Pacific Solution
The Pacific Solution was the name given to the Australian government policy (2001–2007) of transporting asylum seekers to detention camps on small island nations in the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

, rather than allowing them to land on the Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

n mainland. It had bipartisan support from both the Liberal-National government and Labor opposition at the time.
The Pacific Solution consisted of three central strategies. Firstly, thousands of islands were excised from Australia’s migration zone
Australian migration zone
The Australian migration zone refers to the parts of Australian territory where a non citizen must hold a visa to legally enter and remain. It includes all states and mainland territories, plus some external territories, at the mean low water mark....

 or Australian territory. Secondly, the Australian Defence Force
Australian Defence Force
The Australian Defence Force is the military organisation responsible for the defence of Australia. It consists of the Royal Australian Navy , Australian Army, Royal Australian Air Force and a number of 'tri-service' units...

 commenced Operation Relex
Operation Relex
Operation Relex is the name given to the Australian Defence Force border protection operation in the country's northern approaches conducted between 2001 and 2006. The operation was instigated following the Tampa affair in September 2001 and its focus was on illegal immigration...

 to interdict vessels carrying asylum seekers. Finally, these asylum seekers were removed to third countries in order to determine their refugee status. There were a number of pieces of legislation supporting this policy. The policy was developed by the Howard government
Howard Government
The Howard Government refers to the federal Executive Government of Australia led by Prime Minister John Howard. It was made up of members of the Liberal–National Coalition, which won a majority of seats in the Australian House of Representatives at four successive elections. The Howard Government...

 in response to the 2001 Tampa affair
Tampa affair
In August 2001, the Howard Government of Australia refused permission for the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, carrying 438 rescued Afghans from a distressed fishing vessel in international waters, to enter Australian waters...

 and was implemented by then Australian Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Philip Ruddock
Philip Maxwell Ruddock is an Australian politician who is currently a member of the House of Representatives representing the Division of Berowra, New South Wales, for the Liberal Party of Australia...


Asylum seekers were intercepted at sea while sailing from Indonesia
Indonesia , officially the Republic of Indonesia , is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 13,000 islands. It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an...

 and moved using Australian naval vessels. Detention camps were set up on Christmas Island
Christmas Island
The Territory of Christmas Island is a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean. It is located northwest of the Western Australian city of Perth, south of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and ENE of the Cocos Islands....

, Manus Island
Manus Island
Manus Island is part of Manus Province in northern Papua New Guinea and is the largest island of the Admiralty Islands. It is the fifth largest island in Papua New Guinea with an area of 2,100 km², measuring around 100 km × 30 km. According to the 2000 census, Manus Island had a...

 in Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea
Papua New Guinea , officially the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, is a country in Oceania, occupying the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and numerous offshore islands...

, and on the tiny island nation of Nauru
Nauru detention centre
The detention center on the South Pacific island nation of Nauru was based on a Statement of Principles, signed on 10 September 2001 by the President of Nauru, René Harris, and Australia's then Minister for Defence, Peter Reith. The statement opened the way to establish a detention center for up...

. Some were also accepted for processing by New Zealand
New Zealand
New Zealand is an island country in the south-western Pacific Ocean comprising two main landmasses and numerous smaller islands. The country is situated some east of Australia across the Tasman Sea, and roughly south of the Pacific island nations of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga...

. Most of the asylum seekers came from Afghanistan
Afghanistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, is a landlocked country located in the centre of Asia, forming South Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. With a population of about 29 million, it has an area of , making it the 42nd most populous and 41st largest nation in the world...

 (largely of the Hazara ethnic group), Iraq
Iraq ; officially the Republic of Iraq is a country in Western Asia spanning most of the northwestern end of the Zagros mountain range, the eastern part of the Syrian Desert and the northern part of the Arabian Desert....

, Iran
Iran , officially the Islamic Republic of Iran , is a country in Southern and Western Asia. The name "Iran" has been in use natively since the Sassanian era and came into use internationally in 1935, before which the country was known to the Western world as Persia...

, China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

, and Vietnam
Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

. The last asylum seekers to be detained on Nauru before the end of the policy had come from Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka, officially the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka is a country off the southern coast of the Indian subcontinent. Known until 1972 as Ceylon , Sri Lanka is an island surrounded by the Indian Ocean, the Gulf of Mannar and the Palk Strait, and lies in the vicinity of India and the...

 and Myanmar
Burma , officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar , is a country in Southeast Asia. Burma is bordered by China on the northeast, Laos on the east, Thailand on the southeast, Bangladesh on the west, India on the northwest, the Bay of Bengal to the southwest, and the Andaman Sea on the south....


