The Federation Press

Seeking Asylum Alone - Australia

A study of Australian law, policy and practice regarding unaccompanied and separated children


Unaccompanied and separated children continue to be caught up in programs to deflect unauthorised Australian boat arrivals to offshore processing centres. If such children do make it to Australia, the processes for identifying children travelling alone are inadequate, with too much reliance placed on the self-identification of such children. No child victim of trafficking has been identified in Australia since 1994.

Australia’s refugee status determination system was established with adult asylum seekers as the norm. Children face obvious disadvantage in both articulating their story and in being heard. At the crucial first point of contact with authorities children are required to articulate their need for protection without either an advisor or an effective guardian. Case studies of children within the asylum process also suggest that immigration officials and officials at appellate level have been poorly trained and have lacked the skills to deal with child asylum seekers with appropriate sensitivity.

Another barrier faced by these children is legal: questions remain as to how well the international definition of refugee has been read to accommodate the particular experiences of children. It is hoped that this report will encourage Australian officials to think seriously about children as refugees in their own right – most particularly when the children are travelling alone.

This Report was funded by the MacArthur Foundation (Chicago), the Australian Research Council and the Myer Foundation. Also available Seeking Asylum Alone - A Comparative Study - Unaccompanied and Separated Children and Refugee Protection in Australia, the UK and the US, by Jacqueline Bhabha and Mary Crock.


The broader topic of Crock’s work – Australia’s response to asylum seekers – is one that has been at the centre of political debate in Australia since the end of the last century. ... Most striking is the use of the stories of the 85 young people with whom the researchers spoke. The strength of these stories lies in their use by the author to expose the true implications of Australian policy and practice.
Seeking Asylum Alone is meticulously researched and well written. It is essential reading for anyone working with refugee children. But the author’s ability to elucidate the broader legal, policy and practical aspects of Australia’s approach to asylum seekers makes it a report that should be read even more widely. - David Corlett, Australian Policy Online, 17 October 2006

The book is impressive in scope and inspired by a number of factors: a keen understanding of Australia’s response to refugees, the need for policy makers to recognise children as a distinct category of refugees and the responsibility of government departments, the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in particular, to establish policies specifically for children asylum seekers distinct from policies for adults. Official figures show that from 1999-2003, 290 children seeking asylum arrived in Australia; one third form the basis of Crock’s study.
Four central areas are covered in this study: the question of why child asylum seekers travel alone, frameworks for protection, Australia’s legal response, policy and practice and protection outcomes. ...
Mary Crock’s book is ground-breaking in terms of its subject material and the message that child migration is not an exceptional occurrence but a regular phenomen. It needs to be recognised, acknowledged and given appropriate resources. Her research indicates that Australia can do more in desirable child protection practice, statistical data collection; government planning and legal structures; and in addressing the social and cultural needs of unaccompanied children seeking asylum. - Forum magazine, No 49, March 2007

Dr Mary Crock is arguably Australia’s pre-eminent authority on refugee law and policy. However, Seeking Asylum Alone is not an academic treatise. Rather, it is a highly readable review of Australian law, policy and practice ... [on] children seeking asylum in Australia without parents or guardians. ...
In my view this is a book that needed to be written. But a book is only useful if it is read. Also, genuine reform is rarely achieved without public support... I challenge [you] to be informed. To that end, I strongly recommend this book as an insight into the realities of refugee law and policy. - Brief (Law Society of WA), July 2007

Table of Contents

Part One - The Phenomenon of Children Seeking Asylum Alone
Anatomy of the project
Children in need of protection: The scale and nature of movement
Journeys of a lifetime: How and why child asylum seekers travel alone

Part Two - Frameworks for Protection
An overview of international standards
Australian Laws and Policies I: Access to territory - non-entree, interdiction and offshore processing
Australian Laws and Policies II: The domestic asylum system and protection outcomes

Part Three - Australian Law and Policy in Practice
Identification and reception
Entering the refugee status determination system
The primary decison-making process: The DIMA Interview
Challenging adverse decisions
Deciding refugee status
Unaccompanied and separated children and the international definition of ’refugee’
Interdiction and offshore processing: The deflection of child asylum seekers

Part Four - Protection Outcomes
In search of permanent refuge: Life on and after the temporary protection visas
Towards the future: conclusions and recommendations

Interview conducted
Glossary of Terms
Legislation and Cases Cited

Of interest...