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About the project

In 2016 and 2017 the Lowy Institute conducted a significant research project to produce independent research and analysis on the challenges and opportunities raised by the movement of people and goods across Australia’s borders. An important goal of the research was to put Australia’s experiences in a broader regional and global context.

The Migration and Border Policy Project included workshops and roundtables which bring together external experts and government officials in an effort to build genuinely strategic approaches to complex migration and border issues. It also included annual Border Policy Research Fellowships in which an officer of the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection undert­ook research on migration and border policy issues at the Lowy Institute.

The Project was supported by the Australian Government’s then Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Latest publications

Migration and Border Policy links: The ‘El Chapo’ bill, displacement figures, Turkey’s diaspora and more

  • ANU's Robin Davies and Stephen Howes discuss the impact of Trump's migration policy in Asia.
  • Writing for the Brookings Institution, Elaine Kamarck argues that Trump's border wall won't happen.
  • US Senator Ted Cruz has introduced the 'El Chapo' bill, which seeks to use funds forfeited following the prosecution of drug cartel members to finance border security, 'including the completion of a border wall'. Read about it here.
  • With unauthorised border crossings growing in 2017, Migration Policy Institute's Sela Cowger considers the fate of the Canada-US Safe Third Country Agreement.
  • In recognition of the nexus between agriculture, development and displacement, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) will partner with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to co-chair the 2018 Global Migration Group.
  • Click here to read IOM's latest figures on displacement in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Europe, Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan.
  • The UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group on Refugees has published a report on barriers faced in the UK under current refugee resettlement and protection policy. Writing for Border Criminologies, Amanda Shah discusses youth experiences in northwest England.
  • Read the European Court of Auditors' report on the effectiveness of a 'hotspot' policy approach to irregular migration in Italy and Greece.
  • Writing for Oxford University's International Migration Institute, Bahar Baser examines Turkey's history of labour migration in the context of evolving diaspora engagement policy.

Migration and Border Policy links: Work visas, Manus shooting, the fate of Sumte and more

  • Australia, New Zealand and the US have announced restrictions to skilled work visas.
  • During a week-long visit to the Middle East, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte discussed trade and migration with Gulf leaders and announced plans to establish a foreign employment department to oversee the growing Filipino migrant worker population.
  • The International Organization for Migration held an international dialogue on cooperation, governance and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. IOM Director-General William Lacy Swing spoke with UN Radio to reflect on what’s driving the Compact.
  • Amnesty International called for the closure of Manus Island following the Good Friday shooting.
  • The Kaldor Centre has updated its Transfer Tracker to show the latest figures on the ‘voluntary’ repatriation of asylum seekers from Manus Island and Nauru.
  • Writing for the New York Times, Jessica Benko discusses the nexus between climate change and human displacement in the Amazon Basin, the Lake Chad region, Syria, China and the Philippines.
  • UNFCC has assembled a Task Force on Displacement to respond to population movement caused by climate change. Dr Sarah Nash sets out what is known so far.
  • The Harvard FXB Center for Health and Human Rights released a report on sexual exploitation and abuse of migrant and refugee children in Greece.
  • Two years on, Ben Mauk reflects on the fate of the small German town of Sumte, which captured attention in 2015 for its refugee to villager ratio of seven-to-one.

Migration and Border Policy links: Skill shortages, Mosul, the UK labour market and more

  • The Kaldor Centre's Jane McAdam unpacks the international legal frameworks to assist people displaced by disasters and climate change.
  • Writing for the Brookings Institution, the World Bank's Kent Garber considers how refugee doctors, nurses and health workers could fulfil skill shortages and alleviate strains on global health systems.
  • The Migration Policy Institute has published a report on Canadian refugee resettlement, integration and outcomes.
  • With reports of food and water shortages, UNHCR has opened a new refugee camp in Hammam al-Alil to house Iraqis fleeing conflict in western Mosul.
  • With Brexit looming, a report from the UK Office for National Statistics has revealed that foreign nationals make up 11% of the entire UK labour market, with EU nationals making up 7% and non-EU nationals 4%. Read BBC's summary of the key findings.
  • Fergus Hunter and Eryk Bagshaw discuss immigration, 'the most important, and most sensitive, factor in Australian politics'.
  • Two Australians, Professor Ben Saul and Dr Anne Gallagher, have nominated themselves for the position of UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
  • A new proposal seeks to provide on-demand access to migrant offenders' citizenship information in an intelligence-sharing initiative between immigration officials and police, reports the Herald Sun.
  • Listen to NPR's John Burnett report on a border secuity expo in San Antonio:


