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Secrecy and human rights abuse in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres

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Abstract

All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia's territorial waters by boat are subject to mandatory, indefinite and unreviewable detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. This offshore detention regime is characterised by a high degree of secrecy, low levels of transparency and accountability, and few opportunities for external oversight. This has created a closed, controlled environment, in which people are routinely neglected and harmed. To better understand the human impact of Australia’s offshore detention regime, this article draws on research from social psychology regarding human behaviour in closed institutions. This research – which has substantially informed prison policies throughout the Western world – demonstrates the critical importance of external oversight, openness and transparency for the protection of human rights of people in closed institutions. This knowledge has not been applied to Australia's offshore immigration detention regime. To the contrary: creating a closed, opaque system of detention has been an explicit policy goal of the Australian government. By actively restricting transparency, this research demonstrates that not only are the abuses of detainees' human rights hidden from the public eye, they are inevitable.

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... A number of scholars have interrogated the securitization of asylum seekers in Australia from the point of view of how the detention centres violate the human rights of asylum seekers, especially the rights of vulnerable persons like children (see for example Gaudio and Philips, 2018;Nerthery and Holman, 2016); and on the other hand, from the point of view of how the Australian government itself is complicit in the crime of systematically denying refugees the right to seek asylum (see for example Missbach and Palmer, 2020;Watkins, 2017). As a point of departure, this article takes its lead from previous studies to examine the military-led operation (Operation Sovereign Borders, n.d.) and the detention policy for Australian asylum seekers from the point of view of the rationale for its implementation, which, as stated on OSB's website, is partly to prevent people from risking their lives at sea. ...
... Just like in the UK, the securitization of asylum seekers in Australia could be said to have been engineered by the perception of illegal migrants as threats to national sovereignty. Although successive governments in Australia have tried amending the 1958 Migration Act as part of a wider strategy to combat illegal maritime arrival, it could be said that the securitization of asylum seekers in Australia heightened with the introduction of the 1992 policy of mandatory immigration detention (Nerthery andHolman, 2016: 1019). The 'Pacific Solution' was introduced by Prime Minister John Howard following this policy. ...
... However, the exercise was slowly wound back from 2005, and then officially closed by Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008. Due to the surge in unauthorized boat arrivals from 2009, a 'no advantage principle' was introduced and the 'Pacific Solution' was re-established, thereby making it impossible for asylum seekers who arrived by boat to have advantage over those who waited in camps (Nerthery andHolman, 2016: 1020). ...
Article
Full-text available
There has been a tremendous increase in the treatment of asylum seekers as security threats following the 9/11 attack. Australia represents an example of a country that perceives asylum seekers as a threat to the national sovereignty of the country, and this has further exacerbated a new dimension in the securitization of asylum seekers in the country. This securitization has culminated in a range of border security programmes, and Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB) represents the most recent of these. This article interrogates the OSB policy from the point of view of the rationale for its implementation. The article identifies that, contrary to the mission of the OSB, the detention of asylum seekers and the turn-back operations represent the variants of risks that asylum seekers are subjected to. The article therefore calls for a more accommodating approach in the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia.
... Australia's asylum system is characterised by systemic abuse, torture and secrecy (Amnesty International 2016;Briskman 2016a;Nethery and Holman 2016;Sanggaran and Zion 2016). ...
... Australia's asylum system has been subject to numerous human rights complaints, parliamentary inquiries, legal challenges and international criticisms, with conditions and systemic abuses shrouded in secrecy (Nethery and Holman 2016). The UN Human Rights Committee has found that Australia has breached a number of obligations under international law, including inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention and the right to an effective remedy (A v Australia 1997;F.K.A.G. et al. v Australia 2013;MMM et al v Australia 2013). ...
Article
Social workers working within the Australian asylum seeker processing system, particularly offshore on Nauru and Manus Island, risk being collaborators in the systemic abuse of men, women and children who seek asylum in Australia. In order to avoid accusations of collaboration, social workers must work to end this abuse. However, the current policy environment makes this very difficult, with social workers who resist the status quo risking unemployment, public shaming and imprisonment. Using freedom of information disclosures, whistleblower testimony, leaked documents, parliamentary records, case law, media reports and academic literature, this paper examines this difficult position. Alternatives to retreating from the system are proposed, including advocacy through whistleblowing, policy reform and litigation, or subversive action from within. Social workers are encouraged to act in whatever ways they can, within the ethical, legal and practical limitations which are imposed.
