The history of Australian refugee policy



The history of Australian refugee policy has been shaped by the political priorities of successive national governments, developments in international refugee law and the evolving nature of forced migration around the world. This project examines Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees over the past four decades, including mechanisms for refugee status determination and humanitarian resettlement. 

Project Team

Research Summaries

  • The development of Australian refugee policy 
    In 1976, refugees from Vietnam sailed into Darwin Harbour, beginning the first sustained arrival of asylum seekers by boat to Australia. Their journeys inadvertently challenged the Fraser government to reject now-familiar policies such as turnbacks and detention, and to establish a formal procedure for refugee status determination. Drawing on archival records, oral history interviews and analysis of contemporary policy, this project traces how Australia originally responded to asylum seekers, and how over time a principled position was eroded by political exigencies, leading to today’s dramatically different approach to asylum seekers.