Asia Pacific’s role in the Global Compacts on migration and refugees

The Lowy Institute recently held an expert workshop on the Global Compact on Refugees as part of its research collaboration with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This is the third in a series of posts from workshop participants.

The UN General Assembly's adoption of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants last September sparked negotiations on two Global Compacts: one on safe, orderly and regular migration and the other on refugees. Both are scheduled to come back to the General Assembly for adoption in September 2018.

Both Compacts seek to build on and unearth good practice, innovation and concrete ideas. In the Compact on Refugees the focus is on operationalising a comprehensive refugee response framework (CRRF) to mass outflows, based on pilots in some existing situations. It has its basis in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which was reaffirmed at the New York meeting. 

The Compact on Migration covers more expansive ground. The key themes for exploration are: human rights, social inclusion and non-discrimination; man-made and natural crisis situations (including the adverse effects of climate change); decent work, labour migration and expanding regular pathways for migration; contributions of migrants to sustainable development; international cooperation and governance of migration; trafficking in persons, smuggling of migrants and contemporary forms of slavery.

Once agreed, the Global Compacts will need to be translated into action on the ground if they are to influence the lives of migrants.

There are approximately 3.5 million refugees in the Asia Pacific. Although there are currently no large-scale influxes, the region has two of the largest refugee producing countries in the world, namely Myanmar and Afghanistan. Also, two out of three of the largest populations of stateless people in the world are in the Asia Pacific. Climate-related displacement is predicted to rise in our region. Asia is home to the five countries with the largest populations in low-lying coastal areas, and has more than 90% of the world’s exposure to tropical cyclones. Displacement in the Pacific from rising sea levels is of great concern.

These circumstances will increase pressure on the migration system and forced migration routes. People facing protracted human security threats will seek to move on as their hopes for a solution wane and frustrations rise.

The Asia Pacific sees large flows of irregular migrants, both within and beyond the region, moving mostly for work opportunities. Extensive labour mobility, in many cases undocumented, is connected to migrant smuggling, trafficking in persons and other transnational crimes. The Asia Pacific is a major source and destination region for human trafficking.

All this means there is a clear need for the region to be involved in the development of the two Global Compacts. As there is currently no major crisis we have an opportunity to take preparatory action – to work to create solutions for the cohort of asylum seekers and refugees in the region, to mitigate the root causes of displacement, to open up alternative pathways for those displaced and to prepare our policies, architecture and operational capability for what is to come.

As negotiation of the Compacts gathers steam, our region has a valuable perspective to offer and it is in our collective interests to contribute to the discussions. The movements of concern to the region - undocumented labour migrants, people affected by sudden and slow onset climate and weather events, internally displaced people, stateless people, mass displacement at sea – are all on the agenda. We have some positive developments to contribute.

Over the last year, the Bali Process has enhanced its governance capability on forced migration and mass movements in various ways. At the Bali Process Ministerial Conference in March 2016, ministers and senior officials commissioned a review of the region’s response to the Andaman Sea situation of May 2015 and created a consultation mechanism to facilitate timely and proactive responses to mass displacement. In November last year, in response to the findings of this review, the Bali Process Ad Hoc Group Senior Officials’ Meeting agreed on a number of actions. They encouraged countries to develop necessary operational systems, in order to better manage mass displacement events, and established the operational-level Taskforce on Planning and Preparedness to coordinate and harmonise the development of these operational systems.

