Will Australia stop permanent migration?

Country Profiles Migration: Data - History - Politics

Klaus Neumann

Professor of History at the Swinburne Institute for Social Research, Swinburne University of Technology
[email protected]

More than 800,000 refugees have settled permanently in Australia since the end of World War II. Most of them were selected outside Australia by the Department of Immigration, after being proposed to Australia by UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, its predecessor, the International Refugee Organization, IRO, or the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM). However, among the refugees taken in by Australia are also people who arrived in Australia by plane or ship and then successfully applied for asylum.

Melbourne, 2016: Protest during a rally in front of the State Library of Victoria against the decision to deport asylum seekers to the islands of Nauru and Manus. (& copy picture-alliance, AA)

refugee policy

After 1945, the Australian government sought a rapid population increase through the immigration of European immigrants. Between 1947 and 1952, Australia settled more than 170,000 so-called displaced persons recognized as refugees in Australia with the help of the IRO. Until the mid-1970s, further contingents of European refugees were admitted to Australia with the participation of the ICEM or the UNHCR, including refugees from Hungary (after 1956) and Czechoslovakia (after 1968).

For the first time in the 1970s, Australia took in a (albeit comparatively small) number of refugees of non-European descent. These are people of South Asian origin who were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin in 1972.
After the end of the Vietnam War, Australia took in more than 100,000 people from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s. They were selected by teams from the Australian Immigration Service in refugee camps in Southeast Asia.

Until the end of 1975, Australia took in refugees primarily for economic reasons. The selection criteria were accordingly strict and generally excluded people who the immigration authorities assumed could not be integrated into the labor market due to their professional qualifications, their age or their state of health. Since Australia has been resettling refugees for humanitarian reasons, there has been an extensive program of state-funded integration assistance specifically for so-called humanitarian immigrants.

Currently, the humanitarian immigrant quota, which is re-established every year, is 13,750 people per year. [1] These include 1,000 places for women who are exposed to particular risks in the countries of first refuge. In September 2015, the government decided to take in an additional 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq. [2]

The admission of refugees from Kosovo in 1999 represents a special case. Unlike other refugees, they were only granted temporary residence permits (so-called "safe haven visas"). With a few exceptions, they were not allowed to settle permanently in Australia.

The Australian refugee policy is recognized worldwide as a model, insofar as the permanent resettlement of refugees is meant as one of the three "permanent solutions" favored by the UNHCR. It is also supported by a broad social consensus. However, it is controversial how many refugees Australia can or should accept annually; Currently, the largest opposition party, the Labor Party, and the Greens are calling for the number of places available annually for humanitarian immigrants to be increased significantly.

Asylum policy

There are five categories of asylum seekers. The smallest by far includes diplomats who were legally residing in Australia at the time of their application and who were applying for political asylum. As a rule, such applications were rejected, but without the applicants being deported.

People from Indonesia or the former Dutch colony of West New Guinea (West Irian) annexed by Indonesia, who fled between 1963 and 1973 to Papua New Guinea, which was then ruled by Australia, make up the second group. Australia did not recognize her application for asylum, but allowed many of these refugees to settle in Papua New Guinea with the help of temporary residence permits.

The third group includes people who are in Australia with a regular visa (e.g. as students or tourists) and apply for asylum because they fear that they will be persecuted if they return to their home country. As a rule, such applications are decided on a case-by-case basis, which examines whether the applicants meet the criteria set out in Article 1 of the Geneva Refugee Convention. An exception were Chinese nationals who were in Australia at the time of the Tian'anmen massacre in 1989 and who were granted temporary residence permits without such individual case studies.

The fourth group includes people from East Timor who were evacuated to Australia after the Indonesian occupation of the Portuguese colony and who did not want to travel to Portugal. Although they were not recognized as refugees, most of them were allowed to stay in Australia.

People who flee either from their home country or from a third country by ship directly to Australia and apply for recognition as refugees there form the fifth category. The first boat refugees were West Papuans, who came to Australia by raft in 1969. Between 1976 and 1981, more than 2,000 boat refugees from Indochina came to Australia. Almost without exception, they were allowed to settle in Australia.
Since 1992 people who enter Australia by ship (or attempt to enter) without a visa have been interned until a decision has been made on their application for protection as refugees and the associated visa ("protection visa"). Notwithstanding this measure, which was originally designed as a deterrent to a relatively small number of boat refugees from Cambodia, the number of boat refugees increased in the late 1990s. As a result, if the decision was positive, asylum seekers who had entered by sea were only granted temporary visas - so-called TPVs ("temporary protection visas").

Refugees on a boat on the coast of Christmas Island (politically part of Australia). (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

In August 2001 the Tampa affair broke out, in which the Australian government banned a Norwegian container ship from landing boat refugees rescued in the Indian Ocean on Christmas Island. Following the affair, the Australian Navy was instructed between 2001 and 2002 as part of "Operation Relex" to prevent boat refugees found on the high seas from continuing to Australia. Since 2013, asylum seekers who are apprehended on the high seas have been deported to Indonesia as part of "Operation Sovereign Borders", some of them in lifeboats specially brought by the Navy for this purpose. [3] Boat refugees who do not try to get to Australia via Indonesia but come directly from the country of flight (e.g. Sri Lanka) are usually transferred to their country of origin.

Since 2001, asylum seekers who had reached Australia by ship have been deported to Manus or Nauru and interned there. The island of Manus is part of Papua New Guinea, Australia's closest neighbor. Like the island state of Nauru in the northern Pacific, it is a former Australian possession. This so-called "Pacific Solution", introduced following the Tampa affair, was suspended in 2008, but reissued in 2013. Since then, it has been impossible for refugees whose asylum applications were approved by the authorities in Nauru or Papua New Guinea to settle in Australia. Papua New Guinea and Nauru are unable or unwilling to guarantee the resettlement of large numbers of refugees. Since the failed attempt to resettle asylum seekers in Cambodia recognized as refugees in Nauru, and since the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled the internment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus illegal, their future has been uncertain.

The compulsory internment of asylum seekers, especially minors, and the extraterritorial internment of asylum seekers have been severely criticized by human rights organizations and the UNHCR on several occasions. [4] They are also controversial in Australia; however, these measures are supported by all major parties and are supported by the majority of the Australian population.

This text is part of the country profile Australia