Economic migrants or refugees?: Analysis of refugee recognition rates for boat arrivals, 1976-2015

Originally published
View original


Government figures show boat arrivals are not ‘economic migrants’

A new analysis of Australian Government statistics has revealed that more than 80% of asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat and have had their status resolved have been recognised as refugees.

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) today released research into 40 years of statistics from the Immigration Department and the Australian Parliament, finding that 81% of the boat arrivals who have had their status resolved have been given some form of refugee protection.

RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power said the Government’s statistics put paid to the argument mounted by some politicians and commentators that most asylum seekers who have travelled to Australia by boat are “economic migrants”.

“The evidence, gathered and released by the Australian Government over the past four decades, clearly shows that the great majority of people who have come to Australia seeking safety and protection are doing so because of their need to find a life free of persecution,” Mr Power said.

“Asylum seekers who have come on boats overwhelmingly are being found to be refugees by officials working within the Australian Government’s own legal frameworks or the frameworks they have helped to create in Nauru or Papua New Guinea.”

From its analysis of government statistics, RCOA has estimated that, as at 30 June 2015, 37,491 of the 69,602 asylum seekers who have reached Australia by boat since 1976 have had their status finally determined. Of those, 30,400 (81%) were given refugee protection. Another 32,111 were still waiting for their status to be resolved, 30,837 within Australia and 1,274 in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

“It is important to note that, despite many changes to how refugee status has been assessed, the refugee recognition rate for boat arrivals to Australia has never dropped below 70%. At times, it has exceeded 90%,” Mr Power said.

“Even under the first iteration of the Pacific Solution between 2001 and 2007, 70.4% of those sent to detention in Nauru and Papua New Guinea ultimately were resettled as refugees elsewhere, most of them in Australia. Under the current version of the Pacific Solution, the refugee recognition rate is again around 70%, even before asylum applicants have had the opportunity to appeal against negative decisions.

“These statistics must give deeper thinkers in the Government cause to reassess the harsh policies being applied to asylum seekers who have come by boat. If most are found by the government’s own processes to be refugees in need of protection, what is being gained – other than further abuse of persecuted people and the trashing of Australia’s international reputation?”


Media enquiries: Laura Stacey 0488 035 535.