Fact Sheet 60 – Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Programme

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Australia's Immigration Programme has two components:

  • Migration Programme for skilled and family migrants
  • Humanitarian Programme for refugees and others in refugee-like situations.

This fact sheet provides details of Australia's Humanitarian Programme. Details of the Migration Programme are available in Fact Sheets 20–40.

See: Fact Sheet Index

Background information

One of the major challenges facing the world today is protecting refugees who have been forced to leave their homes by armed conflict and human rights abuses.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there were 45.2 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2012, the highest number since 1994. Of these, 28.8 million were internally displaced persons, 15.4 million were refugees and 937 000 were asylum seekers.

See: www.unhcr.org

As a member of the international community, Australia shares responsibility for protecting these refugees and resolving refugee situations. This commitment is most strongly expressed through the Humanitarian Programme.

Humanitarian Programme

The Humanitarian Programme has two important functions:

  • the onshore protection/asylum component fulfils Australia's international obligations by offering protection to people already in Australia who are found to be refugees according to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees
  • the offshore resettlement component expresses Australia's commitment to refugee protection by going beyond these obligations and offering resettlement to people overseas for whom this is the most appropriate option.

Onshore protection

The onshore component of the Humanitarian Programme aims to provide options for people who wish to apply for protection (or asylum) after arrival in Australia.

More information on the onshore component of the program is available on the department's website.

Offshore resettlement

The offshore resettlement component comprises two categories of permanent visas. These are:

  • Refugee—for people who are subject to persecution in their home country, who are typically outside their home country, and are in need of resettlement. The majority of applicants who are considered under this category are identified and referred by UNHCR to Australia for resettlement. The Refugee category includes the Refugee, In-country Special Humanitarian, Emergency Rescue and Woman at Risk visa subclasses.
  • Special Humanitarian Programme (SHP)—for people outside their home country who are subject to substantial discrimination amounting to gross violation of human rights in their home country, and immediate family of persons who have been granted protection in Australia. Applications for entry under the SHP must be supported by a proposer who is an Australian citizen, permanent resident or eligible New Zealand citizen, or an organisation that is based in Australia.

See: Proposing an applicant

Note: People who arrived as an Illegal Maritime Arrival on or after 13 August 2012 are no longer eligible to propose their family under the Humanitarian Programme. People in these circumstances can apply under the family stream of the Migration Programme.

Composition of the offshore resettlement programme

The size and composition of Australia's resettlement program are influenced by a number of factors. These include:

  • UNHCR assessments of the resettlement needs of refugees overseas
  • the views of individuals and organisations in Australia conveyed during community consultations with the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection
  • Australia's capacity to assist.

Outcomes of 2012–13 program

In 2012–13, the Humanitarian Programme was increased to 20 000 places from 13 750 places in 2011–12. A total of 20 019 visas were granted under the Humanitarian Programme, of which 12 515 visas were granted under the offshore component and 7504 visas were granted under the onshore component. See the tables below for further details on the 2012–13 program outcomes.

Woman at Risk

In 2012–13, 1673 visas (13.9 per cent) of the Refugee category were granted to Woman at Risk visa applicants, exceeding the nominal annual target of 12 per cent.


In 2012–13, a total of 50 444 people lodged applications under the offshore program component compared with 42 928 in 2011–12.

Humanitarian Programme figures

Humanitarian Programme grants by category 2008–09 to 2012–13
Category 2008–09 2009–10 2010–11 2011–12 2012–13
Refugee 64992 6003 5998 6004 12 012
Special Humanitarian (offshore) 4511 3233 2973 714 503
Onshore1 2492 4534 4828 7041 7504
Temporary Humanitarian Concern 5 - - - -
Total3 13 507 13 770 13 799 13 759 20 019

1 Includes protection visas and onshore humanitarian visa grants that are countable under the Humanitarian Programme.
2 This figure included a one-off allocation of 500 refugee places for Iraqis.
3 Data in this table is reported as at the end of each program year.

2012–13 offshore visa grants by top ten countries of birth
Countries Number of visas granted
Iraq 4064
Afghanistan 2431
Myanmar/Burma 2352
Bhutan 1023
Congo (DRC) 489
Iran 471
Somalia 396
Sudan 319
Eritrea 185
Ethiopia 182
Other 603
Total 12 515



More information on the 2012–13 Humanitarian Programme is on the department's website.


See: Humanitarian Programme Statistics

More detailed statistics on the past Humanitarian Programmes are available in the department's annual reports.

See: Departmental Annual Reports

Fact Sheet 60. Produced by the National Communications Branch, Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Canberra.

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