Offshore processing

A project to examine the implications of policies which see asylum seekers forcibly transferred ‘offshore’ to have their protection claims processed in the territories of States such as Nauru, Papua New Guinea and Rwanda.

Giff file

The challenge

For most of the past two decades, ‘offshore processing’ has been a hallmark of Australia’s approach to deterring people from seeking asylum by sea. This policy involves forcibly transferring people elsewhere to have their protection claims processed in the territories of third States – specifically, Nauru and Papua New Guinea. It is not a new phenomenon. However, whereas it was long viewed as a significant exception to normal practice, now other countries are looking to Australia’s ‘model’ to see if it might be replicated abroad. This development carries grave human, legal and financial risks. 

Our impact

The Kaldor Centre works to improve Australian policy and to ensure that bad laws pioneered here are not replicated elsewhere. For instance, Senior Research Fellow Madeline Gleeson has presented hard-hitting evidence to a UK House of Commons committee about Australia’s experience of offshore processing. Our intervention prompted the Scottish National Party to demand absolute assurances that the UK government would never consider following the Australian model. In Australia, our submissions and evidence to parliament has contributed to life-saving medical transfers of people held offshore, and our policy briefs, media commentary and shareable content helps to galvanise change. By bringing solid evidence, knowledge and experience to a debate that is too often politicized, we strive for better Australian policy and to avert copycat policies abroad. You can explore more of our work on offshore processing below.

Our work  

The Kaldor Centre promotes lawful, humane, effective and sustainable alternatives to offshore processing. We focus in particular on the international law relevant to ‘offshore processing’ policies in Australia, where the possibility of future transfers to Nauru persists, and abroad, where policy diffusion – particularly to the United Kingdom – remains a real risk.

The Kaldor Centre seeks to stop the spread of offshore processing policies that violate international law by:

  1. producing rigorous, evidence-based academic research that identifies the legal, practical and humanitarian shortcomings of offshore processing;
  2. providing expert, non-partisan advice to policymakers and government, both in Australia and abroad, through submissions and targeted briefings; and 
  3. contributing a credible voice to public debates about offshore processing through media engagement and other strategic communications.


Focus areas

  • International legal implications of offshore processing

Madeline Gleeson’s research focuses on Australia’s practice of offshore processing in Nauru and Papua New Guinea since 2012, with a particular focus on its international law implications. She also studies the proposed spread of these policies elsewhere, and provides advice to government and civil society about proposals to adopt comparable laws and policies in other countries. 

  • Domestic legal implications and spread of offshore processing and boat push-backs at sea 

Daniel Ghezelbash’s research focuses on examining the origins of offshore processing and boat push-backs at sea, examining the initial development these policies by the United States, and their emulation in Australia.  He also examines legal challenges to these policies in Australia, the United States and Europe, and the lessons that these experiences hold for other countries considering adopting similar models. 



Madeline Gleeson, 2016, Offshore Behind the wire on Manus and Nauru, NewSouth 

Journal articles:

  • Madeline Gleeson, 2019, 'Protection Deficit: The Failure of Australia's Offshore Processing Arrangements to Guarantee 'Protection Elsewhere' in the Pacific', International Journal of Refugee Law, 31, pp. 415 - 463,
  • C. Higgins, ‘The (Un-)sustainability of Australia’s offshore processing and settlement policy’, V. Moreno-Lax and E. Papastravridis (eds.), Boat Refugees and Migrants at Sea: A Comprehensive Approach Integrating Maritime Security with Human Rights, Brill Publishing (2016) 303-326.
  • Daniel Ghezelbash, Refuge Lost: Asylum Law in an Interdependent World (CUP, 2018)
  • Mary Crock and Daniel Ghezelbash, ‘Due process and rule of law as human rights: The High Court and the ‘offshore’ processing of asylum seekers’ 2011 18(2) Australian Journal of Administrative Law 101
  • Daniel Ghezelbash, ‘Hyper-legalism and obfuscation: How states evade their international obligations towards refugees’ 2020 68(3) The American Journal of Comparative Law 479
  • Brian Opeskin and Daniel Ghezelbash, ‘Australian Refugee Policy and its Impacts on the Pacific’ (2016) 36 Journal of Pacific Studies 73-90 
  • Daniel Ghezelbash, ‘Lessons in Exclusion: Interdiction and Extraterritorial Processing of Asylum Seekers in the United States and Australia’ in Mariagiulia Guiffre, Lilian Tsourdi and Jean-Pierre Gauci (eds), Exploring the Boundaries of Refugee Law: Current Protection Challenges (Brill, 2015) 89-116






Policy Brief:

Madeline Gleeson and Natasha Yacoub, Cruel, costly and ineffective: the failure of offshore processing in Australia, Policy Brief 11, Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law (2021)

On the nine-year anniversary of offshore processing in 2021, Kaldor Centre researchers Madeline Gleeson and Natasha Yacoub released a Policy Brief which critically assessed this policy against its stated objectives and other indicators of success or failure, including its cost, lawfulness and impact on the people subject to it. 

  • Submission and Supplementary Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs Inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Repairing Medical Transfers) Bill 2019 [Provisions]

  • Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into the Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2019 [Provisions]

  • Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee Inquiry into Migration Legislation Amendment (Regional Processing Cohort) Bill 2016

  • Submission to the Senate Select Committee on the Recent Allegations relating to Conditions and Circumstances at the Regional Processing Centre in Nauru 

  • Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee on the Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 (Cth)

  • Submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee on the Inquiry into the Incident at the Manus Island Detention Centre from 16 to 18 February 2014

  • Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Migration Legislation (Regional Processing and Other Measures) Act 2012