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Australia's humanitarian program.

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Parliament of Australia

Department of Parliamentary Services

Parliamentary Library RESEARCH NOTE

Information, analysis and advice for the Parliament 9 September 2005, no. 9, 2005-06, ISSN 1449-8456

Australia’s humanitarian program


In the past sixty years Australia has resettled over 645 000 refugees and displaced persons, including thousands during and immediately after World War II. Today, as part of its planned humanitarian program, the government allocates places each year to refugees and others with humanitarian needs.1 This year’s humanitarian program, announced on 18 April 2005, allocated 13 000 places for 2005-06, including 6000 places for the resettlement of refugees referred by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and 7000 places for the Special Humanitarian Program and protection visas in Australia.2

This research note outlines Australia’s humanitarian response over the last sixty years and includes regional initiatives and international comparisons. It is intended as a companion research note to Australia’s migration program.3

Australia’s humanitarian response

Australia’s first Commonwealth immigration department was established in July 1945. Subsequently, Australia resettled thousands of post-war refugees and displaced people, and ratified the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees on 22 January 1954. However, it was not until the late 1970s with the arrival of the Indochinese boat people seeking asylum that the government developed a specific refugee policy.4

In 1977, the then Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, the Hon. M. MacKellar, announced Australia’s first refugee policy based on the following four principles:

• Australia fully recognises its humanitarian commitment and responsibility to admit refugees for resettlement

• The decision to accept refugees must always remain with the Government of Australia

• Special assistance will often need to be provided for the movement of refugees in designated situations or for their resettlement in Australia

• It may not be in the interest of some refugees to settle in Australia. Their interests may be better served by resettlement elsewhere. The Australian Government

makes an annual contribution to the UNHCR which is the main body associated with such resettlement.5

In 1981 the Special Humanitarian Program (SHP) was introduced to assist people who did not fit neatly into the refugee category, but who were subject to human rights abuses and had family or community ties with Australia.6 The SHP, together with the refugee category, marked the beginnings of the annual program that we have today.

In June 1989, a Comprehensive Plan of Action (CPA) was adopted at the International Conference on Indochinese Refugees held in Geneva in response to the flow of asylum seekers from Vietnam and Laos. Australia was one of 51 nations who endorsed this agreement.7

By the 1990s, a comprehensive refugee system was in place within the immigration portfolio and in January 1993 a decision was made by the Keating government to separate the humanitarian program from the general migration program.8 In 1996 the Howard government introduced the practice of separately identifying onshore asylum seekers granted refugee status, from offshore applicants.9

Humanitarian Program, grants by category, 1998- 200510


1998- 99

1999- 00 2000- 01

2001- 02 2002- 03

2003- 04 2004-05

Refugee 3 988 3 802 3 997 4 160 4376 4134 5511

Special Humanitarian 4 348 3 051 3 116 4 258 7280 8297* 6755

Special Assistance

1 190 649 879 40

Onshore Protection

1 830 2 458 5 577 3 885 866 788 895

Safe Haven 5 900

Temporary Humanitarian Concern

164 6 3 2 17

Total 11 356 15 860* 13 733 12 349 12 525 13 851 13 178

Source: DIMIA advice and Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, DIMIA Fact Sheet no. 60.

Since 1998, Australia’s humanitarian program has allocated an average of about 13 000 places to refugees. Only a small proportion of these places generally go to onshore applicants. In 2003-04, for example, of the 13 851 humanitarian visas granted, only 788 were protection visas granted onshore.11 Higher numbers were granted in 2000- 01 due to a wave of boat arrivals, (of the 13 733 humanitarian visas granted, 5577 were onshore applicants), but the majority of the successful applicants were accepted from the offshore program.12

Source countries

Most of our post-war refugees came from Europe until the arrival of the Indochinese boat people. Since then, Australia has accepted more than 155 000 Vietnamese refugees and between 1976 and 1986 the Vietnam-born population of Australia rose from 2400 to 83 000.13

Between 1989 and 1991 there was an increase in people claiming refugee status due primarily to the Tiananmen Square incident in China in June 1989—most of the Chinese applicants in the country at the time were allowed to stay by the Hawke government.14 There were 16 248 Protection Visa (PV) applications during 1990-91, with about 77 per cent coming from Chinese nationals.15

Australia has also responded to other global resettlement needs since then, such as the Balkan crisis in 1991 and the large number of refugees resulting from wars and unrest in the Middle East and Central Asia—mostly Iraq and Afghanistan. More recently, the focus has been on resettling refugees from Africa. In 2003-04 over 70 per cent of refugee resettlement grants were allocated to Africa and 24 per cent to the Middle East and South-West Asia (down from 40 per cent in 2002-03).16

Offshore resettlement program, grants by region, 1998-200417

Region 1998-


1999- 00 2000- 01

2001- 02 2002- 03

2003- 04

Europe 4 736 3 424 3 462 2709 1158 354

Middle East & SW Asia 2 919 2 208 2 155 2743 4656* 2867**

Africa 1 552 1 736 2 032 2801 5628 8353

Asia 295 113 316 189 201 221

America 24 21 27 16 7

Offshore Processing Centres*


Other Out of Region 15

Total 9 526 7 502 7 992 8458 11 656 11 802

Source: DIMIA Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program Fact Sheet no. 60.

Temporary protection

In October 1999, the Howard Government introduced Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) for asylum seekers who arrive unauthorised and are subsequently assessed by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) to be refugees.18 Before then, all refugees, including unauthorised arrivals found to be refugees were given immediate access to permanent protection visas (PPVs).19

Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) and Temporary Humanitarian Visas (THVs) granted as at 25 February 200520

Grant year

Temporary Protection Subclass 785

Return Pending (Temporary) Subclass


Humanitarian Stay

(Temporary) Subclass 449

Temporary Humanitarian Concern Subclass 786

1998-99 N/A* N/A* N/A* N/A*

1999-00 872 N/A* 1905 N/A*

2000-01 4479 N/A* 1 166

2001-02 3210 N/A* 8 5

2002-03 295 N/A* 12 6

2003-04 206 N/A* 37 35

2004-05 165 110 1 5

Total 9227 110 1964~ 217#

Source: Data taken from an answer given by DIMIA to a Question on Notice from Senate Additional Estimates, Immigration Portfolio, 15 February 2005.

The TPV is initially granted for a period of three years, with the option of applying for further protection before the end of that period. In September 2001, changes were made to the legislation that determined that TPV recipients applying for further protection were ‘not able to access a PPV if, since leaving their home country, they had resided for at least seven days in a country where they could have sought and obtained effective protection’.21

In July 2004, the government announced new measures allowing TPV and other Temporary Humanitarian Visa (THV) holders--such as Temporary Humanitarian Stay Visa or Temporary Humanitarian Concern Visa recipients in Australia when the regulations commenced--to apply for mainstream migration visas to remain in Australia permanently, without requiring them to leave the country to lodge their applications. The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon. Amanda Vanstone stated that ‘This decision in relation to the opportunity for those on TPVs to apply to stay in Australia permanently, recognises the the fact that many TPV holders are making a significant contribution to the Australian community, particularly in regional areas.’22

This initiative took effect on 27 August 2004, along with a new Return Pending Visa (Subclass 695) allowing people found not to be in need of further protection to remain in the country for 18 months (with continued access to the same benefits and visa conditions as the TPV and THV), in order to make arrangements to depart.23

Resettlement-international comparisons

Only about 20 countries participate in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement program and accept quotas of refugees on an annual basis. In 2004, of the main countries which resettled refugees through UNHCR the USA accounted for 63 per cent, Australia 19 per cent, Canada 13 per cent, Sweden 2 per cent, Norway 1 per cent, Finland 1 per cent, and Denmark 1 per cent. Taking into account both UNHCR resettlement figures and other humanitarian intakes, in 2004 the USA admitted the largest number of resettled refugees (52 900), followed by Australia (16 000) and Canada (10 500).24

Main countries of UNHCR refugee resettlement in 2004 USA 52 868

Australia 15 967

Canada 10 521

Sweden 1801

Norway 842

New Zealand 825

Finland 735

Denmark 508

Netherlands 323

UK 150

Ireland 63

Chile 26

Mexico 11

Source: UNHCR, Refugees by numbers, 2005 edition.

Regional initiatives

In January 2004 the government announced that it would try to increase the numbers of migrants and humanitarian entrants in rural and regional areas.25 This announcement was initiated partly from recommendations made by the government’s Review of settlement services for migrants and humanitarian entrants in 2002-03, and partly from interest from the state governments in new entrants settling in regional areas with labour shortages.

DIMIA is able to influence some humanitarian entrants, without any strong ties to family or friends who are already in the country, to settle in regional areas once their settlement needs have been assessed. DIMIA’s Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy and Community Settlement Services Scheme, for example, have had some success in encouraging ‘unlinked’ refugees to settle in regional areas.26 However, most humanitarian entrants continue to settle in urban areas where they will be close to family or community support.

Regional settlement location of people assisted under the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy, 2003-04

State/ Territory Settlement Location Refugees SHP entrants Total

Sydney Metro 564 2393 2957

Coffs Harbour 8 29 37

Newcastle 17 88 105

Wollongong 34 53 87

Goulburn 14 0 14


Wagga Wagga 14 0 14

Melbourne Metro 518 2614 3132

Geelong 30 25 55

Warrnambool 4 0 4


Shepparton 0 2 2

Brisbane Metro 352 342 694

Logan/Beenleigh/ Woodridge

79 11 90

Toowoomba 30 200 230

Townsville 19 7 26

Cairns 24 0 24


Gold Coast 3 14 17

SA Adelaide Metro 492 495 987

Perth Metro 526 685 1211 WA

Mandurah 10 0 10

Hobart Metro 114 130 244

Launceston 114 20 134


North West Coast 68 0 68

Darwin Metro 87 37 124 NT

Alice Springs 0 2 2

ACT Canberra Metro 20 67 87

Total Metro 2673 6763 9436

Total Regional 468 451 919

Sub Total 3141 7214 10355

PPV / TPV / THV Holders 46

Grand Total 3141 7214 10401

Source: DIMIA, 2005-06 Humanitarian Program Discussion Paper, 2005.

