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 Home Affairs Department 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 Home Affairs Department manages the following types of immigration detention:

  • immigration detention centres
  • alternative place of detention, including
    • immigration residential housing
    • immigration transit accommodation

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 March 2018, there were 1389  people in immigration detention – 1059 on the Australian mainland and 330 on Christmas Island, an Australian territory. Of these, 389 had arrived by air or boat without a valid visa, making up approximately 28 per cent of all people in immigration detention.

For latest statistics, visit our statistics page.

Community detention

The Community Detention (Community Residence Determination) 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 and are subject to certain restrictions. However for those who are eligible, it provides an alternative to closed immigration detention facilities.

In March 2018, 452 people were in community detention. Of this, 60% have been detained in the community by the Australian government for more than two years.

A number of service providers are funded by the Home Affairs Department, 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 access to housing, 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, signing agreements with the Republic of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. 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 Department of Home Affairs funds immigration detention facilities in these countries. In 2015-16, the estimated management costs of these offshore arrangements amounts to $810 million. In November 2017, the Manus Island facility was shut down as a result of the PNG Supreme Court deciding that the detention of asylum seekers was against the constitutional right to personal liberty. In February 2018, the Department of Home Affairs reported that there were still 269 people in the Nauru offshore detention facility. . It must be noted that this figure does not reflect the 756 men in PNG living either in the community or in transition centres, of whom 589 have been granted refugee status and 167 who have been rejected but cannot leave. Similarly with Nauru, there are 999 people, of whom 877 are determined to be refugees and 122 are still awaiting a decision.

A number settlement options have been attempted for those recognised as refugees, including settlement in Papua New Guinea as part of the 2013 agreement, resettlement to Cambodia and the US Resettlement deal.

Updated 2 June 2018

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