Senior-official co-chairs also undertook to meet with ASEAN institutions to identify existing capacity, complementarities and shared interests, with a view to coordinated responses in the future. Closer links between the Bali Process and ASEAN are critically important, given the significance of these institutions and the countries within them to more effective responses to forced migration.

Overall, the Bali Process is providing a foundation for coordinated regional action, and can set the example for a regional compact.

The ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP) came into force last month. ACTIP is a strong instrument with the potential to drive real improvement in the region’s responses. Countries of the region have made gains in the development of policy and legal frameworks addressing trafficking, and are collaborating in their enforcement through initiatives such as the Joint Periods of Action under the Bali Process Working Group on the Disruption of People Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons’ Networks.

At the national level, countries such as Thailand and Indonesia are undertaking measures to provide more predictable access to screening for asylum seekers, while Malaysia is experimenting with providing work permits to a limited group of Rohingya refugees.

These developments are all worthy of promotion during the Global Compact negotiations.

The Asia Dialogue on Forced Migration, established in August 2015 as a track II dialogue to advance durable, effective and dignified approaches to forced migration in the region, is proving a useful forum for sharing good practice, shaping policy ideas and generating regional perspectives. It is a forum for advancing and honing those good examples from the region. It is also a good practice in itself. In a global conversation where distrust and unilateralism are gaining dominance, the value of space for reflection and collaborative problem solving cannot be overstated.

This region’s story should be told and heard during the Global Compact negotiations. Solutions for the region may well lie in the places where the two Compacts connect. It is in our interests for these two Compacts to be as complementary as possible in process and substance and for our region’s experience to help shape both.

Editor's note: We mistakenly published an earlier version of this article. This is the corrected text.

Migration and Border Policy links: Who benefits from Nauru, refugee safe houses, climate displacement and more

  • The US Department of Homeland Security has begun fingerprinting and photographing refugees on Manus Island as part of the US-Australia refugee deal.
  • Oxford University's International Migration Institute has released a working paper examining trends in international travel visa schemes.
  • UNHCR has mapped patterns of border control in Europe.
  • David FitzGerald from the Universiy of California, San Diego answers five questions about the myths and realities of border politics under President Trump prior to his address at the Kaldor Centre at UNSW later this month.
  • Listen to journalist Jake Halpern discuss Vive, a refugee safe house in Buffalo, New York.
  • Mercer unpacked the impact of Brexit on migration and UK industries.
  • Read Rimple Mehta's analysis of irregular movement and marriage across the Bangladesh-India border.
  • In his address to the UNSC Counter-Terrorism Committee, Assistant High Commissioner for Protection Volker Türk emphasised that refugee protection and state security are compatible policy goals.
  • The International Organization for Migration's Sazan Gawdan and Olivia Headon tell the story of female refugee entrepreneurs operating out of Domiz Camp in Iraq.
  • Watch this UNSW animation detailing the emerging 'global challenge' of climate displacement. Writing for the Guardian, Ben Doherty considers Australia's role.

Migration and border policy links: Mixing it up in Yiwu, Zampa law, sanctuary cities and more

By Rachael Buckland, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Migration and Border Policy project.

  • Listen to Oxford University’s Forced Migration Review podcasts on refugee resettlement practices around the world.
  • Writing for The Guardian, Helen Roxburgh examines urban migrant experiences in Yiwu, China.
  • The Lowy Institute’s Dr Jiyoung Song and Neil Cuthbert have released a working paper on the removal of failed asylum seekers in Australia.
  • UNICEF has praised new Italian ‘Zampa’ law designed to protect unaccompanied refugee and migrant children.
  • Writing for Foreign Policy, Alice Su reflects on Hamzeh al-Hussein’s work with disabled refugee children in Zaatari Camp, Jordan.
  • UNHCR estimates over 60,000 South Sudanese refugees arrived in bordering countries in the first three months of 2017.
  • With US Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announcing intentions to impose law enforcement funding penalties, US ‘Sanctuary Cities’ met to coordinate a response to undocumented migrant reporting requirements. CFR has a backgrounder on immigration in the US.
  • Writing for Brookings Institute, Gordon Hanson, Chen Liu and Craig McIntosh explore the reasons behind the decline of low-skilled migration to the US.
  • IOM’s MECLEP has released a comparative report analysing the impact that migration, displacement and planned relocation have on adaptation to environmental and climate change.



