About Us

Irregular migration and border research

​​​The Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme seeks to identify and address the knowledge gaps in complex irregular migration and border management issues.


In January 2012, as part of a broad​er regional response to irregular migration and people smuggling, we established the Irregular Migration Research Programme. Following Integration with the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service in July 2015, the Irregular Migration Research Programme expanded to cover complex border management issues. It is now the Irregular Migration and Border Research programme.

The Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme seeks to identify and address the knowledge gaps in irregular migration and border research, with an emphasis on placing Australia's experience in broader global and migration contexts.

Central to the Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme's design is a focus on research that has policy utility.

Research Programme activities comprise:

  • ongoing in-house research
  • commissioned research
  • partnership based research.

Aims and objectives

The Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme strengthens the evidence base on complex issues associated with irregular migration and border management. It seeks to understand the drivers, determinants, dynamics and decision-making of irregular migrants. It also seeks to understand the current and future challenges of border management, including exploring the strategic concept of the border and the border continuum.

The programme is built on research, framed in an open, inquiring manner that is objective and non-partisan.
The aims and objectives of the Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme are listed below.

  • It produces research and analysis that has policy utility.
  • It is multi-layered, integrated and flexible - it aims to ensure research activities produce a sustainable body of knowledge over multiple years as well as supporting short term research projects on specific issues of immediate relevance.
  • Through the provision of objective research and analysis, it aims to inform the public discussion on complex issues associated with irregular migration and border management.
  • It provides a means for researchers to develop research on irregular migration and complex border management issues.


Research Advisory Group

The Research Advisory Group provides advice on themes and topics of research for the Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme. Members of the advisory group include academics, government officials and representatives of international and non-government organisations.


  • Rachael Spalding (Chair)
    First Assistant Secretary, Strategic Policy and Planning Division – Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Mr Jason Russo (Assistant Chair)
    Assistant Secretary, Policy Research & Statistics Branch – Department of Immigration and Border Protection
  • Professor Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi
    Professor of Demography – University of Tehran, Adjunct Professor, Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University
  • Mr Gervais Appave
    Director, International Cooperation & Partnerships/Special Policy Adviser to the Director General – International Organization for Migration
  • Mr Joseph Appiah
    Chief of Mission, Australia – International Organization for Migration
  • Professor Richard Bedford
    Professor of Population Geography, National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis – The University of Waikato
  • Professor Martin Bell
    Emeritus Professor – The University of Queensland
  • Professor Supang Chantavanich
    Director, Asian Research Center for Migration – Chulalongkorn University
  • Senior Professor Lakshman Dissanayake
    Vice-Chancellor – University of Colombo
  • Mr Andrew Goledzinowski AM
    Ambassador for People Smuggling Issues – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
  • Professor Tim Hatton
    Crawford School of Public Policy – The Australian National University
  • Ms Brooke Sawyer
    Director, Strategic Communications, Joint Agency Task Force, Operation Sovereign Borders – Australian Border Force
  • Dr Khalid Koser
    Executive Director, Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund
  • Dr Maryanne Loughry
    Associate Director – Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Professor Andrew Markus
    School of Philosophical, Historical and International Studies - Monash University
  • Professor Susan Martin
    Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration – Georgetown University
  • Ms Marie McAuliffe
    Sir Roland Wilson Scholar, Australian Demographic & Social Research Institute – The Australian National University
  • Professor Rory Medcalf
    Head, National Security College – The Australian National University
  • Fr Aloysious Mowe
    Director – Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Ms Kathleen Newland
    Director of Migrants, Migration, and Development and Refugee Protection Programs – Migration Policy Institute
  • Mr Ashton Robinson
    Assistant Secretary-General, Middle East, Africa and Transnational Issues Branch – Office of National Assessments
  • Professor Anna Triandafyllidou
    Director, Global Governance Programme – Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, European University Institute
  • Professor David Widdowson
  • Chief Executive Officer and Head of School – Centre for Customs and Excise Studies
    Mr Thomas Albrecht (Observer)
    Regional Representative – United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Occasional papers

The Occasional Paper Series produced under the Irregular Migration and Border Research Programme facilitates the production of research and analysis on specific issues of immediate relevance. Research themes are informed by departmental priorities and suggestions from the Research Advisory Group.