Under the Pacific solution, 30 percent were sent home, 43 per cent of asylum seekers resettled from Nauru and Manus Island ended up in Australia. The remaining were settled in other countries. .

The policy was abandoned by the Australian Labor Party
Australian Labor Party
The Australian Labor Party is an Australian political party. It has been the governing party of the Commonwealth of Australia since the 2007 federal election. Julia Gillard is the party's federal parliamentary leader and Prime Minister of Australia...

 government of Kevin Rudd
Kevin Rudd
Kevin Michael Rudd is an Australian politician who was the 26th Prime Minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010. He has been Minister for Foreign Affairs since 2010...

 following its election in 2007.

Case for the Pacific Solution

The Pacific Solution was introduced as a deterrent to asylum seekers travelling by boat to Australia without the authorisation of the Australian government. This is not actually required under the Refugee Conventions Australia has signed, however in support of the policy Prime Minister Howard prominently stated that "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

By redefining the area of Australian territory that could be landed upon and then legitimately used for claims of asylum (the migration zone), and by removing any intercepted people to third countries for processing, future asylum seekers were deterred from making the dangerous journey, once they knew that their trip would in most likelihood not end up with a legitimate claim for asylum in Australia.

The Pacific Solution goal was reducing the number of irregular entrants arriving in the Australian waters by boat. Arrivals dropped from a total of 5516 people in 2001 to only 1 arrival in all of 2002 after implementation of the policy. This may be partly due to the removal of the Taliban from power, however the War in Afghanistan itself was a likely push factor. The low level of boat arrivals continued all the way through the Pacific Solution period. Since the abolition of the policy there has been a sharp increase in boatpeople arrivals with over 2700 boatpeople arriving in 2009 alone.

During the Pacific Solution period and liberation of Afgahnistan and and Iraq, the Howard Government was able to begin closing detention centres due to the lower number of refugees fleeing persecution. Baxter, Woomera and Curtin detention centres were all closed during the Pacific Solution. The Labor government opened Christmas Island detention centre late 2008, and has since expanded facilities accommodation there replacing the Nauru facilities.

The number of genuine refugees who were put through the Pacific Solution process was much lower than those who are currently seeking asylum. Only around 40% of Pacific Solution refugees were granted Australian Visas, another 30% went to other countries such as New Zealand (who have the right to settle in Australia) and another 30% were sent home.

In May 2011, amid the Gillard government's plans to address the issue of asylum seekers arriving by non-air means by organising an asylum seeker 'swap' for long-standing genuine refugees with Malaysia. Refugee lawyers asked the High Court to strike down the deal, arguing that the Immigration Minister did not have the power to send asylum seekers to a country that has no legal obligations to protect them.

Read more:

There were calls on the government to revisit the Pacific Solution by re-opening the detention centres on Nauru. Several of these came from former outspoken critics of The Pacific Solution. Refugee lawyer Marion Le, who had demanded the facility be shut down in 2005, said that it was "time for Labor to bite the bullet and reopen Nauru", while human rights lawyer Julian Burnside agreed, saying "asylum-seekers would receive better treatment in Nauru than Malaysia." This echoed the sentiment of Independent MP Andrew Wilkie who several days previously, while stopping short of calling for a return to the previous arrangement, noted that "John Howard's Pacific Solution was better." The Australian Government now has an increased urgency of finding a processing centre solution after the Malaysian swap deal was deemed unlawful by the High Court.

A poll of 51,305 readers by Fairfax Media that closed on 2nd September, 2011 indicates that 40% of Australians, or of Fairfax Newspaper readers, want on-shore processing of asylum seekers, 20% want re-opening of Naru, and 35% want to send all asylum seekers 'home' whether genuine refugees or not.

Read more:


On 27 October, 2008 the Sydney Morning Herald's Diplomatic Editor, Cynthia Banaham, reported in her article "Afghans Sent Home To Die" that an SBS documentary called "A Well-Founded Fear" that was to air on 19 November of that year told the stories of nine Afghan refugees that were deported under the Pacific Solution and later killed by the Taliban - matters raised by the Edmund Rice Foundation. Phillip Ruddock, Immigration Minister under the Howard Government until 2003 said "I would never say mistakes are impossible" and added "It is the case that Afghanistan is a dangerous place but the [United Nations] Refugee Convention does not say you cannot be returned to a dangerous place".

Read more:
The policy received criticism from a number of areas, with Amnesty International
Amnesty International
Amnesty International is an international non-governmental organisation whose stated mission is "to conduct research and generate action to prevent and end grave abuses of human rights, and to demand justice for those whose rights have been violated."Following a publication of Peter Benenson's...

