The Times Australia

Small Business Marketing
The Times


With billions more allocated to immigration detention, it's another bleak year for refugees

  • Written by Claire Higgins, Senior Research Fellow, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, UNSW

Refugees and asylum seekers will take little comfort from the 2021–22 budget. Resettlement places remain capped, while spending on offshore processing, immigration detention and deterrence measures remains high.

For those still held offshore in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, in detention here in Australia, or on temporary[1] visas in our community, the budget compounds the human cost of Australia’s hardline asylum policy.

Cap remains the same on refugee placements

Before COVID-19, Australia’s humanitarian program provided for the resettlement of up to 18,750 refugees and others in need each year. The program fell short[2] of this number early last year when international travel was restricted due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

It was then cut by 5,000 places for 2020, and these places have not been restored[3] under the latest budget.

This is despite calls[4] from advocacy groups for Australia to do more in response to global displacement — particularly with the pressures[5] COVID has placed on countries hosting large numbers of forced migrants — and to restore the humanitarian program to its pre-pandemic level.

Read more: With our borders shut, this is the ideal time to overhaul our asylum seeker policies[6]

Little help for those in Nauru or PNG

Offshore processing is once again a big budget item for Home Affairs, set at close to A$812 million[7] for 2021-22.

With 109 people currently being held on Nauru and 130 in Papua New Guinea[8], this equates to almost $3.4 million[9] per person for 2021.

For the next three years (2022–24), spending on offshore processing is projected at just over $300 million annually, although experience shows annual costs have exceeded those provided in the forward estimates since at least 2015[10].

This excessive spending raises serious questions about the government’s planning for these refugees stuck in limbo.

Keeping people in Nauru and PNG cannot be the only option, and the UN refugee agency has long made clear[11] Australia must “live up to its responsibilities” to find long-term and humane solutions for those held offshore.

The budget includes continued support for Nauru and PNG to provide “durable migration options” in the way of resettlement, voluntarily return to individuals’ home countries or removal for those found not to be refugees.

But in addition to Australia’s obligations[12] on this front, experts have raised real concerns[13] that some asylum seekers have been pressured to agree to return home, despite the risks this may pose to their safety.

Among those still held offshore, only a small[14] number have received provisional approval as of March for resettlement in the United States. The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, is working[15] to find resettlement places in Canada and Europe, without help from Australia.

With billions more allocated to immigration detention, it's another bleak year for refugees Some refugees have been waiting upwards of eight years for their claims to be asylum cases to be decided. BIANCA DE MARCHI/AAP

Vast sums for detention

The budget also sees big spending on immigration detention, with more than $1.2 billion[16] allocated to Home Affairs for onshore detention and compliance in 2021-22. This includes packages to assist individuals to voluntarily return to their countries of origin.

An extra $464.7 million[17] has also been allocated to increase capacity in detention centres on the Australian mainland and on Christmas Island, due to the challenges[18] of deporting people during COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Christmas Island facility was “reactivated” under last year’s budget to the tune of $55.6m[19], and currently holds more than 200[20] people.

The Murugappan[21] family from Biloela, Queensland, lives in a separate[22] section of the facility. They have been detained there since August 2019 — and for a long time they were the only occupants — at a substantial cost[23].

Farther afield, Home Affairs will spend $104 million to continue working with regional governments and international organisations (such as the International Organisation for Migration) as part of ongoing efforts to prevent human trafficking and people smuggling.

And an additional $38.1 million[24] is going to Indonesia to continue funding basic services for asylum seekers and information campaigns designed to deter people from seeking asylum in Australia.

Read more: For Muslim refugees in immigration detention, another sombre, isolated Eid holiday[25]

Mixed support for asylum seekers in the community

There are thousands of asylum seekers in Australia still waiting[26] for their claims for protection to be assessed.

The Department of Home Affairs has recently launched a “blitz[27]” in calling people in for their first interviews, which refugee lawyers[28] say has left some applicants with just two weeks to prepare.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the budget continues a downward trend[29] in the amount of funding for support services for asylum seekers at just $33 million[30] for 2021–22, down from $39 million two years ago.

Advocates say[31] this funding will only cover “a tiny percentage” of the needs of asylum seekers in the community while their protection claims are being assessed.

Elsewhere, however, the budget did hit some positive notes for refugees in the measures aimed at improving women’s safety.

Alongside economic and social support initiatives for refugee and migrant women, there is a pilot program[32] to enable women on temporary visas who are experiencing family violence to explore visa options not reliant on their partner.

Read more: Scores of medevac refugees have been released from detention. Their freedom, though, remains tenuous[33]

A missed opportunity

With Australia’s borders predicted to remain closed until mid-2022, the needs of refugees and asylum seekers may not be grabbing headlines in this budget cycle.

But as the Refugee Council of Australia has recently documented[34], there are many ways[35] the government can help displaced people during the pandemic.

This includes bringing people from Nauru and PNG to Australia and ensuring procedural fairness in the assessment of their protection claims.

With studies[36] repeatedly showing the settlement of displaced people can help to address demographic and labour shortages and substantially boost Australia’s economy, this budget’s emphasis on detention, deterrence and removal is disappointing.

It’s a missed opportunity for refugees and for the nation’s post-pandemic future.


  1. ^ temporary (
  2. ^ fell short (
  3. ^ have not been restored (
  4. ^ calls (
  5. ^ pressures (
  6. ^ With our borders shut, this is the ideal time to overhaul our asylum seeker policies (
  7. ^ A$812 million (
  8. ^ 109 people currently being held on Nauru and 130 in Papua New Guinea (
  9. ^ $3.4 million (
  10. ^ 2015 (
  11. ^ clear (
  12. ^ obligations (
  13. ^ concerns (
  14. ^ small (
  15. ^ working (
  16. ^ $1.2 billion (
  17. ^ $464.7 million (
  18. ^ challenges (
  19. ^ $55.6m (
  20. ^ 200 (
  21. ^ Murugappan (
  22. ^ separate (
  23. ^ substantial cost (
  24. ^ $38.1 million (
  25. ^ For Muslim refugees in immigration detention, another sombre, isolated Eid holiday (
  26. ^ waiting (
  27. ^ blitz (
  28. ^ refugee lawyers (
  29. ^ trend (
  30. ^ $33 million (
  31. ^ say (
  32. ^ pilot program (
  33. ^ Scores of medevac refugees have been released from detention. Their freedom, though, remains tenuous (
  34. ^ documented (
  35. ^ many ways (
  36. ^ studies (

Read more


The Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best Wollongong Dentist for Your Dental Needs

Finding the right dentist can be a difficult and stressful experience. You want to find someone who is experienced, knowledgeable, and trustworthy someone who will provide the best possible care...

The Benefits of Rooftop Gardens

Rooftop gardens have a long history, dating back to the ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats constructed between 4000 and 600 BC, like most things from thousands of years ago. The roof gardens created...

Australians are NOT getting enough sleep

With lighter Spring days and Daylight Savings quickly approaching, Aussies are about to face an additional disruption to their sleep routines. Losing an hour of sleep and adjusting to later...

Tomorrow Business Growth