Researching deportation trends around the world

BOb’s Dr Leanne Weber mobilizes an international network of multilingual researchers to compare trends in deportation across the developed world.

What do we know about international trends in deportation?

In Australia the wrongful detention of Australian citizen Cornelia Rau and deportation of Vivian Solon exposed a deportation machinery that was careering out of control. In fact, with deportations from the USA approaching 400,000 per annum, the United Kingdom openly pursuing publicly announced removal targets, and the French government engaging in mass expulsions of Roma minorities, it is easy to conclude that deportation is on the rise right around the developed world. But what do we really know about international trends in deportation?

Understanding trends in a comparative context is an elusive task. Statistical data may be scarce or unreliable, and clarifying exactly what forms of state practice are being measured in each country is no simple task.  Moreover, many questions arise which cannot be answered by aggregate deportation figures alone, such as who is being deported, for what reason, and in what manner? In Europe, for example, the Committee for the Prevention of Torture has been concerned for several decades about the increasing use of force during deportation. The deportation of longstanding residents following criminal convictions to barely remembered countries of origin has attracted controversy in Australia and elsewhere, and the escorting of unaccompanied minors from the USA  across the Mexican border has arisen as a significant human rights issue there. The social impacts and ethical dimensions of these state practices are not apparent from official statistics alone and require protracted research.

Researching  international trends

When BOb researcher Dr Leanne Weber received the Australian European University Institute (EUI) Fellowships Association Visiting Scholar Award for 2012, she decided to take advantage of this relocation to the heart of Europe to begin to answer some of these questions from a comparative perspective. The Comparative Deportation study is part of a larger BOb research project ‘Exporting Risk: The Australian Deportation Project’, funded by the Australian Research Council. With the help of an international network of multilingual researchers – some of them graduate students at the EUI, others from BOb’s own student network, and others established researchers who had worked with BOb members on previous projects – Dr Weber has gathered a wide range of data on deportation statistics, law and policy from 10 European countries plus Canada, USA, Australia and New Zealand. The data repository will eventually be made available for public use through BOb after further rigorous checking.

Understanding international trends

Preliminary results from the statistical data were presented at a panel on comparative border control at the ANZ Criminology Conference in Brisbane in October. BOb’s Professor Sharon Pickering and Dr Marie Segrave also presented on the panel. Standardizing the deportation statistics by population size reveals that Australia is in the mid range in terms of deportation rates (see graph below).  More work is needed in order to be certain about what is being counted in each jurisdiction and to begin to identify the reasons for the disparities in levels of deportation. One surprise is that Scandinavian countries that are often celebrated for their non-punitive approach to criminal justice have high rates of deportation per capita according to this data. Conversely, the huge numbers of deportations from the USA appear less anomalous, although still significant, once population size is taken into account.


In terms of recent trends, the countries with the clearest pattern of increasing deportations over the last 10 years are the USA and France. Other countries such as Germany and Italy appear to be reducing their use of deportation, whether by choice or because of practical and legal barriers to effecting removals. Australia’s pattern shows a dip in removals following the Rau and Solon scandals in 2005, followed by a steady upward trend.

Our international research team

While there is still much to do in terms of analysis and interpretation, the Comparative Deportation Project could not have progressed to its current stage without the talented team of multilingual researchers who collected the data. The team comprises Sigmund Mohn who collected data for Norway and Sweden, Francesco Vecchio (Italy), Francisco Alonso (France), Jonathan Zaragoza (Spain), Lea Schönfeld (Germany), Andriani Fili (Greece), Julia Ivan (Hungary), Anne van Es (Netherlands) and Kimberly Klein (USA and Canada). BOb’s Rebecca Powell took responsibility for the UK, New Zealand and the EU, assisted with collation of data and conducted additional research for Australia.