Quick Facts

Number of Immigration Detention Sites: 9 (2008)

Detention Capacity: 2,380 (2008)

Annual Number of Deportations:
6,768 (2007)

Undocumented Population:
46,500 (as of June 2007)

Number of asylum seekers:
1,516 (end of 2007)



Last updated: December 2008

Australia Detention Profile

Beginning in 2001, Australia was subjected to intense international scrutiny because of a controversial policy termed the “Pacific Solution” that was put in place by the John Howard government with the aim of diverting thousands of asylum seekers to offshore detention facilities in Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea to have their claims processed. In February 2008, shortly after the Labor Party government of Kevin Rudd took office, this policy officially ended when 21 Sri Lankans, the last remaining asylum seekers in Nauru, were resettled in Australia (UNHCR 2008).


Despite this change in policy, Australia has continued to maintain a substantial migration detention infrastructure and some controversial asylum practices. In particular, despite the end of the “Pacific Solution,” Australia continued to transport “unauthorized asylum seekers” (people without appropriate visas who typically arrive by boat) to a detention complex on Christmas Island, which the Howard government had removed from Australia’s official migration zone to keep asylum seekers from accessing official refugee processes available on the mainland (UNHCR 2008).


In July 2008, the government proposed circumscribing its policy of mandatory detention for asylum seekers. The proposal, if passed by the Senate, would allow irregular non-citizens that don’t pose a security threat to be released into the community while their visa status is evaluated or they await deportation. The Christmas Island offshore detention centre would continue to be used for initial processing, health, and security checks of people intercepted offshore, but detainees would be granted access to legal assistance (Senator Evans 2008, The Australian 2008).


As of November 2008, there were 279 migration detainees confined in nine official detention sites, which have a total capacity of 2,380 (DIAC 2008b). Some detained non-citizens are ordered into “Community Detention” or “Alternative Temporary Detention in Community,” typically semi-secure or non-secure detention situations that involve differing degrees of surveillance (DIAC 2008c).


The total number of people detained during 2006-2007 (from July 2006 to June 2007) was 5,485, a significant drop from the 7,375 detained in 2005-2006 and the 8,587 detained in 2004-2005 (DIAC Annual Report 2006-2007). Decreasing numbers of detainees and detention sites, as well as improvements in the treatment of detainees, appear to have been spurred in part by the negative media coverage and intense scrutiny from international and non-governmental organizations.



List of Detention Sites

Map of Detention Sites

Legal Framework
History and Politics
Detention Infrastructure
Detention Facts and Figures

Children, Women and other Vulnerable Groups
Controversies and Criticism

Reference List
Discussion of Sources