... As other studies have shown, the mainstream news media and the Australian government have been driving the public discourse on this issue with mostly negative and dehumanising representations of asylum seekers (Bleiker et al., 2013;Klocker and Dunn, 2003;O'Doherty and Lecouteur, 2007;McKay et al., 2011). In Australia, negative and dehumanising perceptions are exacerbated by a secretive government policy (see Nethery and Holman, 2016), making counter-images difficult. ...
... Secrecy is a defining characteristic, and there are various ways in which principles of transparency, that apply routinely to other government activity, are obfuscated or explicitly legislated against. For example, reporting procedures and guidelines for the companies and personnel that operate the centres are weak or non-existent (Nethery and Holman, 2016: 1025-1027. Access by the media and other non-contracted staff, such as lawyers, relatives and support people is forbidden. ...
Article
Full-text available
The act of witnessing connects audiences with distant suffering. But what happens when bearing witness becomes severely restricted? External parties, including the mainstream news media, are constrained from accessing Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres. The effect is that people seeking asylum are hidden from the public and excluded from national debates. Some detainees have adopted social media as a platform to communicate their stories of flight, and their experiences of immigration detention, to a wider audience. This article examines the ways in which social media, and particularly Facebook, has facilitated what we call self-represented witnessing. We analyse two public Facebook pages to assess how detainees use such social media networks to document their experiences, and we observe the interaction between detainees, other social media users and mainstream media. Significantly, these social media networks enable detained asylum seekers to conduct an unmediated form of self-represented witnessing that exposes human rights abuses and documents justice claims.
... Australia's offshore processing facilities have received particular criticism. Refugees and whistle blowers have described horrific conditions and endemic levels of physical and sexual violence (Hoang and Gleeson, 10 August 2016;Nethery and Holman, 2016), including incidents involving children. Within the Nauru Files (a cache of 2116 leaked incident reports from Australia's processing centre on Nauru), there were seven reports of sexual assaults involving children, 59 reports of assault on children and 30 reports of self-harm involving children (Farrell et al., 10 August 2016). ...
... If the international lawfulness of Australia's detention practices was not in question, however, it would be difficult to explain the veil of secrecy that covers the system. Staff at offshore processing centres have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements, and journalists and human rights organisations are routinely denied access (Fleay, 2015;Nethery and Holman, 2016). Although the offshore facilities are more isolated than the onshore network, there is significantly less formal oversight within the onshore network than within Australia's prison system (Briskman et al., 2008: 343). ...
Article
The notion of dark networks has recently received attention in the literature on policy network analysis. Dark networks are defined as illegal and covert, in contrast to bright networks which are legal and overt. In this article, we suggest a third category – grey networks – which are characterised by their use of secrecy and concealment despite their ostensibly legal status. These networks are subject to contradictory imperatives. They employ methods that cannot be openly acknowledged within the larger legal and social framework in which they function. In this article, we illustrate this concept through an interview-based study of Australia's immigration detention network. This network enacts a deterrence policy which has been widely condemned as breaching Australia's obligations under international law. At the same time, it is required to maintain a façade of lawfulness and respect for human rights.
... Treating asylum policy as a national security operation, the Australian government justifies a lack of disclosure about its activities. Media access to Nauru and Manus Island has been extremely difficult, if not denied completely (Farrell, 2014;Nethery & Holman, 2016;Tiffin, 2014). The Border Force Act 2015 legislates that all operations under the policy remain secret: Department officials and contracted staff risk two years of imprisonment if they reveal information to the media about their work. ...
... The Border Force Act 2015 legislates that all operations under the policy remain secret: Department officials and contracted staff risk two years of imprisonment if they reveal information to the media about their work. Significant democratic deficits in both Nauru and PNG have reinforced power asymmetries between these states and Australia, and Australia has provided sufficient incentives to facilitate cooperation (Nethery & Holman, 2016, p. 1029. Both Nauru and PNG have obstructed access to all external observers at Australia's behest, including the United Nations, Amnesty International, and members of Parliament from Australia and overseas. ...
Article
Australia's offshore immigration detention centers are characterized by a culture of secrecy that keeps human rights abuses hidden. Yet, detainees are employing new technologies and media to narrate their experiences of incarceration. This article examines the potentials and limitations of bearing witness and exercising acoustic agency through podcasting. It provides a case study of The Messenger podcast in which a refugee detained on Manus Island exchanges voice messages with an Australian journalist. It finds that podcasting can breach the secrecy that sustains a punitive detention regime and evoke empathy in listeners through the affective nature of voice. However, podcasting is limited by the sense of distance produced by prerecorded and edited sound and by the risk of creating echo chambers through the selective nature of podcast consumption. Finally, we adapt, develop, and argue for the concept of earwitnessing as a practice of responsible and political listening to injustice. Available open access here: https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/10663
... 'Human rights abuses will inevitably occur within unregulated, closed institutions especially when one group of people have arbitrary authority over another group'. 17 It is not uncommon for health staff 's rotations to be summarily cut short if they protest their role on Nauru. 33 There are several systems designed to prevent staff from speaking out about conditions at the Nauru detention centre. ...
... 49 However, Nauru detention employment is via a private business in a foreign country, 'which means geography, and several levels of agreements, contracts and operating procedures, stymie transparency and external oversight'. 17 The Australian government has deliberately ensured that Nauru as a country is a closed island, running an opaque system, which hides the suffering within the detention environment. 43 50 51 Finally, there is an argument that positive change could occur through workers' day-to-day acts that purposely undermining the system. ...
Article
Professional providers of mental health services are motivated to help people, including, or especially, vulnerable people. We analyse the ethical implications of mental health providers accepting employment at detention centres that operate out of the normal regulatory structure of the modern state. Specifically, we examine tensions and moral harms experienced by providers at the Australian immigration detention centre on the island of Nauru. Australia has adopted indefinite offshore detention for asylum-seekers arriving by boat as part of a deterrence strategy that relies on making detainment conditions harsh. This has known deleterious mental health effects. As a token to fiduciary care obligations, Australia employs mental health professionals to work on Nauru. These providers are often motivated to make a positive difference for detainees' lives. We examine the overall impact of the providers' work with detainees and the implications of their presence. The strongest evidence supports that the small mitigation of harms offered by these providers does not outweigh the harms of supporting a system designed to perpetuate human suffering. For mental health professionals considering working in offshore detention, we offer specific topics to scrutinise and weigh prior to employment. Because optimising detainee's mental health is beyond the capacity of individual providers, we call for the organisations standardising and supporting mental health professionals to oppose employment of their associates in offshore detention. Lessons from this case study are generalisable to other jurisdictions to help inform organisations that licence and support mental health providers and individual providers considering work in similar settings.
... In Australia, for instance, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia's territorial waters are sent for detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which is better known as 'offshore detention' . The main issue is that taking the detention outside the country of destination leads to 'an extra-judicial form of incarceration, [since] immigration detention centres are not subject to the same regulatory framework as Australia's prison system, affecting the conditions under which people are held, their length of detention, and their avenues for appeal' (Nethery andHolman, 2016: 1023). This offshoring goes hand in hand with privatization, meaning that private companies are contracting to operate detention centres in foreign countries. ...