What happens to failed asylum seekers?

Forcibly returning unwanted migrants is not only intuitively unpleasant, it is also one of the most difficult areas in the immigration policies of liberal states. Unwanted migrants (or unlawful non-citizens) include those who overstay or misuse their visas, and, most sensitively, what Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection terms ‘failed asylum seekers' – those who claim asylum but stay illegally after being rejected.

Different terms are used to describe the practice of involuntarily removing unlawful non-citizens. 'Deportation' is often preferred by academics and lawyers to refer to forcibly removing migrants. Some use 'deportation' only to refer to removing foreigners who committed crimes in the country of residence. 'Forced' or 'involuntary' return is also used, in contrast to when migrants return home voluntarily. 'Removal' is a newer term that implies executive expediency and efficiency, and is preferred by some bureaucracies including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

Another distinction is whether to use 'failed' or 'rejected' when referring to asylum seekers whose applications are unsuccessful. The former could suggest a justification for the removal (as it puts the onus on the asylum seeker) whereas the latter leaves explicit room for the potential arbitrariness of a country's asylum regime.

In a new Lowy Institute Working Paper, we review the current removal policy for failed asylum seekers in Australia and compare it with the United Kingdom and Canada in order to draw out policy implications for Australia.

In theory, 'genuine' refugees are admitted in a timely manner and integrated into society. Those whose claims fail go home. In reality, however, it can take several years to complete the entire process of claiming asylum while the applicants build social and sometimes familial and professional ties in Australia. When they finally receive a rejection, many are unwilling to go home, or have nowhere to return to. Their countries of origin may not want them back. What should host governments do?

While it's preferable that failed asylum seekers return home voluntarily, ultimately it is the state's responsibility to ensure that they do not stay unlawfully. The international protection regime is not limited to people who we accept as refugees, but must also grapple with what to do with the people whose claims we reject.

Amid the growing crisis in global governance for protecting migrants and refugees, a consistently enforced yet humane policy of returning rejected asylum seekers has become ever more important.

Between 2010 and 2016, Australia doubled the number of removals of failed asylum seekers from 877 to 1752 per year. The rate of removals to finally rejected asylum claims also rose from 30.7% to 35.4% during this period. However, beyond the increase in numbers and rate, the policy faces several challenges.

First, given the notion that forcibly removing people out of a country fundamentally challenges liberal norms of modern Western states such as Australia, success in this area is highly difficult to define. Although the process of removal is carried out through legal means, enforcing the policy requires a form of coercion against people's will and for that reason can cause physical and mental harm to migrants who are finally returned. Any human error in the enforcement of this policy can have detrimental effects on the individuals directly affected by the policy and their families.

Second, the current process of seeking asylum in Australia is extremely lengthy. Asylum seekers often wait two to three years for a final decision. There is currently still a backlog of more than 24,000 claims waiting to be processed after the influx of applications in 2012-13. While waiting, those who stay in the community form ties to Australia. When their claims are finally rejected, there is a chance they may disappear into the community and become invisible 'aliens' who live in constant fear of being deported.

Third, the length of time migrants are held in Australia's immigration detention centres is also exceedingly long. By the end of 2016 the average time spent in detention was 484 days. A quarter of those in immigration detention centres spend more than two years there. Children in detention do not receive proper education beyond primary level or adequate healthcare.

The UK and Canada have made concerted efforts to speed up the process of seeking asylum. There are some critical lessons to be learned from their experience. In the UK, Tony Blair's government developed a New Asylum Model that heavily invested resources into processing asylum claims and deporting rejected applicants. In Canada, Stephen Harper's government set administrative deadlines on each step of the asylum process. After the 2010-2012 reforms, Canada significantly reduced the time it took to deport rejected asylum seekers after issuing a final decision, down from an average of one and a half years.

