The Australian response to people seeking asylum is guided by how asylum seekers arrive and claim refugee status.

Most people seeking asylum are processed through Australia's Humanitarian Program, a stream of Australia's migration system. This program has two components:

  • the onshore program settles people who make a successful claim for asylum after they arrive in Australia; and
  • the offshore program settles people found to be refugees or subject to substantial discrimination in another country before they come to Australia.

More information on the Humanitarian Program can be found here.

There is a different process for people who arrive in Australia without a valid visa. In this circumstance the framework is Operation Sovereign Borders - the government's policy for responding to asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat.

The Australian Government refers to people who arrive in Australia by sea without a valid visa as 'Illegal Maritime Arrivals'. Illegal Maritime Arrivals are usually people who have arrived in Australian waters by boat from transit countries, such as Indonesia or Malaysia (note: for many refugees and asylum seekers, transit can be protracted for extensive periods of time up to 20 years).

Operation Sovereign Borders focuses on

  • deterring, disrupting and prosecuting smugglers
  • improving border control measures
  • informing potential illegal immigrants of both Australian policies and the dangers they expose themselves to by doing business with people smugglers. 

This military-led policy incorporates a range of measures that include

  • turning asylum seeker boats back to source and transit countries where it is safe to do so
  • increasing capacity at offshore processing centres
  • reintroducing Temporary Protection Visas.

Click here to read more about what this means for asylum seekers. 

Updated 3 July 2018

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