Book
Full-text available
The main argument is that improving migrants’ rights and conceptual linkages between SSG/R and migration is best achieved, by decentring our gaze, namely going beyond the ‘national’ and ‘state-centric’ view that characterizes traditionally SSG/R and to consider the agency of both migrants and SSR actors. First from a migrants’ perspective, it is key for SSR actors to go beyond traditional legal classifications and to consider the diversity of personal situations that involve refugees, stranded migrants and asylum seekers, which might endorse different roles at different times of their journeys and lives. Second, the transnational nature of migration calls for a transnationalization of SSG/R too. For too long the concept has mostly been applied within the national setting of SSR institutions and actors. Migration calls for a clear decentring that involves a transnational dimension and more work among transnational actors and policymakers to facilitate a norm transfer from the domestic to the interstate and international level. As such, the ‘transnational’ nature of migration and its governance needs to be ‘domesticated’ within the national context in order to change the mindset of SSG/R actors and institutions. More importantly, the paper argues that poor SSG/R at home produces refugees and incentivizes migrants to leave their countries after being victims of violence by law enforcement and security services. During migrants’ complex and fragmented journeys, good security sector governance is fundamental to address key challenges faced by these vulnerable groups. I also argue that a better understanding of migrants’ and refugees’ security needs is beneficial and central to the good governance of the security sector. After reviewing the key terms of migration and its drivers in section 2, section 3 reviews how SSG is part of the implementation of the GCM. SSR actors play a role in shaping migratory routes and refugees’ incentives to leave, in explaining migrants’ and refugees’ resilience, in protecting migrants and refugees, and in providing security. Although it cautions against artificial classifications and the term of ‘transit migration’, section 4 reviews what the core challenges are in the countries of origin, transit and destination. Section 5 provides a detailed overview of the linkages between migration and each security actor: the military, police forces, intelligence services, border guards, interior ministries, private actors, criminal justice, parliaments, independent oversight bodies and civil society. Section 6 formulates some recommendations.
... The resettlement program in Australia, explicitly labelled the 'Humanitarian Program', serves a primarily symbolic function. The Australian government has an international reputation for imposing cruelty and violence on refugees (Laney et al., 2016), demonstrated through the mandatory and indefinite detention of people (including children) attempting to seek asylum in Australia in offshore prisons in other Pacific nations where all refugee detainees have experienced human rights abuses and some have perished as a result of preventable medical situations, self-harm and even murder (Nethery and Holman, 2016). Refusing to resettle these refugees in Australia, the government cites the 'Humanitarian Program', which is primarily constituted of refugees selected specifically by representatives of the Australian government, as the only valid way to settle in Australia as a refugee and a hallmark of the generosity of the Australian nation in providing refuge (Phillips, 2017). ...
Article
Can the displacement of refugees continue to be understood as exceptional? The recent global increase in refugees has prompted calls to develop new solutions to displacement that focus on integrating refugees into the local economies of nations that receive them. Transforming refugees from economic burdens to economic benefits does not, however, resolve displacement: doing so only shifts the project of refugee protection from a supposedly humanitarian imperative to an economic incentive. Examining how political economy intersects with moral economy in the global refugee regime by drawing on fieldwork conducted with refugees in Uganda and Australia, I describe how efforts to incorporate refugees into local economies not only fail to resolve their displacement but serve to exacerbate it, with such ‘humanitarian exploits’ transforming refugees from recipients of humanitarian aid to highly exploitable workers who are, in their words, unable to ‘make a life’. I consider that continuing to analyse refugees as objects of humanitarian intervention rather than actors in a globalised political economy is a way to reproduce the exceptionality of refugee experiences and conceal how their lives are implicated within and indicative of new formations of global capitalism. Not only is the displacement of refugees not exceptional: it is emblematic of an increasingly globalised experience of ordinary displacement through which citizenship and civic rights are stratified by reducing the value of human life to the potential to extract economic productivity.
... Evidence from the Australian context of how current methods can be transformed into more cooperative approaches could provide insights for other multilevel systems dealing with migrant settlement issues. To date Australian research on immigration has largely focused on social issues (Hugo, 2008;Collins, 2013;Neumann et al., 2014;Galligan et al., 2014), integration of migrants and refugees (Radford, 2016), racism (Forrest & Dunn, 2013), and the processing and treatment of refugees (Nethery & Holman, 2016). There is a lack of scholarly research on intergovernmental governance arrangements needed to support more effective cooperation and integration between governments in meeting the increasing scale of the challenges brought about by migration. ...
