Humanitarian Immigration



Australia’s permanent immigration program consists of two components, the Migration Program (Skilled, Family and Special Eligibility Stream migrants) and the Humanitarian Program (Refugees and others in humanitarian need). The Australian Government Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) manages and grants visas within these programs each year in accordance with relevant legislation, government planning and policy.

The Migration Program outcome for 2009–10 was 168,600 places, the majority of which were filled from the United Kingdom, China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) and India. For the Humanitarian Program in 2009–10, a total of 13,800 visas were granted (table S7.2).

Australia’s Humanitarian Program aims to provide options for refugees who have been forced to leave their homes by armed conflict, persecution and human rights abuses. The Humanitarian Program has two components:
the onshore component provides protection (asylum) to persons already in Australia who engage Australia’s protection obligations under the United Nations 1951 Refugees Convention, and
the offshore component provides resettlement to persons overseas who are subject to persecution or violation of their human rights, have fled their homeland and have been determined to be refugees.


Since World War II, Australia has welcomed over 750,000 people from many different countries in response to changing global resettlement and humanitarian needs. In 2009–10, a total of 13,800 visas were granted, 9,200 (67%) under the offshore component and 4,500 (33%) under the onshore component.

From 1998 to 2001, most of the humanitarian arrivals were sourced from Europe, accounting for about half of all resettlements. At around the same time, arrivals from the Africa region increased from about 16% (1998–99) to 70% (2003–2005). Since 2005–06, there has been an increasing number of refugees from the Asia/Pacific region.

In 2009–10, around 32% of offshore visas were granted to people affected by conflicts in the Middle East and South West Asia. These people in need of humanitarian assistance were mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq. A further 39% were granted to refugee groups such as the Burmese in Thailand, Bhutanese in Nepal and Rohingya in Bangladesh. The Africa region continues to be a focus of the program, accounting for 29% of entrants in 2009–10 (table S7.3).

During 2009–10, there were 8,200 protection visa (onshore) applications lodged. The top three countries of citizenship for people applying for protection visas in 2009–10 were Afghanistan (1,600), China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) (1,300) and Sri Lanka (650).


Over the last 35 years, a number of people have sought protection in Australia, in response to humanitarian crises. They have arrived by air or by sea; those who arrive by air are known as non-Irregular Maritime Arrivals (Non-IMA), whereas those who arrive by sea are known as Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMA). Major ‘waves’ of arrivals are:
1976–1981 just over 2,000 people arrived, mainly from Vietnam
1989–1998 almost 3,100 people arrived, mainly from Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China
1999–2001 almost 12,200 people arrived, mainly from Afghanistan and Iraq.

In 2008-09 and 2009-10, the majority of IMA final visa grants were to citizens of Afghanistan, while the majority of non-IMA final grants were to citizens of China (excludes SARs and Taiwan) (table S7.4).

During 2009-10, more people seeking asylum in Australia arrived by air than by sea.

Source: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, June 2011, Population Flows: Immigration aspects, 2009–2010 Edition.





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