Papers are available to download as they are published. Current publications are listed below (most recent publication first):

Labour migration as an alternative for asylum seekers facing protection issues: A Sri Lanka-based longitudinal study – (September 2016) (385KB PDF)

Author: Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya
Based on surveys of over 7,200 households conducted in 2014 and 2015, the author demonstrates that, in the Sri Lankan context, people needing to escape persecution may—if presented with the option—migrate to countries for work through regular pathways, rather than moving via irregular pathways to seek asylum. The implications of this research include exploring the feasibility of assisting displaced and vulnerable people to improve their vocational skills in order to guide them into safe, orderly and regular migration pathways.

Understanding irregular migrants’ decision making factors in transit – (September 2016) (605KB PDF)

Authors: Dr Khalid Koser, Dr Katie Kuschminder
This paper is based on fieldwork and surveys with 1056 respondents from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria conducted in Greece and Turkey in mid-2015. The paper reviews the various factors that underpin migrants’ decision to move onwards to a new destination, to stay in the country of transit, or to return to their country of origin. The research found that some two-thirds of respondents in both Greece and Turkey planned to move onwards; more from Greece than from Turkey. The authors also develop a model of migrant decision making in transit.

The dynamic nature of migration aspirations: Findings from a longitudinal study of households in Sri Lanka – (March 2016) (326KB PDF)
Authors: Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya, Marie McAuliffe and Mohiburrahman Iqbal
To gain a deeper understanding of why some people migrate, and others do not, it is useful to interview both migrants and those who have not migrated. In 2014, the researchers undertook a random survey of 20,632 individuals in separate households throughout Sri Lanka. In 2015, over 2000 individuals from ‘migration aspiration’ households and over 3000 people from ‘non-migration aspiration’ households were re-surveyed. The aim was to determine the extent of migration among the potential migrants interviewed and the reasons why some people chose to migrate while others who previously wanted to migrate appeared to have changed their minds.

Information consumption and decision making of irregular migrants in Indonesia – (March 2016) (519KB PDF)
Authors: Professor Sharon Pickering, Dr Claudia Tazreiter, Ms Rebecca Powell and Dr James Barry
Indonesia is the key site from which irregular maritime arrivals attempt to make onward journeys to Australia. This research aims to provide a deeper and more detailed understanding of the motivations of irregular migrants in Indonesia through analysis of information consumption and the mapping of common narratives of mobility. The research involved field work in Indonesia using a mixed-method approach. It involved 140 semi-structured oral history interviews followed by a survey questionnaire.

Irregular Migration Flows in the Horn of Africa: Challenges and implications for source, transit and destination countries (September 2015) (955KB PDF)
Author: Mr Christopher Horwood
This paper aims to provide Australian policy makers and analysts with a deeper understanding of the Horn of Africa region’s complex migration dynamics. It provides an overview of the migration routes, country specific issues, an analysis of trends, responses to the challenges of irregular migration and the risks associated with irregular migration in the region. The paper also provides an overview of the outlook, including looking at regional factors, the drivers of migration, the inevitability of increasing levels of mixed migration and the implications and challenges for states.

Media and migration: Comparative analysis of print and online media reporting on migrants and migration in selected countries (Phase II) (June 2015) (2MB PDF)
Authors: Ms Marie McAuliffe, Mr Warren Weeks and Prof Khalid Koser
This paper compares media discourses on migrants and migration in 13 countries.  It does so with a view to better understand messages, which can both reflect and shape attitudes towards migration.  The paper is based on analysis of a dataset comprising over 500 million print and online media items published between 1 October 2013 and 30 September 2014 in six ‘very high human development countries', including Australia; and seven countries defined as 'other human development countries'.

Promoting the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration of Migrants (July 2015) (270KB PDF)
Author: Prof Khalid Koser
This paper explores the factors influencing a migrant’s decision to return to their country of origin, including understanding the role played by return policy interventions. It also seeks to enhance understanding of the concept of sustainable return, how to define it and how to measure it. The research involved semi-structured interviews with 273 respondents in eight origin countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Vietnam), three transit countries (Greece, Indonesia and Turkey) and four destination countries (Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom).

The role of information and communication networks in the decision to seek asylum and the choice of Australia (February 2015) (325KB PDF)
Author: Dr Danielle Every
This paper is based on interviews with 33 former illegal maritime arrivals from Afghanistan and Iran in South Australia. All interviewees arrived in Australia between 18 months and 5 years prior to the interview and all had been granted a protection visa. The paper seeks to understand the factors that shape the selection of asylum destinations, and how these factors change across time and place. It also seeks to better understand the role of information about destinations. 

