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How Australia's Syrian Refugee Intake Compares To Our Past Efforts

Australia has always opened its arms to those in need, so how does our response to the Syrian crisis stack up.

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The Abbott government has announced the resettlement of 12,000 extra Syrian refugees in Australia, meaning 2015/16 will see the largest humanitarian intake in the history of Australia's refugee program.

With Australia's response to the Syrian humanitarian crisis the subject of intense debate this week, it's worth looking back at our history when it comes to accepting refugees.

The situation in Syria has been called the worst refugee crisis in the world since World War II, but since the conflict intensified in 2011 Australia has only resettled 3,346 Syrian refugees.


After the war, Australia threw open its borders with the biggest refugee intake in the history of the nation.

In the five years from 1947, over 170,000 refugees displaced by the war arrived and were resettled in Australia. That was the single biggest Australian response to a refugee crisis. Since then, we haven't come close.

The Vietnam War is amongst the largest conflicts since the second world war. Australia was involved in the war for a decade which, at the time was Australia's longest war. Following that engagement, we resettled 100,000 Vietnamese refugees over a 20 year period.

In 1999 Australia granted 5,900 temporary Safe Haven Visas, including 1,900 to East Timorese and 4,000 to Kosovars.

Ross Bird (November 4, 1999) / State Library Victoria / Via

These are members of the Amaral family from Dili -- Palmira Dos Reis (29), Tomas (9), Eulalia (8), Augusto (4), Martinho (2), and Miguel David (2 months) -- at the Puckapunyal Safe Haven in 1999.

Australia's first formal refugee program was introduced in 1977. In that time, the humanitarian intake each year has barely changed at all.

Casey Briggs / BuzzFeed. Data: Department of Parliamentary Services

Humanitarian intake per 1000 people.

This is despite the total migration intake into Australia growing, and more than doubling over the last decade.

The extra 12,000 resettlements the government has announced means that 2015/16 will have the highest humanitarian intake in the history of Australia's refugee program. However the extra places are a one-off.

On a per capita basis, the only time Australia has been more generous was over the period 1979-83, in the aftermath of the Vietnam war.

The Abbott government has announced that the intake will be raised to 18,750 per year by 2018.

The government previously cut the intake from 20,000 back to 13,750, after it was raised by Labor when they were in government.

Contact Casey Briggs at

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