Section 189 of Australia's Migration Act 1958 requires people arriving in Australia who are not citizens and do not hold a valid visa to be detained. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection detains people in onshore or offshore closed immigration detention and in community detention.

Once detained, people remain in detention until they are either granted a visa or removed from Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection manages four types of immigration detention:

  • immigration detention centres
  • immigration residential housing
  • immigration transit accommodation
  • alternative place of detention.

Most asylum seekers contained in immigration detention have arrived in Australia without a visa before August 2013, either by boat or plane. People who are not seeking asylum are also detained e.g. if they have overstayed their visa or breached visa conditions.

Closed immigration detention in Australia

Asylum seekers in closed immigration detention are awaiting a decision of their refugee claim. People detained in closed immigration detention facilities are not allowed to leave the facilities. Closed immigration detention facilities are located across Australia and offshore.

In June 2015, there were 2013 people in immigration detention – 1840 on the Australian mainland and 173 on Christmas Island, an Australian territory. Of these, 1122 had arrived by air or boat without a valid visa, making up approximately 56 per cent of all people in immigration detention.

For latest statistics, visit our statistics page.

Community detention

The Community Detention Program places asylum seekers in community-based accommodation while waiting for an outcome on their visa application. Community detention is not a visa category: asylum seekers are still considered within immigration detention for visa purposes. However for those who are eligible, it provides an alternative to closed immigration detention facilities.

In June 2015, 1189 people were in community detention. Of this, 59.6% have been detained in the community by the Australian government for more than 18 months.

A number of service providers are funded by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, through the Status Resolution Support Services program, to provide support to asylum seekers in community detention, including families with children, unaccompanied minors and individual adults. The community detention program provides support to access safe housing, care for unaccompanied minors, financial support and access to schooling and healthcare.

Regional processing and settlement

On 19 July 2013, the former Labor Government announced that people who arrive by boat without a valid visa would no longer be settled in Australia. The Coalition Government has continued this policy as part of Operation Sovereign Borders. As such, asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat after July 2013 are subject to transfer to offshore detention facilities in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and Nauru, where their refugee applications are assessed under local law.

The Australian immigration department funds immigration detention facilities in these countries. In 2015-16, the estimated management costs of these offshore arrangements amounts to $810 million. In June 2015 there were 1600 people in the offshore detention facilities.

The Australian Government’s agreements with the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea include the processing of asylum seekers applications and resettlement of those found to be refugees through the issuing of a temporary protection, before the offer of permanent resettlement in Cambodia is made.

Updated 2 August 2015

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