Applications for Asylum in the Developed World: Modelling Asylum Claims by Origin and Destination (April 2015) (I656KB PDF)
Authors: Prof Tim Hatton and Mr Joe Moloney
This paper provides an analysis of asylum application trends in 19 destination countries from 48 source countries over the period 1997 to 2012. It does so through a quantitative index of asylum policies, broken into three groups - access policies, processing policies and welfare policies. 

Media and migration: Comparative analysis of print and online media reporting on migrants and migration in selected origin and destination countries (January 2015) (1.8MB PDF)
Authors: Ms Marie McAuliffe and Mr Warren Weeks
This paper presents a comparative analysis of print and online media representations of migration over a six-month period in both source countries (Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Vietnam, and Bangladesh) and destination countries (United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Canada, Norway and Switzerland).

Leaving Family Behind: understanding the irregular migration of unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors – a qualitative study (December 2014) (449KB PDF)
Authors: Dr Ignacio Correa-Velez, Ms Mariana Nardone and Ms Katharine Knoetze
This paper presents findings from qualitative research which investigated the drivers and determinants of Afghan unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors (UAMs) who travelled to Australia as IMAs.

The root causes of movement: Exploring the determinants of Irregular Migration from Afghanistan (November 2014) (553KB PDF)
Authors: Mr Craig Loschmann, Dr Katie Kuschminder and Dr Melissa Siegel
From research which analysed data collected in a survey of 2,005 households in Afghanistan, this paper offers insights into the drivers, determinants, and decision-making of irregular migrants from Afghanistan.

The Process of Sri Lankan Migration to Australia Focussing on Irregular Migrants Seeking Asylum (November 2014) (1MB PDF)
Authors: Prof Graeme Hugo and Mr Lakshman Dissanayake
This paper examines irregular migration from Sri Lanka within the broader context of all Sri Lankan migration, both to Australia and internationally.

Drivers of irregular and regular migration from Sri Lanka: Evidence from a large scale survey (December 2014) (499KB PDF)
Author: Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya
This paper reports the key findings from a large scale cross-sectional quantitative survey of 21,000 people in Sri Lanka. It is the first comprehensive analysis of the drivers, determinants and decision making of potential migrants in Sri Lanka, disaggregated into categories based on degrees of intention to migrate.

Indonesia as a Transit Country in Irregular Migration to Australia (September 2014) (793KB PDF)
Authors: Prof Graeme Hugo, Dr George Tan and Mr Caven Jonathan Napitupulu
This paper examines the role of Indonesia as a transit country and its migration industry. It is based on fieldwork undertaken in Indonesia between 2012 and 2014 which included a survey of IMAs intending to reach Australia, examining their experiences, motivations and intentions.

6. Global Irregular Maritime Migration: Current and Future Challenges (April 2014) (859KB PDF) 
Authors: Ms Marie McAuliffe and Ms Victoria Mence 
With changes in global migration occurring at a more rapid pace than perhaps ever before, it is essential to view global irregular maritime migration as part of bigger dynamic forces rather than a narrow, discrete phenomenon. Of particular relevance are the ever-increasing global migration flows, as well as the movement of asylum seekers and refugees. This paper discusses key aspects of irregular maritime migration – a 'wicked problem' that is complex, multi-faceted as well as dynamic and difficult to adequately conceptualise or manage.

Seeking the views of irregular migrants: Decision making, drivers and migration journeys (November 2013) (580KB PDF)
Appendix A – Irregular Maritime Arrival Survey Results 2012-13 (716KB PDF)
Author: Ms Marie McAuliffe
The Irregular Migration Research Program conducted an innovative quantitative survey of irregular maritime arrivals (IMAs) who have been granted a permanent visa in Australia. This paper discusses the results from the survey which provide a useful empirical evidence base on IMA decision making, and highlight the complex and multi-faceted factors and processes underpinning why and how people travel to Australia as IMAs.

Seeking the views of irregular migrants: Survey background, rationale and methodology (November 2013) (377KB PDF)
Appendix B – Irregular Maritime Arrival Survey Results 2012-13 (241KB PDF) 
Author: Ms Marie McAuliffe
The Irregular Migration Research Program conducted an innovative quantitative survey of irregular maritime arrivals granted a permanent visa in Australia. This paper provides background on the survey rationale and methodology.