Article
This article offers a comprehensive assessment of the current trends in the governance arrangements of migrant settlement policy in Australia. It outlines the context of migrant policy as an important element of nation building and in contributing to the most multicultural society in the OECD. While immigration remains popular with the majority of Australians it is not without challenges in terms of coordination between levels of government to achieve effective outcomes. The lessons from Australia have relevance for other multilevel systems in terms of the need for cooperative approaches that combine top down and bottom up contributions from government agencies at all levels and non-government organisations. The article provides an analysis of governance issues from the perspective of the major stakeholders. The key question addressed in this paper is; what are the key challenges and opportunities of establishing cooperative approaches to immigration policy in a multilevel system? Issues involved in a potential transition of Australia’s immigration policy from a centralist approach to a more cooperative approach will be examined through the lens of a framework of analysis that consists of three scenarios for the structure of immigration policy: the centralist, the cooperative and the asymmetric scenarios.
... In 2001, a seismic shift took place in the political discourse around national security and the immigration of people seeking asylum (Marr & 'provided an opportunity for the Government to take a public stand against asylum seeker arrivals', a move which more than three quarters of Australians supported at the time (Curthoys 2003, p.8;Nethery & Holman 2016, p.1020. Since this event, a 'desire to protect Australia's borders from refugees' has dominated conversations about immigration and national security (Curthoys,p.8;Reilly). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Since 2001, Australia's increasingly securitised and exclusionary asylum policy has been legitimated through a damaging discourse surrounding people who seek asylum. This discourse, reinforced by successive Australian Prime Ministers, has been instrumental in shaping policies which have a devastating human impact. While political elites across the West are distancing themselves from a discourse of inclusive multiculturalism, Australia continues to celebrate its multicultural success despite the ongoing tension between a rhetoric of inclusion and one justifying exclusion. Since discourse is both productive and reflective of the social world, shaping discourse can be understood as a means to shape reality. This thesis explores how discourse is constructed and reproduced through framing; a discursive practice that influences how certain issues are understood. The texts analysed are those in which Australian Prime Ministers and senior political figures defend policies of exclusion against people who seek asylum by boat as part of a broader policy vision for a Safe, Secure & Free Australia. In order to contrast the frames, narratives and discourses associated with exclusion, communications promoting the policy vision of an inclusive Multicultural Australia have also been analysed. The frames identified in the material reproduce particular narratives which help to maintain the hegemonic position of discourses which present Australia as a humanitarian, welcoming and inclusive multicultural society and situate people who seek asylum by boat as illegal, seeking an unfair advantage, and as a threat to national security. By identifying frames that consistently appear in the messaging of Australian political elites, we can understand how certain narratives have come to be accepted as truth.
... Significant advances in the accessibility of sound recording technologies and audio dissemination platforms create new avenues for listening across carceral boundaries. This is important, not least because carceral regimes are notoriously secretive (Nethery and Holman, 2016). In a time of 'hyper-incarceration' (Cunneen et al., 2013) and entrapment at the border, 'earwitnessing detention' (Rae et al., 2019) takes on renewed urgency for researchers, activists, and others concerned with the proliferation of carceral violence. ...
Article
New technologies for recording, reproducing, and disseminating sound are increasingly accessible and provide important opportunities for listening to accounts of confinement. Through a politics and practice of ‘earwitnessing detention’, this article explores experiential patterns and distinctions between immigration detention and imprisonment. By ‘tuning in’ to radio and podcasting emerging from and through carceral spaces, we argue that both detained asylum seekers and Aboriginal prisoners in Australia narrate an experience of ‘indefinite stuckness’. Indefinite stuckness is an existential condition within a carceral continuum that is both spatial and temporal, and characterised by massive racial inequalities. For detained asylum seekers, indefinite stuckness manifests in the absence of a set release date, whereas for Aboriginal prisoners, it is a cycle of criminalisation and re-incarceration in the colony. This important distinction shapes how detention is represented: as torturous and abusive, or as an opportunity for respite from the ‘chaos’ outside. Linking these sometimes-divergent accounts of confinement are themes of friendship and community as forms of survival and resistance to the abjection that frequently accompanies indefinite stuckness.
... In 2015, so-called "hotspots centres" were created in Italy and Greece to assist frontline EU member states facing disproportionate migratory pressures at the bloc's external borders and stem irregular flows into the EU. Similarly, in Australia, asylum seekers who arrive by boats are transferred to "offshore processing centres" where they are confined until their refugee claims are processed (Nethery and Holman, 2016). In general, reception conditions, especially for vulnerable asylum seekers, remain a concern with many of them living in inhumane conditions in overcrowded facilities (Scherrer, 2019). ...
