This morning The Oz reported that “the number of Sudanese refugees coming to Australia is about to be slashed in favour of people from hill tribes on the Burmese border as part of a push to make Australia’s humanitarian program less African and more Asian.”  So who makes the call on the delicate combination of nationalities that make up our refugee intake? Surely it’s not really like selecting a bag of mixed lollies, a little less Africa, a bit more Asia, a hint of Iraq?  The report continued:

The change comes after concerns were raised about the success of the African program, under which 23,000 Sudanese have been resettled across the nation.

…a spokesman for the minister confirmed the Government wanted more of the refugees in the intake to be “from Australia’s own back yard”.

Overington quoted Ariane Rummery, the external relations officer for the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, who confirmed the Government had this year “indicated an interest in increasing the size of the Asian component of its resettlement program”.

Overington continued, “Ms Rummery said this year’s refugee intake would be ‘very slightly less’ than half Sudanese.”

But Rummery told Crikey this morning that this was incorrect, and the intake would be “very slightly less than half Africans, not just Sudanese.”

“And we don’t put up cases of refugees based on integration criteria, contrary to what was suggested in The Australian today,” Rummery told Crikey. “Ultimately the composition decision is up to government,” says Rummery.

According to publicly available publications from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, the consultation process works like this:

  • The programme follows the financial year 1 July to 30 June.
  • The monitoring of actual and potential resettlement caseloads for the next programme occurs throughout a programme year.
  • The Government undertakes a formal and extensive consultation process in the second half of the programme year to determine the size and regional focus of the next programme year.
  • The department consults and takes recommendations from a variety of sources, including Inter-governmental consultations, seeking UNHCR’s advice on global resettlement needs, priorities and recommendations, an advertisement in the newspapers inviting the Australian public to submit their views, an invitation from the Minister to State and Territory leaders and their opposition counterparts to provide submissions, a submission from the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) which incorporates the views of its 140 member bodies, consultations with peak refugee and humanitarian bodies, consideration by the government on the size and broad composition in the lead up to the Budget and agreement of programme priorities by the Immigration Minister, taking into account advice from the consultations.
  • The government make the final decision.

The consultation process to determine the refugee intake for the coming year is still taking place, but the Department of Immigration and Citizenship website offers a snapshot of the refugee mix over the last decade:

And here’s a comparison of the mix from 1985/86 compared with 1995/96 – Top 10 countries of birth for Offshore Humanitarian Programme entrants:


For 1 July – 30 June 1985/86 For 1 July – 30 June 1995/96
1 Vietnam 4,470 Fmr Yugoslavia 6,866
2 Kampuchea 1,012 Bosnia-Herzegovina 2424
3 Lebanon 770 Iraq 1,227
4 El Salvador 722 Vietnam 1186
5 Iran 671 Kampuchea 1151
6 Laos 580 USSR 1016
7 Poland 564 Burma 752
8 Chile 434 Sudan 607
9 Afghanistan 341 Croatia 502
10 Czechoslovakia 313 Sri Lanka 502


Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey