1980 TO 1990



From 1981 to 1988, no asylum seekers arrived in Australia by boat. Throughout the 1980s Indochinese refugees continued to make up a significant proportion of those settled through the Offshore Program.  Other groups were also resettled from Eastern Europe.

The collapse of the Soviet Union reduced the relevance of Eastern Europe to the Offshore Program. The Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989 generated a sharp increase in asylum applications in Australia from China. The rise in applications jumped from 1260 in 1989, to 12,130 in 1990 before peaking at 16,740 in 1991.

The first boat of asylum seekers in eight years arrived in 1989. An average of around 300 people arrived by boat each year between 1989 and 1998, mainly from Cambodia, Vietnam and Southern China.

In the same year, the Migration Legislation Amendment Act 1989 was enacted, effecting significant reforms to Australia's migration system. The way people arriving by boat were processed changed and, while detention was discretionary, there was an introduction of ‘administrative detention’ for people without a valid visa while their immigration status was being resolved.

Through implementation of this new policy, the number of immigration detainees gradually increased from five in 1985 to 478 in 1992, including 421 who arrived by boat.