Article
In post-apartheid South Africa, migration policies and legislation have left critical issues such as social cohesion and integration unsolved. Furthermore, the inability to reconcile the national interest of maintaining borders' integrity with respecting moral and legal obligations has placed the asylum system under tremendous stress. Drawing from secondary sources, as well as qualitative interviews, this paper explores the development of new asylum policies aimed at curtailing asylum seekers' right to work in South Africa. The study's findings provide support for the conclusions of earlier research that highlights the consequences of hostile policies and practices for asylum seekers' livelihoods. The author argues that curtailments on asylum seek-ers' right to work will have many possible socioeconomic ramifications. In the immediate term, the legislation seeks to inhibit asylum seekers from engaging in self-employment, while in the long run it may achieve the undesired effect of producing more precarious forms of livelihood.
... While the Australian government wields extensive power in relation to Australian immigration detention and while there has been little political opposition, successive governments have only further sought to consolidate this power by limiting oversight, attacking critics and rejecting cooperative action. Nethery and Holman (2016) suggest there are at least five ways the Australian government has restricted transparency. First, by framing the issue of refugee and asylum seeker boat arrivals as one of national security. ...
Chapter
In this chapter I will consider whether principled disobedience can be justified in response to Australian immigration detention. While there is a degree of overlap, one of the major differences between principled disobedience and the action discussed in previous chapters is that principled disobedience deliberately seeks to break the law. I will start by defining principled disobedience. I go on to consider examples of principled disobedience in response to Australian immigration detention. I will then consider justifications that have been offered for principled disobedience and consider whether such action taken in response to Australian immigration detention could be justified. Unlike strike action and whistleblowing, it is somewhat difficult to be as specific with principled disobedience as it could take a number of forms. In saying this, however, I conclude that there is a prima facie justification for healthcare professionals to take such action in response to Australian immigration detention.
... While the Australian government wields extensive power in relation to Australian immigration detention and while there has been little political opposition, successive governments have only further sought to consolidate this power by limiting oversight, attacking critics and rejecting cooperative action. Nethery and Holman (2016) suggest there are at least five ways the Australian government has restricted transparency. First, by framing the issue of refugee and asylum seeker boat arrivals as one of national security. ...
Chapter
In this chapter I will consider whether whistleblowing by healthcare professionals can be justified in response to Australian immigration detention. To do this I will first outline what I mean by whistleblowing, discussing its key features and significance. I will then consider a number of examples of whistleblowing from healthcare professionals who formerly worked in Australian immigration detention centres, outlining their disclosures, the impact they had and the repercussions that came as a result of their whistleblowing. I will then consider some major justificatory theories of whistleblowing and apply these to Australian immigration detention. I argue that with some constraints on how whistleblowing is carried out along with careful consideration about the risks in taking such action, whistleblowing in response to Australian immigration detention is otherwise justified.
... In Australia, for instance, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia's territorial waters are sent for detention on Nauru and Papua New Guinea, which is better known as 'offshore detention' . The main issue is that taking the detention outside the country of destination leads to 'an extra-judicial form of incarceration, [since] immigration detention centres are not subject to the same regulatory framework as Australia's prison system, affecting the conditions under which people are held, their length of detention, and their avenues for appeal' (Nethery andHolman, 2016: 1023). This offshoring goes hand in hand with privatization, meaning that private companies are contracting to operate detention centres in foreign countries. ...
