliament of Australia, Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG: A Quick Guide to statistics and resources
January 2017: Parliament of Australia, Boat arrivals and boat ‘turnbacks’ in Australia since 1976: a quick guide to the statistics (Table 4)