Millions spent on ‘voluntary return’ of asylum seekers

5th Aug 2014

The Commonwealth has spent nearly $3 million on the ‘voluntary return’ of almost 1100 asylum seekers to their country of origin in less than a year, according to information obtained under freedom of information laws by the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) today.

375 people were returned directly from Nauru and Manus Island, where they were being held for ‘offshore processing’ and detained under terrible conditions and without access to legal advice.

A further 427 were ‘voluntarily returned’ while on a Bridging Visa, and 339 ‘voluntarily returned’ from Australia to their home country.

The information released today by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, revealed that more than 770 asylum seekers of Iranian origin (67 per cent) had been returned to their country after receiving ‘Reintegration Assistance’, as well as more than 100 people originating from Iraq (8 per cent).

There were also 54 asylum seekers who did not receive any money despite being returned to their country of origin. The program spent $USD2,914,819 between September 2013 to 16 July 2014 for a total of 1151 returnees.

ALA spokesperson Greg Barns said that the Commonwealth needed to come clean on the types and extent of pressure it placed on the asylum seekers for them to agree to return to countries where they faced a real risk of harassment or even physical harm.

“Three million dollars have been spent to send these vulnerable asylum seekers back to their country of origin, despite the real threat many of them face to their safety,” Mr Barns said.

“The Commonwealth has a duty of care to these people who have asked for help from this country. Offering quick cash to people who are in desperate need and being held in terrible conditions in offshore holding facilities is a black mark on Australia’s international reputation.”

“Detention facilities on Manus Island and Nauru have been described as ‘hellholes’, with suicide attempts, inadequate sanitation, disease, threats of violence and the tragic death of Iranian national Mr Berati this year. How genuine can ‘voluntary return’ be in these circumstances?” Mr Barns said.

“375 people were returned ‘back to where they came from’ direct from a processing centre where they were subject to inhumane conditions, without legal advice.”

“How many of those people will live to spend the meagre assistance provided to them by the Australian government is yet to be seen,” Mr Barns said.

Australian taxpayers are entitled to know what other inducements or pressure were placed on these vulnerable people?” Mr Barns said.

“The vast majority of these 1100 asylum seekers have ‘agreed’ to return to countries including Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka,” Mr Barns said.

“The Commonwealth needs to explain exactly what it means when it refers to ‘voluntary return.”

The full breakdown of the figures provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Control can be found below.


Nationality Voluntary Removal from Australia Voluntary Return (BVE) from Australia Voluntary Return from an OPC (via Australia)
Voluntary Return from an OPC (direct)


26 0 0 6 32
Iran 144 309 8 312 773
Iraq 27 47 0 28 102
Lebanon 4 0 0 17 21
Sri Lanka 37 61 1 3 102
Vietnam 86 0 1 0 87
Other 15 10 0 9 34
Total 339 427 10 375 1151






  • OPC stands for ‘offshore processing country’.
  • A Bridging visa E (BVE) is a temporary visa that allows a person  to stay in Australia while they  finalise their immigration matter or make arrangements to leave Australia. There are two types of BVEs:
    • Bridging (General) visa (subclass 050)
    • Bridging (Protection Visa Applicant) visa (subclass 051).


The original figures will be provided upon request.

Tags: Asylum seekers and refugees Access to justice Freedom of information