Brotherhood of St Laurence

updated 15 July 2016

Since the end of the Second World War, Australia has resettled over 800,000 refugees. Australia’s resettlement efforts were most pronounced in the late 1940s and early 1950s when it accommodated hundreds of thousands of European Displaced Persons (DPs) who were brought to Australia under the auspices of the International Refugee Organization (IRO), the immediate predecessor of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In 1949 alone, Australia resettled 75,486 DPs sponsored by the IRO. In 2014–15, Australia accepted 13,756 people under its humanitarian program, including 6002 refugees selected off-shore. Australia has accommodated refugees throughout its history, including approximately 10,000 people fleeing Europe between the mid-1930s and the early 1940s and thousands of asylum seekers who engaged Australia’s protection obligations. The first refugees formally resettled in Australia were 843 Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians – 729 single men, and 114 single women – who had been selected by Australian immigration officials in European DP camps and who arrived in November 1947 on board the General Stuart Heintzelman. Between the late 1940s and the late 1950s, refugees who had been selected by Australian officials overseas in collaboration with the IRO, the UNHCR and the Intergovernmental Organisation for European Migration (ICEM) and were resettled in Australia, were considered to be an integral part of the overall migrant intake. They had to meet criteria similar to those developed for other components of the immigration program: they had to pass stringent medical tests, and the adults among them had to have good employment prospects. The elderly and those with mental or physical illnesses were not offered resettlement places. Neither were non-European refugees. In the 1950s, however, Australia began accepting a limited number of refugees who did not meet its normal criteria on account of their age or their state of health; many of these refugee migrants were European refugees living in the People’s Republic of China. In May 1977, the Fraser government introduced a comprehensive refugee policy, with criteria that clearly distinguished between refugees (who were admitted in pursuance of Australia’s obligations as a signatory to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol) and other migrants. In 1981, the same government launched Australia’s Special Humanitarian Program. It provided for the resettlement of migrants who were not refugees according to the criteria of the 1951 Convention but did not meet the usual criteria of Australia’s immigration policy either.

Resettlement_bibliography_Neumann 10_December_2013.pdf

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