Vietnamese boat people in Darwin Harbour aboard several small wooden fishing vessels which brought 259 Vietnamese to Australian in one week in November 1977
Image: National Archives of Australia
Source: Museum Victoria
Question: How many refugees come to Australia each year?
Answer: Australia’s permanent immigration program has two components – “migration” for skilled, family and special eligibility stream migrants, and “humanitarian” for refugees and others in humanitarian need. Since the end of World War II, more than 680,000 immigrants have arrived in Australia under humanitarian programs, many as refugees. 13,014 humanitarian visas were granted during the 2007–2008 migration program. Of these, 6,014 were refugees.
The United Nations’ 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who has “a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside his or her country of nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.”
As one of the signatory countries to this convention, Australia provides protection for asylum-seekers who meet the United Nations definition of a refugee. An asylum-seeker is someone who has made a claim to refugee status and is waiting for that claim to be processed.
The UNHCR estimated that 11,390,700 people worldwide were refugees at the beginning of 2008. A further 740,100 people were in the process of seeking asylum. Globally, the top five countries of origin for refugees were Afghanistan, Iraq, Columbia, Sudan and Somalia. Refugees were most likely to seek asylum in Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany and Jordon.
In comparison to these countries Australia receives few asylum claims. The major source countries of humanitarian immigrants to Australia in recent years have been China, Sri Lanka, India and Iraq.