Please, please stop saying that stopping the boats had stopped the deaths

The Prime Minister is fond of suggesting that turning boats around, and perhaps even paying people smugglers to turn them around, is “the compassionate thing to do”, for it prevents asylum seekers drowning at sea.  I’m sorry Prime Minister, but no matter how many times you repeat it, it simply is not true.

I’ve blogged on this previously, but here’s a little more data.

It is estimated that between 2000 and 2014 approximately 1437 asylum seekers lost their lives in transit to Australia.[i] This is clearly something that on compassionate and humanitarian grounds Australia should seek to minimise. Yet the current policy settings simply cut off the supply of asylum in Australia without doing anything to address the reason people get on boats in the first place.

Asylum seeker flows are driven by the lack of durable solutions available to those fleeing persecution.  Unable to return home, often not welcome in the country to which they have fled,  and with only .5% of the world’s refugees offered resettlement each year, refugees have nowhere to go. The failure of the international community to provide protection leaves refugees languishing in dangerous and extraordinarily difficult circumstances  For years on end. Two thirds of the world refugee population have been without a solution and living in danger for an average of 20 years. Dangerous journeys in search of asylum are for many the only option. By closing its borders to asylum seekers without addressing the factors driving their journeys Australia simply pushes them to journey somewhere else.

This is borne out in the chart below, which shows that the number of asylum applications being lodged in Australia has declined, yet the number of asylum seekers in the world is increasing. This suggests that asylum seekers continue to make their way to industrialised nations, but with Australia a less attractive option, other destinations, particularly Europe, are being sought out.


Like the journey from Indonesia to Australia, these other journeys are risky  and many die.

Regional Estimates of Migrant Border-Related Deaths
RegionNumber of DeathsYears
USA-Mexico Border60291998-2013
European External Borders224002000-2014
Australian Waters14952000-2014
Horn of Africa31042006-2014
Bay of Bengal1500-20002012-2014
Source: IOM (2014) Fatal Journeys

Australia’s policies have succeeded in stopping the flow of boats to Australia, but they do not address the underlying cause of dangerous asylum journeys. Consequently Australia has not stopped drownings at sea, but simply exported them elsewhere.

[i] Brian,T and Laczko, F., Editors (2014), Fatal Journeys. Tracking Lives Lost Through Migration, IOM

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Doug Hynd
Doug Hynd
8 years ago

what cnnot be quantified but is also relevant would be the people who have died because as a result of Australian policy they have not left their homeland to seek asylum,

Joanne Elliott
Joanne Elliott
8 years ago

Thank you very much for your brilliant post with which I agree absolutely.

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