In order to further increase humanitarian settlement in regional areas, in the 2004-05 Budget, the government committed funding of $12.4 million. Initiatives included

grants for humanitarian community services in regional areas, new regional needs-based planning frameworks and improved settlement information.27

As humanitarian entrants generally require more settlement support than people arriving under the migration program, the success of these regional initiatives will depend very much on the level of service delivery and appropriate community support in rural and regional areas. Employment, housing, language assistance, counselling, health services and cultural support are all crucial in successfully integrating and supporting new entrants.

1. Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, (DIMIA), Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, Fact Sheet no. 60.

2. Senator the Hon. A. Vanstone, Australia’s humanitarian commitment holds firm, Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, Press Release, 18 April 2005.

3. J. Phillips Australia’s Migration Program, Research Note no. 48, Parliamentary Library, 2005.

4. Most of the 79 000 Vietnamese who arrived in Australia between 1975 and 1985 came from South-East Asian refugee camps. The first refugee boat from Vietnam arrived in Darwin in April 1975. Between May 1977 and 1981 there were an estimated 2097 unauthorised arrivals by boat. Source: James Jupp, The Australian People: an encyclopaedia of the nation, its people and their origins, 1988, p. 384. See also B. York Australia and Refugees 1901-2002: an annotated chronology based on official sources, Chronology, Parliamentary Library, 2003.

5. The Hon. M. MacKellar, Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, House of Representatives, Debates, 24 May 1977.

6. DIMIA Refugee and humanitarian issues: Australia’s response, 2005, p. 16.

7. ibid. p. 4.

8. Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs Refugee and humanitarian issues: the focus for Australia, 1994 and DIMIA Refugee and humanitarian issues: Australia’s response, 2005, p. 16.

9. See DIMIA Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program, Fact Sheet no. 60.

10. *This figure includes 5900 Safe Haven visas, comprising 4000 grants to Kosovars offshore and 1900 grants to the East Timorese onshore.

11. DIMIA Immigration Snapshot 2003-04.

12. ibid.

13. J. Jupp, ‘Australia’s refugee and humanitarian policies’, Keynotes, vol. 1, pp. 32-39, February 2002 and DIMIA 2005-06 Humanitarian Program: discussion paper.

14. K. Betts, Immigration policy under the Howard government, Australian Journal of Social Issues, May 2003.

15. DIMIA Seeking asylum within Australia, Fact Sheet no. 61.

16. DIMIA Refugee and humanitarian issues: Australia’s response, 2005, pp. 18 and 34.

17. * Includes 311 grants to mainly Afghan and Iraqis in the Offshore Processing Centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru. ** Includes 90 grants to mainly Afghan and Iraqis

in the Offshore Processing Centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

18. For more background see J. Phillips, Temporary Protection Visas, Research Note no. 51, Parliamentary Library, 2004.

19. DIMIA Temporary Protection Visas, Fact sheet no. 64.

20. * Subclass 785 was introduced on 20 October 1999. Subclass 695 was introduced on 27 August 2004. Subclass 449 visa was introduced on 1 June 1999. Subclass 786 visa was introduced on 25 July 2000.

~ The grant of a subclass 449 visa is a prerequisite to the grant of a subclass 786 visa. Grants of a subclass 449 visa as a procedural step for the grant of a subclass 786 visa have not been included. Of the 1964 subclass 449 grants, 32 were subsequent grants to former subclass 449 visa holders and 11 were short-term grants to medical evacuees from Nauru and Manus Island.

# Of the 217 subclass 786 grants, 34 were subsequent grants to former subclass 786 holders.

21. DIMIA Temporary Protection Visas, Fact sheet no. 64.

22. Senator the Hon. A. Vanstone, New measures for TPV holders, Press Release, 13 July 2004.

23. See DIMIA Measures for Temporary Protection and Temporary Humanitarian Visa Holders website. This is not to be confused with the Removal Pending Bridging Visa (Subclass 070), introduced in May 2005, enabling the release from detention of long-term detainees, determined not to be refugees by Australia, but who cannot be easily removed in practice.

24. UNHCR, 2004 Global Refugee Trends, p. 4.

25. Senator the Hon. A. Vanstone, New initiatives to draw more migrants to regional areas, Press release, 12 January 2004 and DIMIA Humanitarian settlement in regional Australia, Fact sheet no. 97.

26. DIMIA Humanitarian settlement in regional Australia Fact sheet no. 97.

27. ibid.

Janet Phillips Social Policy Section Information and Research Service Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means including information storage and retrieval systems, without the prior written consent of the Department of Parliamentary Services, other than by senators and members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

This brief has been prepared to support the work of the Australian Parliament using information available at the time of production. The views expressed do not reflect an official position of the Information and Research Service, nor do they constitute professional legal opinion.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2005