Migration and Displacement Impacts of Afghan Transitions in 2014: Implications for Australia (October 2013) (620KB PDF)
Authors: Dr Khalid Koser and Mr Peter Marsden
This paper reviews current research and analysis on prospects for Afghanistan during and after the 2014 allied troops' withdrawal, and considers the possible implications for migration and displacement.

Placing recent Sri Lankan maritime arrivals in a broader migration context (October 2013) (804KB PDF)
Authors: Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya and Ms Marie McAuliffe
This paper places the recent significant increase in Sri Lankan IMAs to Australia, and the subsequent decrease, in a broader migration context.

Establishing an Evidence-Base for Future Policy Development on Irregular Migration to Australia - (June 2013) (477KB PDF)
Authors: Dr Khalid Koser and Ms Marie McAuliffe
This paper reviews international research on irregular migration, in order to identify specific research gaps in the Australian context, and make recommendations about how to fill these gaps.

Partnership arrangements

Lowy Institute for International Policy partnership

In October 2015, we commenced a two-year partnership with the Lowy Institute for International Policy. The aim of the partnership is to give us the opportunity to leverage off the Lowy Institute’s expertise in providing independent research and analysis by funding a Migration and Border Policy Project. Through this Project, the Lowy Institute will explore the challenges and opportunities raised by the movement of people and goods across Australia’s borders. An important goal of the research will be to put Australia’s experiences in a broader regional and global context.

In 2016, the Migration and Border Project will focus on two key themes:

  • Governance and International Protection
  • Economic Migration and Australia in the 21st Century.

The Project will include workshops and roundtables which bring together external experts and government officials in an effort to build genuinely strategic approaches to complex migration and border issues. It also includes annual Migration Border Policy Research Fellowships in which a departmental officer will undertake research on migration and border policy issues at the Lowy Institute.

The 2016 Migration and Border Fellow is Glen Swan with a research project on Return Migration.

Dr Khalid Koser has been appointed as Nonresident Fellow of the Project. Dr Koser, an expert in migration and security who has published widely, brings a wealth of experience to the Project. He is currently Executive Director of the Global Community Engagement and Resilience Fund. He is also chair of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Migration, and editor of the Journal of Refugee Studies.

Dr Jiyoung Song has been appointed as Research Fellow and Director of the Project. Dr Song brings a deep experience in Asian migration issues. She is also Assistant Professor, School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management University, Singapore; and a Global Ethics Fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs, New York.

For more information on the Migration and Border Policy Project, please visit the Lowy Institute’s webpage.

ANU partnership

We signed a Principal Memorandum of Understanding in April 2013 with the Australian National University (ANU) to establish a Collaborative Research Programme on the international movement of people, and to undertake a series of collaborative projects and other research activities. The Collaborative Research Programme is managed by the Crawford School of Public Policy on behalf of the ANU.

The following principal researchers were successful in their applications for funding under the first round of the Collaborative Research Programme:

  • Dr Melissa Siegel (Maastricht University, The Netherlands)
    'The root caus​es of movement: Understanding the Determinants and Processes of Irregular Migration from Afghanistan'
  • Professor Graeme Hugo (The University of Adelaide),
    'The Process of Sri Lankan Migration to Australia focusing on Irregular Migrants seeking Asylum'
  • Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya (The Australian National University),
    'Drivers of irregular and regular migration from Sri Lanka: evidence from a large survey'
  • Professor Tim Hatton (The University of Essex/ The Australian National University),
    'Determinants of Applications for Asylum'
  • Professor Sharon Pickering (Monash University),
    'Information Consumption and Decision Making of Irregular Maritime Arrivals'.

The following principal researchers were successful in their applications for funding under the second round of the Collaborative Research Programme:

  • Dr Dinuk Jayasuriya (The Australian National University)
    'A longitudinal analysis on drivers and determinants of irregular and regular migration across Sri Lanka'
  • Professor Khalid Koser (Maastricht University, The Netherlands)
    'Understanding Irregular Migrant Decision Making Factors in Transit'
  • Professor Mohammad Jalal Abbasi-Shavazi (University of Tehran/ The Australian National University)
    'Drivers and Decision Making Processes of Irregular Migration Among Afghans in Iran'
  • Professor Sharon Pickering (Monash University)
    'Women's decision making and information sharing in the course of irregular migration'.

For more information on the Collaborative Research Programme's projects and activities, visit the HC Coombs Partnerships webpage.