Learn More: Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Who are refugees?


A refugee, defined by the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951 and the Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees 1968, is any person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a particular social group
  • Political opinion

The person must be outside their country of nationality or the country they normally live in.

The person must be unable or unwilling to return because of the fear of persecution.

The latest figures available from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees show that the number of refugees of concern stood at 10.4 million refugees at the beginning of 2013, down slightly from a year earlier.


Women and children make up 80% of the world’s refugees and displaced persons.

What is the difference between a migrant and a refugee?

A refugee has to flee his or her country of origin, because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution. A migrant makes a conscious decision to move to another country . They are able to read about the country and learn about it from family and friends. They have time to study the language and explore employment opportunities before they make a final decision about whether they will come.

More information: Refugee Council of Australia

Who are asylum seekers?


An asylum seeker is a person who has left their country of origin and is seeking international protection. In countries with individualized refugee status determination procedures, an asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum-seeker.


More information about statistics on asylum seekers arriving in Australia see the Refugee Council of Australia

More information on Assistance for Asylum Seekers in Australia see the Department of Immigration and Border Protection

Who is coming to Australia?

Australia accepts around 13,750 humanitarian entrants each year nationally. This was increased to 20,000 places in 2012-2013, but immediately reduced by the newly elected government back to 13750 humanitarian entrant places, for 2013-2014.

In the last year that data is available (2012-2013), the main countries of origin were Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar/Burma and Bhutan.


Australia’s humanitarian program has two components:

  1. Onshore asylum/protection component – offers protection to asylum seekers in Australia who are found to be refugees according to the UN refugee convention or for other reasons under complementary protection
  2. Offshore resettlement component – offers resettlement to refugees and people from refugee-like backgrounds who are overseas

The majority of asylum seekers who come to Australia and ask the Australian government for protection arrive by plane with a valid visa, such as a student or tourist visa. They are allowed to live freely in the community on this visa or a bridging visa, while their claims for protection are processed.

Others arrive by boat without a valid visa and are termed Irregular Maritime Arrivals. This is legal according to the UN Convention on the Refugee of which Australia is a signatory. Irregular Maritime Arrivals are routinely held in detention centres, such as on Christmas Island, when they first arrive, and eventually have been housed either in an Immigration Detention Centre, in Community Detention or released to live freely in the community on a Bridging Visa E (BVE). Irregular Maritime Arrivals who arrive in Australia after August 2012 may be moved to an offshore location for the processing of their protection claims.

Please refer to the website of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for the most up to date information as the situation in relation to asylum seekers is continually changing.


Find out more


Amnesty International – www.amnesty.org

Amnesty International Australia – www.amnesty.org.au

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre http://www.asrc.org.au/

Australian Red Cross http://www.redcross.org.au/migration-support.aspx

Australian Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Border Protection


Country profiles http://www.immi.gov.au/media/statistics/country-profiles/index.htm

Immigration Detention and Community Statistics Summary 30 September 2013

Australian Human Rights Commission http://www.humanrights.gov.au/

Human Rights Watch http://www.hrw.org/

International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims http://www.irct.org/

Refugee Council of Australia http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au

The Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT) http://fasstt.org.au/

United Nations High Commission for Refugees http://www.unhcr.org

Learn more about Trauma and Counselling

Learn more about Temporary Protection Information for Services