Fortress Australia: Asylum Seeker and Migrant Death Statistics

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.

April 2016

Deaths Since 2000: 1955

2015: 3

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)

2014: 4

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.[1]. 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

2013: 217

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.

2012: 242

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

1 – 27 February – Ali, 44 year old Iranian asylum seeker dies in hospital in Liverpool while in detention in Villawood Detention Centre in Sydney. Ali had a wife and two children in Iran. See also

8 – 2 February – asylum seekers were drowned and another six missing on a boat travelling to Australia near Malaysia

2011: 330

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.

2010: 71

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

2009: 171

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

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






2003: 3

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

2002: 45

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

2001: 356

3 drowned after capsicum spray used to force back asylum seekers in operation relex

353 drowned in sinking of SIEV-X (October 19)

2000: 513

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

  14 comments for “Fortress Australia: Asylum Seeker and Migrant Death Statistics

  1. Mehdi
    March 25, 2016 at 10:52 am

    Dear Admin
    I need to know how many asylum seekers entered australian camps by boat each year from 2008 till now by ethnicity.
    Also, please correct description death of Reza Barati. It was not an unrest. A joint armed forces of Australians & PNGs amboshed us inside our rooms, only looking for Iranians to beat & kill.
    Thank you

  2. AbolishForeignness
    March 12, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    Thank you Alwyne, for the update and the link. It’s sad to hear of another death in immigration detention.

  3. March 12, 2015 at 7:23 pm
  4. admin
    June 10, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    In reply to Setara on April 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Thank you very much for letting us know. I’ve updated the page with this information.



  5. ali
    May 3, 2012 at 4:19 am

    my family like mother/father and my self are waiting about the information of 105 afghan refugee on boat Oct,2009 from Indonesia to Australia, they are life or death, missing,plzzzzz help me for God say,
    I am living from Quetta Hazara(Pakistan)

  6. Setara
    April 17, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    This website is a great resource for those interested in the asylum-seeking issue. However how about updating to include the tragedies in 2012? I know one boat sank between Malaysia and Indonesia killing 8 asylum-seekers trying to get to Australia:

  7. admin
    January 20, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    On 20 January 2012 we were informed by the FOI Officer at the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service that it had posted documents on its website in response to another Freedom of Information request lodged with them concerning the disappearance of a boat carrying asylum seekers around 2 October 2009. The documents including communications between Australian and Indonesian authorities are available at the following link:

    The documents indicate that the Australian authorities received reports of a boat in distress on this date carrying around 105 people. The boat never arrived in Australia.

  8. January 13, 2012 at 3:50 am

    salam ,,i also have the same problem of that boat ,,my; brother is on that boat if any one knows abt that boat plzzz let me know abt that plzzzz plzzzz inform meee about the boat of 105 oct 2009 whole family is dying to know abt my brother on that boat ……..

  9. Ali
    October 31, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    Please, Look for some new information about 97 people who have lost since November 2010,

  10. admin
    October 18, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Dear Ali,
    Thank you for contacting us. We are sorry to hear of another boat which has gone missing. It must be incredibly distressing to family members. We don’t have any information we can share apart from what is reported in the media. However we have today lodged a Freedom of Information request with Customs. If this provides any useful information we will draw it to your attention. We hope that the relatives may be relieved of their uncertainty concerning the fate of their loved ones. regards Michael

  11. ali
    October 14, 2011 at 3:49 am

    plz let me know about the 105 asylum seeker on boat missing in Oct 2009 from Indonesia to Australia, plz help me….. I am worried about this…
    kindly inform by website… to all family……plz plz plz….

  12. admin
    April 28, 2011 at 7:24 am

    Hi there, Thanks very much for your comment and bringing this one to our attention. The media articles we can find about a missing boat with 97 asylum seekers around 26 December last year say that the boat arrived, although it had been thought to be missing. However if you have any more information that might clarify these reports would be much appreciated.

  13. April 25, 2011 at 5:29 pm

    hi dear, I thanks tu u and your websites members to share this with refugees. Please share the ninety seven people also who’s boat is missing

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