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Boat ‘turnbacks’ in Australia: a quick guide to the statistics since 2001

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Govt. Australia
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Research Paper Series, 2016-17

Janet Phillips

Social Policy Section

This guide provides statistics on the number of boats that have been ‘turned back’ since the practice of removing unauthorised maritime arrivals in Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels (SIEVs) from Australian waters was introduced by the Howard Government (from 2001–2003) and reintroduced by the Abbott Government (in December 2013). It updates boat ‘turnback’ data provided in another Parliamentary Library publication, Boat arrivals and boat ‘turnbacks’ in Australia since 1976: a quick guide to the statistics (January 2017).

In the months prior to the reintroduction of the Abbott Government’s boat ‘turnback’ policy, unauthorised maritime arrivals (that arrived on board boats between 19 July 2013 and December 2013) were transferred to regional processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG). As at 27 February 2017, 3127 people had been transferred since 19 July 2013 (source: Senate Estimates answers to questions on notice, 27 February 2017, specifically AE17/170, AE17/171 and AE17/172). For more background on this cohort see the Parliamentary Library publication, Australia’s offshore processing of asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG: a quick guide to statistics and resources (2016); and The ‘Pacific Solution’ revisited: a statistical guide to the asylum seeker caseloads on Nauru and Manus Island (2012) for details on the asylum cohorts processed offshore during the Howard Government.

It is important to note that, while every effort has been made to ensure consistency, the statistics provided in this guide have been compiled by Parliamentary Library staff over a period of many years from a variety of sources.

For example, we are confident that the boat ‘turnback’ details included in this guide between December 2013 and July 2014 are accurate as the information was compiled from an official document tabled after Senate Estimates hearings in October 2014.

However, later details and exact dates of individual ‘turnbacks’ are incomplete. The Australian Government has released the total number of ‘turnbacks’ on a few occasions, but dates of the individual incidents are not usually included. Other information is supplied in monthly Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) operational updates and media releases, but exact dates are also not usually provided in these briefs. The dates included in this guide have largely been provided in Senate Estimates hearings.

Statistics in this guide include:

  • Table 1: Boat ‘turnbacks’ 2001–2003
  • Table 2: Boat ‘turnbacks’ since 2013