, refugee rights groups and other non-governmental organisations
Non-governmental organization
A non-governmental organization is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any government. The term originated from the United Nations , and is normally used to refer to organizations that do not form part of the government and are...

 claiming that Australia was failing to meet its international obligations. The ad-hoc nature in which the policy evolved was also criticised, as it resulted in people being moved to Manus Island and Nauru before facilities were ready.

As of 29 May 2005, a total of 1,229 asylum seekers had been processed on Nauru. Most of those detained were eventually found to be legitimate refugees, sometimes after more than three years in detention. By October 2005 all but two remaining asylum seekers, Mohammed Sagar
Mohammed Sagar
Mohammed Sagar is an Iraqi Shi'a Muslim refugee who was detained on Manus Island and Nauru between 2001 and 2006. Sagar became the last of approximately 1,300 refugees from the Middle East to be detained on Nauru under the Australian Government's "Pacific Solution" after an adverse security...

 and Muhammad Faisal
Muhammad Faisal
Muhammad Faisal is an Iraqi refugee who was detained on the island of Nauru between 2001 and 2006 under the Australian Government's "pacific solution"...

, had been transferred to mainland Australia with the majority of these entering the community with temporary protection visas. While Faisal and Sagar were eventually resettled to Australia and Sweden respectively, additional groups of Burmese
The Bamar are the dominant ethnic group of Burma , constituting approximately two-thirds of the population. The Bamar live primarily in the Irrawaddy basin, and speak the Burmese language, which is also the official language of Burma. Bamar customs and identity are closely intertwined with general...

 and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees were brought to the island in 2006 and 2007.

Worldwide refugee applications peaked on a 20 year high in 2001, and fell by around 50% by 2006. This period coincided with the Pacific Solution implementation and makes it difficult to judge the true efficacy of the program.

The cost of the Pacific Solution was over A$
Australian dollar
The Australian dollar is the currency of the Commonwealth of Australia, including Christmas Island, Cocos Islands, and Norfolk Island, as well as the independent Pacific Island states of Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu...

15.5 million in 2003/2004, taken from the AusAID budget of $69.9 million.

Suspension of the policy

During the campaign for the 2007 parliamentary election, Australian Labor Party candidate Kevin Rudd promised to put an end to the 'Pacific Solution' if he were elected. Upon assuming office in December, Rudd confirmed that the detention centres on Manus Island and on Nauru would be closed. The seven asylum seekers from Myanmar and 75 of the 83 from Sri Lanka were determined to be genuine refugees and granted the right to settle in Australia. An additional 6 Sri Lankans had been found to be genuine refugees but had wrongly been charged with sexual assault; those charges were dropped in January 2008, making it possible for the six men to be resettled in Australia (pending standard health and character checks). Of the two remaining Sri Lankans, one is appealing the rejection of his refugee application, while the other is currently (as of January 2008) hospitalised in Australia. The first 21 Sri Lankan refugees arrived in Australia for resettlement in January 2008. The final 21 arrived in Australia on 8 February, leaving the detention camp empty and marking the end of the "Pacific Solution".

Nauru has reacted with concern at the prospect of potentially losing much-needed aid from Australia. Opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison
Chris Ellison
Christopher Martin Ellison , is a former Liberal member of the Australian Senate. He represented Western Australia in the Senate from July 1993 to January 2009.-Background:...

 said the closure could suggest to people-smugglers that Australia was weakening on border protection.

Regional processing centre

Julia Gillard
Julia Gillard
Julia Eileen Gillard is the 27th and current Prime Minister of Australia, in office since June 2010.Gillard was born in Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, Wales and migrated with her family to Adelaide, Australia in 1966, attending Mitcham Demonstration School and Unley High School. In 1982 Gillard moved...

 vowed in July 2010 to establish a "regional processing centre" in East Timor
East Timor
The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste, commonly known as East Timor , is a state in Southeast Asia. It comprises the eastern half of the island of Timor, the nearby islands of Atauro and Jaco, and Oecusse, an exclave on the northwestern side of the island, within Indonesian West Timor...

. This was quickly followed by considerable confusion as to the meaning of the announcement.

Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott
Anthony John "Tony" Abbott is the Leader of the Opposition in the Australian House of Representatives and federal leader of the centre-right Liberal Party of Australia. Abbott has represented the seat of Warringah since the 1994 by-election...

has vowed to restart the Pacific Solution policy if he becomes Prime Minister, and engaged with Nauru during the 2010 election campaigning period.

External links

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