Chapter
The main argument is that improving migrants’ rights and conceptual linkages between SSG/R and migration is best achieved, by decentring our gaze, namely going beyond the ‘national’ and ‘state-centric’ view that characterizes traditionally SSG/R and to consider the agency of both migrants and SSR actors. First from a migrants’ perspective, it is key for SSR actors to go beyond traditional legal classifications and to consider the diversity of personal situations that involve refugees, stranded migrants and asylum seekers, which might endorse different roles at different times of their journeys and lives. Second, the transnational nature of migration calls for a transnationalization of SSG/R too. For too long the concept has mostly been applied within the national setting of SSR institutions and actors. Migration calls for a clear decentring that involves a transnational dimension and more work among transnational actors and policymakers to facilitate a norm transfer from the domestic to the interstate and international level. As such, the ‘transnational’ nature of migration and its governance needs to be ‘domesticated’ within the national context in order to change the mindset of SSG/R actors and institutions. More importantly, the paper argues that poor SSG/R at home produces refugees and incentivizes migrants to leave their countries after being victims of violence by law enforcement and security services. During migrants’ complex and fragmented journeys, good security sector governance is fundamental to address key challenges faced by these vulnerable groups. I also argue that a better understanding of migrants’ and refugees’ security needs is beneficial and central to the good governance of the security sector. After reviewing the key terms of migration and its drivers in section 2, section 3 reviews how SSG is part of the implementation of the GCM. SSR actors play a role in shaping migratory routes and refugees’ incentives to leave, in explaining migrants’ and refugees’ resilience, in protecting migrants and refugees, and in providing security. Although it cautions against artificial classifications and the term of ‘transit migration’, section 4 reviews what the core challenges are in the countries of origin, transit and destination. Section 5 provides a detailed overview of the linkages between migration and each security actor: the military, police forces, intelligence services, border guards, interior ministries, private actors, criminal justice, parliaments, independent oversight bodies and civil society. Section 6 formulates some recommendations.
... They are also liminal and hostile "anti-places" (McLoughlin and Warin, 2008): closed and suspended, but unstable and insecure, combining abrupt change and endless waiting. Through actual and symbolic violence, including secret abuses (Nethery and Holman, 2016) and through systemic uncertainty and disorder, indefinite detention abrogates rights, denies needs and invalidates prosocial behaviour and emotions, thereby erasing visibility and personhood (Brooker et al., 2016;Cleveland et al., 2018). Thus, dehumanised and bearing detention's injuries, detainees become hopeless, powerless and deportable (Coffey et al., 2010;The Senate, 2017;Koutroulis, 2003). ...
Article
Abstract Purpose The purpose of this study is to examine the following: how indefinite detention for deterrence (exemplified by Australia) injures asylum-seekers; how international legal authorities confirm Australia’s cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; how detention compromises health-care ethics and hurts health professionals; to weigh arguments for and against boycotting immigration detention; and to discover how health professionals might address these harms, achieving significant change. Design/methodology/approach Secondary data analyses and ethical argumentation were employed. Findings Australian Governments fully understand and accept policy-based injuries. They purposefully dispense cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and intend suffering that causes measurable harms for arriving asylum-seekers exercising their right under Australian law. Health professionals are ethically conflicted, not wanting to abandon patients yet constrained. Indefinite detention prevents them from alleviating sufferings and invites collusion, potentially strengthening harms; thwarts scientific inquiry and evidence-based interventions; and endangers their health whether they resist, leave or remain. Governments have primary responsibility for detained asylum-seekers’ health care. Health professional organisations should negotiate the minimum requirements for their members’ participation to ensure independence, and prevent conflicts of interest and inadvertent collaboration with and enabling systemic harms.
... This policy has received considerable negative scrutiny both within Australia and internationally as breaching human rights standards and the spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention (Archbold 2015;Henderson 2014;McAdam 2013). The conditions and day-to-day circumstances in off-shore detention have also been further distanced from public scrutiny through the process of privatizing detention and service provision (Nethery and Holman 2016). The two places of offshore detention are Manus Island under the jurisdiction of Papua New Guinea, and Nauru, the latter being an independent island state. ...
Article
Full-text available
This article examines the global pandemic, COVID-19, through the lens of responses to vulnerable migrants, asking what state responses mean for the future of human rights values and for humanitarian interventions. The responses of the Australian state are developed as a case study of actions and policies directed at refugees and temporary migrant workers through the COVID-19 pandemic. The theoretical framing of the article draws on racial capitalism to argue that the developments manifest during the ‘crisis times’ of COVID-19 are in large part a continuity of the exclusionary politics of bordering practices at the heart of neoliberal capitalism. The article proposes that a rethinking of foundational theoretical and methodological approaches in the social sciences are needed to reflect contemporary changes in justice claims, claims that increasingly recognize the multi-species nature of existential threats to all life.
... Oxfam, