This service is no longer live but has been archived for information purposes only. Click here for more info.

Refugees in Australia

What does it mean to be a Refugee in Australia today?

Submitted 11/10/2005 By Bridie Views 399433 Comments 10 Updated 5/3/2006

Photographer : Philippe Tarbouriech

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who is outside their country and fears punishment or harassment (persecution) on the basis of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and cannot be protected by their home government.

This is not the same as an asylum seeker, migrant or illegal immigrant. An asylum seeker is someone who makes a claim for legal and physical protection (asylum) and may be classified as a refugee if a body representing the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, or a supportive country, grants them refugee status. A migrant consciously decides to leave their country. They do not fear persecution and can freely return to their home state. An illegal immigrant is someone who moves without any legal grounds, such as an appropriate visa or claim for asylum.

What is Australia’s policy?

Offshore and onshore programs

Australia’s system is divided into two programs for refugees—offshore and onshore. The offshore program is where people apply for protection visas before they come to Australia. In many cases, these people have already been granted refugee status by the UNHCR and have been referred to Australia. The onshore program relates to people who apply for a protection visa once they arrive on Australian soil.

Protection visas

Refugees may be offered two types of protection visas—permanent or temporary.

Permanent Protection Visas (PPV) can be offered through both the offshore and the onshore program. However, it is much harder to obtain a PPV through the onshore program. This is because an applicant must have already entered Australia using a valid visa, like a tourist or student visa. In such cases, applicants who are not put into immigration detention are given bridging visas whilst their status is being processed. They are afforded this privilege because they are seen to have entered Australia lawfully. This gives them certain rights, such as access to the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which helps with basic needs such as food, accommodation and health care. Once receiving a PPV, refugees gain access to a range of refugee specific and general government services to help with resettlement. These include things like Medicare, income support and certain rights, such as leaving Australia with the freedom to return, and the option to sponsor other family members to come to Australia.

If a refugee enters Australia without a valid visa, they can apply for a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), which lasts for 3 years. TPVs can also be granted through the offshore program. In this case, a TPV can last up to 5 years. After 3 or 5 years, a refugee must apply for either a PPV or another TPV. A refugee may not be eligible for a PPV if, after leaving their home country and before coming to Australia, they spent at least seven days in a country where they could have obtained protection. Refugees on TPVs do not have the same access to services or the same rights as those on PPVs. They have limited access to government support, they cannot be assured re-entry if they leave Australia and they cannot sponsor family members to come to Australia.

Can Australia send people back if their request is denied?

According to UN policy, a person who has had their visa application denied can be returned to their home state. However, if there is war or conflict in their country, the UN strongly urges that they not be sent back. In Australia, this means that these people remain in detention centres until such time as they can return home. They are also given the opportunity to appeal the decision made about them. They remain in detention while this is going on.

Where do most refugees come from?

The Australian Government’s current policy on resettlement (2004/5) focusses on Africa, the Middle East and South-West Asia.

Why do refugees need my help?

Refugees need help with basics—understanding the tax system, opening a bank account, applying for a drivers licence, obtaining health cover, accessing emergency service information, learning and practising English, finding work, finding somewhere to live, enrolling their kids in school.

Refugees are likely to have been exposed to traumatic experiences. They may have fought in wars or had to defend their family. They may have witnessed, been involved in or threatened by violence. As a result, refugees may find it difficult adjusting to a new country, atmosphere, culture and way of life. You can help by helping them get access to support services and assisting them in navigating barriers that may prevent them from participating in their new community.

How do I know this?

Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs,

Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission,

Discuss Now

Post Comment 1 | 2 |

RSS Comments

Keiryn 29-Jun-2011

Whether you are for or agents whatever happens our voices need to be heard not just our votes.
We have a voice and it should be used. I think we need to change the way our government is dealing with these issues cause is a lack of communication between the government and us is poor.
We need to get out there and change what is happening.
We have stayed too long on this fence!
As a Generation Y I speak for a lot of us when I say it’s time for change is it needs to happen now.

We need to stand up and march the streets and yell our opinions and let them be heard.

For better or worth’s I’m not afraid of change.



sendthemhome 22-Apr-2011

If the refugees don't like how they are being treated they could always go home!

They all travel through many other countries to get here and we obviously are treating them pretty well since they all keep coming!!!

Burning there accommodation and going on hunger strikes will not solve anything!



Kev - Lives - Here 24-Jul-2008

Just in case:

Getup's stop mandatory detention petition:



joker 15-Aug-2007


"refugees receive housing, clothing, food, resettlement, education, health care and in many cases citizenship. - Really funnelweb?"

I currently help run an organisation in Sydney called ALIV (Australian League of Immigration Volunteers). We were the first and only organisation allowed into Villawood Detention Centre. Our work includes running fun nights, we were in there once playing bingo with about 50 adult men. We also run English programs to make the transition between Detention and the community that little bit easier.

Since children and their mothers were released back into the community, many on BVEs, our organisation has assisted them through child development programs, kids and family excursions and camps, to make life a bit better and reduce the traumatic effects of being locked away.

I agree with you AnnaBanana that the government policy is disgusting, but I also agree with funnelweb that our policy is probably not as bad as China's. The refugee families that currently live in the community whom I work with do receive housing, clothing, food, resettlement, education, health care and in SOME cases citizenship... but maybe this is only a minority, I'm not sure.

Over the past 5 years, we have helped over 500 families...but I guess because we are not in the public eye, a lot of our work goes unnoticed.



AnnaBanana 04-May-2007

Here, refugees receive housing, clothing, food, resettlement, education, health care and in many cases citizenship. - Really funnelweb?

Is that why they hang themselves on the wire fences of detention centres in the country they came to, to flee opression and violence?
Is that why there are hunger strikes and dying children and paranoid rumours of terrorist activity?
These people left their home country to seek ASYLUM, they come to our shores looking for hope, for opportunity, for a place where they can live safely with their families and then what do they arrive to? men with guns ready to escort them to their "new home" A detention centre.
Our policies ARE sickening. Australia needs to wake up bigtime.