This page collects and publishes information on deaths (including those missing at sea and presumed dead) connected with Australian border controls, Australia’s migrant prisons, or irregular travel to Australia by asylum seekers and migrants. If you are aware of corrections or data that should be reflected on this page, please submit a comment. The toll in Australia is a small fraction of the toll worldwide. This page was first published on 7 July 2010 as there was, at the time, no publicly available source of information which documented Australian border deaths.
This page is part of a multi-dimensional exploration of “foreignness” – that is legal and social exclusion of our fellow human beings – particularly directed against human beings we label “non-citizens”. The issues involved are explored through a human rights lens; through seeking to learn from the historical struggle against slavery, racism and the oppression of women; and through exploration of how we oppress non-citizens in today’s world (for example through the legal and social exclusion of refugees and through discrimination in migration policy). Other pages explore how these questions are explored through popular culture such as music or movies or through remembering the stories of those who contributed to ending past forms of oppression.
The Border Crossing Observatory as part of its Deaths at the Global Frontier Project also compiles Australian border deaths statistics. This page has been updated for 2013 and 2014 with information from the Observatory, republished with their kind permission. Please visit their site.
In thinking through the implications of these numbers it is important to realise they do not tell the full picture. Migrants and refugees deaths are occurring across the world, a reduction in one part of the world (for example through more severe migration controls) displaces migrant and refugee deaths to another part of the world, or condemns refugees to remain trapped in refugee “warehouses”. The world today has more refugees than at any time since world war 2.
Page last updated: August 2015
Since this page was last updated we have seen the human tragedy of millions of refugees streaming out of Syria with thousands of lives lost in the process. We have seen an initial humanitarian instinct reversed and a closing of borders.
Deaths Since 2000: 1955
31 July 2015, 28 year old asylum seeker, Mohammad Nasim Najafi, died in detention in Yongah Hill Detention Centre. The Saturday Daily Paper reported that his death was associated with prior victimisation by criminal gangs operating in the Centre and that he was in solitary confinement at the time of his death. Other reports noted calls for a coronial inquest into his death. Yet other reports emphasised “security concerns” that led to his long term detention.
10 March 2015, 30 year old Iranian refugee, Omid Avazali, suicide in Brisbane. Although a recognised refugee he was not eligible for a protection visa. He took his life after hearing news of the death of his mother.
10 February 2015, 20 year old Hazara asylum seeker, Ali Muhammad, suicide in immigration detention centre (Surabaya)
03 Sept 2014 1 Hamid Kehazaei declared brain dead after contracting cellulitis in remote Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre.
|01/06/14||1||Leo Seemanpillai, 29 years old, Sri Lankan man||Leo Seemanpillai died as a result of self immolation, suffering burns to 90% of his body. He had been living in community detention on a bridging visa awaiting the outcome of his refugee claim.|
|17/02/14||1||Reza Barati, 24 years old, Iranian man||Reza Barati. Murdered. In April 2016 2 men were convicted of his murder.. Mr Barati died of head injuries on the way to Lorengau hospital in PNG while in detention at the Manus Island Immigration Detention Centre. The detention centre had come under fire by PNG police following protesting by detainees, resulting in the injury of 77 others, 12 seriously.||Offshore immigration detention centre|
|13/02/14||1||Indian man, 27 years old||The man hung himself in Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre. He had been detained since January 2014 for overstaying his student visa. Victorian Police are investigating his death.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|05/02/14||1||Rezene Mebrahta Engeda, 30 year old, Eritrean man||Rezene Mebrahta Engeda drowned himself in the Maribyrnong River, Victoria upon notice of a failed asylum application and letter to attend a meeting with DIBP where he assumed he would be told of his pending deportation to Eritrea.|
|09/12/13||3||Iranian and ethnic Rohingya||The boat, carrying 30 asylum seekers, sank off the coast of Java, bound for Australia. Three deaths including one two year old child.|
|27/09/13||36||Lebanese, Iranian, Iraqi & Africans||The boat sank off Java en route to Australia. 36 people are confirmed drowned including a number of children. News reports say the death toll may rise to 70. 25 rescued. Reports of between 63-125 on board.|
