Stopping the Boats Has Not Stopped the Deaths. Where’s the evidence?

In a number of posts on this site I have made the claim that stopping the boats has not stopped the deaths at sea. But is there a sound basis for claiming this? I believe there is.

1. Stopping the boats has not reduced the demand for protection

At present there are 20 million refugees in the world and 2 million asylum seekers. Having fled their homelands they commonly live in great uncertainty and difficulty in societies that are usually lower or middle income (more than 8 in 10 refugees are hosted by developing nations) and either lack the capacity to provide them with the care they need or are unwilling to do so.

They need one of three possible futures to open up for them:
• The opportunity to return home if and when it becomes safe to do so;
• the opportunity to settle in the country to which they have fled build a new life there;
• the opportunity to settle in a third country such as Australia

In any given year data from the UN (see UNHCR’s annual global reports) shows that around 4% of refugees will be able to avail themselves of one of these opportunities. That leaves 96% of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers languishing in deplorable circumstances with no future before them. In the absence of solutions via “regular” migration routes desperation drives some refugees to seek a future via “irregular” migration.

In shutting off access to Australia via “irregular” migration Australia has done nothing to dampen the demand for safety. We have simply reduced the supply of available positions. It is highly likely that those who would have made their way to Australia will now seek out another destination. The rising number of asylum seekers across the world strongly suggests that this is the case.

2. Other irregular migration routes are dangerous

But are the routes to other nations as dangerous as the route to Australia? The answer to that will clearly depend upon the alternate destination that is sought. It is likely that many of those who might have come to Australia from places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, are now amongst the vast numbers seeking to cross the Mediterranean and find refuge in Europe. Data is notoriously difficult to come by, but what data I have been able to access suggests that the journey across the Mediterranean poses a risk level fairly similar to that of the journey from Indonesia to Australia.

Between 2011 and 2014 358,800 people are estimated to have made the journey across the Mediterranean by boat. Over the course of this period it is estimated that 6000,or 1.7%, lost their lives making that journey. (Data supplied by the UNHCR as reported by Over the same period 42,516 people made the journey by boat to Australia and there were an estimated 869 deaths, which represents 2.0% of those who make the journey (data on arrival numbers supplied by the Australian Parliament House library service and on deaths by the Australian Border Deaths database).

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