The increase in people seeking asylum internationally, coupled with stricter limitations on regular migration channels, has led to the emergence of extensive irregular migration. As the issue of asylum seekers has become more politicised, many countries have introduced restrictive border controls.

Policies have ranged from building physical barriers (for example, barbed wire fences were erected along the southern Hungarian border), to moving territorial borders (for example, in-country transit zones were created in Europe and borders were excised from the migration zones in Australia). 

There has also been re-interpretation of international legal requirements around returning people to their country of origin and to third countries (for example, ‘safe third country’ and ‘safe country of origin’ designations were used to return people to transit countries or countries of origin, such as under the EU-Turkey deal).

Following the substantial rise in irregular sea crossings, and resulting deaths at sea, policy responses have been particularly restrictive. The United States, Australia, countries in Europe and countries in the Asia–Pacific region have all used interdiction, boat turn-backs or boat take-backs at various times. 

The United States and Australia have paired this with offshore detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay and on Nauru and Manus Island respectively. 

There has also been a shift from unilateral policies, preventing entry to a country (‘non-entrée’), to bilateral and multilateral arrangements (‘cooperative non-entrée’) designed to limit the movement of those seeking asylum. Many of the restrictive policies involve a level of burden-shifting, forcing displaced persons to either stay in their country of origin or in a transit country. These countries are often in developing regions of the world and least able to provide durable solutions.



If you think that something on this page is incorrect, please let us know.

Last updated November 2016.