|24/07/13||3||Unknown, one girl.||Boat capsized off Java coast en route to Australia. 157 rescued by Indonesian authorities. 3 known fatalities including one girl.|
|16/07/13||4||2 women aged late 20s/early 30s, 1 man in his 20s and 1 man in his 30s.||Drowned after boat was intercepted by Australian customs who responded to its distress signal as boat was capsizing off the coast of Christmas Island in rough seas. 144 on board.||Interdiction at sea by Australian border control|
|12/07/13||9||Baby, under 1 year old, boy, 8 missing presumed dead||Boat carrying 97 asylum seekers sank north of Christmas Island. The body of a boy less than a year old was recovered by Australian search and rescue teams. 8 people are still missing, presumed drowned. The search has been called off, survivors taken to Christmas Island.||Interdiction at sea by Australian border control|
|20/06/13||1||Ali Ahmad Jafari, 26 yr old, Hazara, male||Collapsed and died in Villawood Immigration Detention Centre of a heart attack. Unsuccessful efforts made to revive him. DIAC statement says Jafari died of natural causes.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|16/06/13||1||Unknown woman||Woman found dead on board asylum seeker boat carrying 60 people intercepted by Australian Customs and Border Patrol off Christmas Island. Circumstances surrounding her death are currently unknown.||Interdiction at sea by Australian border control|
|15/06/13||1||Afghan, male, 62 years||Died in the Wickham Point detention centre near Darwin, after staff found him unconscious. NT police are investigating his death.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|09/06/13||34||Sri Lankans||The Sri Lakan boat ‘Jayawe’ went missing NW of the Cocos Islands despite a 3-day search and rescue operation conducted by AMSA. All on board presumed drowned.|
|07/06/13||55||Unknown, Afghans||An estimated 55 people have drowned after their boat sank off Christmas Island, travelling from Indonesia. Australian Customs and Border Protection made the decision not to retrieve the bodies in favuor of attending to other asylum seeker boat arrivals in the area. 13 bodies have since been recovered from the water near Christmas Island. The recovery effort will not continue.|
|01/06/13||1||Unknown, Male, 52 years||The 52-year-old man was transferred from the processing area at Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centre to hospital within hours of landing. He was one of 157 people aboard 2 boats that reached Australian waters within 48 hours of each other.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|01/05/13||1||Sri Lankan, Male, 35 yrs old||Died shortly after arrival on Christmas Island from cardiac arrest.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|20/04/13||1||Papua New Guinean, male, 33 years||The man from Villawood Immigration Detention Centre, fell out of a window and died whilst in Liverpool hospital, Sydney where he was receiving medical treatment.||Onshore immigration detention centre|
|11/04/13||58||Unknown, Afghan||Boat lost at sea in Sundra Strait off Indonesian coast carrying 72 asylum seekers bound for Australia. 14 survivors found, 5 confirmed deaths, 53 missing presumed drowned.|
|29/03/13||2||1 female (pregnant) 22 years and 1 boy, 4 years, Afghan||The woman and child drowned following interception by Australian Customs when their fishing boat capsized 15 nuatical miles from Christmas Island. 95 people on board, 93 rescued. Australian Customs had been monitoring this boat for some time before interception.||Interdiction at sea by Australian border control|
|30/01/13||3||3 males||3 Burmese asylum seekers are missing at sea after one of their Indonesian crewmen ‘washed up’ on the shores of Christmas Island. The crewman claimed that after his boat broke down 17 nautical miles north of the Island, he made a make-shift raft to take the three Burmese men to Christmas Island. The raft broke up during the journey and the men have not yet been found. The air search at sea has been suspended and the men are presumed drowned.|
|29/01/13||4||3 males and 1 female||Boat found crippled on a reef off Indonesia by local fishermen. Had allegedly been at sea for 2 months. 2 men drowned when they jumped overboard once Indonesian authorities had approached and one man is missing from also jumping overboard. 2 people, 1 man and 1 woman were found dead on board the boat. 22 rescued by Indonesian authorities and taken to immigration detention on Indonesia.|
33 – 25 November – 33 asylum seekers reported drowned after their boat sank. Habib Ullah, a survivor was picked up after 3 days in the water and shortly after the sinking was in immigration detention in Jakarta.
105 – 30 Aug – 105 asylum seekers lost at sea, 45 rescued off Indonesia
4 – 25 Jun – 4 asylum seekers drown when boat capsizes
90 – 20 Jun – 90 asylum seekers drown when boat carrying 200 sinks – search and rescue save 110.
