Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers
Asylum in Australia has been granted to many refugees since 1945, when half a million Europeans displaced by World War II were given asylum. Since then, there have been periodic waves of asylum seekers from South East Asia and the Middle East, with government policy and public opinion changing over the years.
Refugees are governed by statutes and Government policies which seek to implement Australia’s obligations under the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, to which Australia is a party. Thousands of refugees have sought asylum in Australia over the past decade, with the main forces driving movement being war, civil unrest and persecution. The annual refugee quota in 2012 was 20,000 people. From 1945 to the early 1990s, more than half a million refugees and other displaced persons were accepted into Australia.
Historically, most asylum seekers arrived by plane. However, there was an increasing number of asylum seekers arriving by boat in the late 2000s and early 2010s, which was met with some public disapproval. In 2011-2012, asylum seekers arriving by boat outnumbered those arriving by plane for the first time. Three waves of asylum seekers arriving by boat have been identified: Vietnamese between 1976 and 1981; Indochinese asylum seekers from 1989 to 1998; and people of Middle East origin from 1999.
The visa policy of the current government is to detain persons entering or being in Australia without a valid visa until those persons can be returned to their home country. Australia is the only country in the world with a policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers who arrive without a valid visa.
Asylum policy is a contentious wedge issue in Australian politics, with the two major political parties in Australia arguing that the issue is a border control problem and one concerning the safety of those attempting to come to Australia by boat.