Australia has a long history of receiving asylum applications and resettling refugees.

From Federation to World War II, persecuted people were resettled in Australia, however the international refugee regime was not born until the establishment of the 1933 League of Nations Refugee Convention.

Between World War II and 1960, Australia established its first Department of Immigration, continued to accept refugees for resettlement and ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention.

 1960 to 1980 saw the dismantling of the White Australia Policy and, as a result, diversification of migration streams in response to international politics. This included resettling refugees from the Vietnam War.

From 1980 to 1990 there was a significant jump in asylum applications in Australia and major migration reform. Deportation of ‘illegal entrants’ not owed protection became mandatory. In 1992, detention of all asylum seekers arriving onshore also became mandatory.

Between 1990 and 2001 Australia responded to conflict in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. More people began arriving to Australian shores by boat and legislation was introduced in response to people-smuggling. Mandatory detention and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs) were introduced.

From 2001 to 2008 the Pacific Solution was implemented, where asylum seekers were detained and processed on Manus Island (Papua New Guinea) and Nauru. 

Between 2008 and 2012 processing of asylum seekers was again carried out in Australia and the Pacific Solution was dismantled. This coincided with a sharp increase in asylum seekers arriving by boat.

2012 to today has seen the reintroduction of regional processing and resettlement agreements and the introduction of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’.

Click on the links above to read more about the evolution of Australia’s refugee policy.