1 – 1 March – asylum seeker reported tortured to death in Indonesian detention centre after being recaptured
8 – 2 February – asylum seekers were drowned and another six missing on a boat travelling to Australia near Malaysia
203 – 17 December asylum seekers mainly from Afghanistan and Iran drowned when overcrowded boat off East Java on way to Australia sank
97 – 14 November – asylum seekers from Iran and Afghanistan lost at sea
1 – 26 October Jayasaker Jayrathana a Tamil asylum seeker committed suicide in Villawood detention Centre. He had been recognised as a refugee. Detained since March 2010 but not given security clearance. Aged 27.
27 – 2 November asylum seekers believed to have drowned 2 November in sinking off Java
1 – Mohammed Asif Atay : Hazara Afghan asylum seeker found dead in cell in Curtin Detention Centre. 19 year old. Committed suicide after suffering depression and being in detention for 10 months. 29 March 2011
1 Meqdad Hussein Hazara Afghan asylum seeker found dead in his cell . 20 year old. Committed suicide using bed sheet. Scherger Detention Centre Weipa Queensland. 17 March 2011.
50 asylum seekers believed drowned in sinking of boat just off shore of Christmas Island. 15 December 2010
5 missing presumed dead April 5 Sri Lanka asylum seekers missing after attempting to swim for help from boat
12 drowned June Sri Lankan asylum seekers lost when attempting to transfer boats
1 30 year old male asylum seeker died after suffering heart attack in remote detention centre
1 Josefa Rauluni Fiji asylum seeker jumped to his death at Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney when confronted with officials undertaking his deportation to Fiji. Rauluni is reported to have been a democracy activist before his death. 20 September 2010.
1 Ahmad Al-Akabi asylum seeker committed suicide in Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. A father of three from Iraq. It is reported that he requested to be allowed to return to Iraq shortly before his death. 16 November 2010.
1. David Saunders detainee in Villawood Detention Centre. Held in high security. Believed to have committed suicide. 8 December 2010.50 Estimated lives lost when asylum seeker boat (SIEV221) carrying men women and children founders off shore of Christmas Island. Local residents make desperate efforts to save people cast into the sea when their boat was smashed on cliff shore. Asylum seekers from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran. References 1 2 3
105 Reports emerged in 2011 that a boat carrying 105 Hazara asylum seekers went missing on 2 October 2009. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service has made documents available concerning the disappearance at http://www.customs.gov.au/webdata/resources/files/2011-031694_Documents_Released.pdf
1 Andrew Derek Moore who had lived in Australia from the age of 11 died of unexplained reasons days after being deported to London at age 43. He was deported after failing the character test.
5 drowned April boat explosion – failed rescue by Australian naval boat
12 drowned Tamil asylum seekers nw of Cocos Island
1 death on board, December Sri Lankan asylum seeker in Merak Port 250 asylum seekers refusing to leave ship after being detained on way to Australia. Alleged failure by IOM to provide medical treatment.
22 (5 deaths and 17 missing at sea) Aghan asylum seekers in wooden boat off Sumatra. Most likely ultimate destination was Australia. 28 May 2009
11 asylum seekers detained in Nauru and returned to Afghanistan believed to have been killed by Taliban including Tour Gul and Mohammad Halim. Reported April 2009.
14 January 15 Boat carrying 18 asylum seekers sinks off Rote Island southwest of Timor. 4 survive. Asylum seekers had broken out of Indonesian detention centre. Source The Australian 16 December 2010 p 5
1 death in custody Fatima Erfani mother of three Christmas Island Detention Centre
1 death in custody Viliami Tanginoa (Tonga) Marybrynong Detention Centre, Victoria
1 death in custody 19 June Quoc Kinh Phung Marybrynong Detention Centre, Sydney after deportation order imposed
1 26 year old asylum seeker dies in Australian detention in Nauru
1 December refugee killed after being returned to Afghanistan
1 November ‘Nader’ asylum seeker deported to Iran, disappeared on return presumed killed
42 May 22 Asylum seeker boat carrying Afghan asylum seekers last sighted. Believed to have sunk enroute to Australia. Source: The Australian Dec 16 2010 p 5
3 drowned after capsicum spray used to force back asylum seekers in operation relex
353 drowned in sinking of SIEV-X (October 19)
160 asylum seekers believed lost at sea
350 asylum seekers believed lost at sea
1 death in custody Phuongtong Simplee Villawood Detention Centre
2 drowned November grandmother and young woman pregnant with first child Nurjan Husseini and Fatima Husseini