Both countries also managed to keep the length of time asylum seekers spent in immigration detention relatively short. Canada's independent Immigration and Refugee Board conducts compulsory reviews of immigration detention with the power to order that a person be released. The UK did quadruple the capacity of its detention centres, but its emphasis on swift processing meant a constant flow of people in and out of detention. 

Fourth, countries like Australia face challenges when asylum countries of origin do not co-operate. Countries of origin do not always accept returned failed asylum seekers who lack travel documents, or whose identity cannot be verified. Signing readmission agreements can help, but implementation is key. Returns can be tied with rehabilitation and development programmes, but this requires a whole-of-government approach involving foreign affairs, trade, development, business, community engagement and counter-terrorism. Immigration bureaucracies alone cannot solve the various developmental and security issues in countries of origin.

In a time of increasing forced and mixed migration around the world, a sound removal policy is needed more than ever. This topic is often overshadowed by discussion of increasing Australia's humanitarian intake. But just as important as the number of refugees we accept is the question of what to do with asylum seekers we reject. Swift removal after rejection may sound harsh, but may be more humane than allowing migrants to stay precariously in the community or in long-term detention.

Migration and Border Policy links: Syrian small businesses, EU-Turkey deal, education by phone and more

By Daniel Thambar, an intern with the Lowy Institute’s Migration and Border Policy Project.

  • The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) launched a project to support 300 Syrian refugees setting up small businesses in Turkey.
  • Human Rights Watch analyses the impact of the EU-Turkey deal on asylum seekers in the Greek islands.
  • Writing for the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), Sarah Pierce analyses President Trump’s revised executive order on immigration.
  • MPI has published a joint report with the Asian Development Bank, which outlines the barriers to the free movement of professionals within the ASEAN region, and suggests strategies to overcome these hurdles.
  • Writing for Border Criminologies, Celia Rooney summarises some of the key legal and policy issues around unaccompanied minors in Europe. 
  • University of Freiburg’s Elias Steinhilper and University of Oxford’s Rob Gruijters analyse 16 years of data on border deaths in the Mediterranean.
  • In this Brookings Institution blog post, Sarah Dryden-Peterson, Negin Dahya and Dacia Douhaibi discuss how teachers are using mobile phones as education tools in refugee camps.
  • Writing for the World Economic Forum, Kai Chan outlines the socio-demographic characteristics of Europe’s refugees and highlights some of the challenges of integration.
  • MPI has published a report looking at how best to support positive integration outcomes for refugees.


Migration and border policy links: Populism and policy, IWD, migrants make for safe US cities

By Rachael Buckland, an intern with the Lowy Institute's Migration and Border Policy project.

  • Carnegie Europe’s Stefan Lehne reflects on the current wave of populism spreading through Europe and the impact of this on migration policy.
  • Writing for Foreign Affairs, Nathan Smith considers the consequences of a world without borders.
  • For International Women’s Day, UNHCR Yemen published a photo essay highlighting the experiences of the nation’s internally displaced women and girls.
  • More than 160 NGOs have joined forces, calling on heads of government to comply with international and European law, and act with humanity, dignity, and solidarity to migrants in Europe.
  • Listen to Jess Brandt discuss the refugee crisis, US executive orders, and resettlement and integration policy on the Brookings Cafeteria Podcast.
  • Results from a New American Economy study indicate that across US cities studied, increased immigration numbers have resulted in safer cities.
  • UNHCR, HRW, Amnesty International, Oxfam, among others, condemn US President Donald Trump’s new executive order on refugees.
  • Pew Research Center research has revealed India is the top source for the world’s migrants.
  • Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is reported to be considering establishing a US-style Department of Homeland Security built on the existing Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
  • Jane McAdam, Michelle Foster and Davina Wadley have published the first in depth analysis of statelessness in Australian law.
  • Writing for Border Criminologies, Sydney University’s Louise Boon-Kuo unpacks the Australian government’s responsibility for child abuse on Nauru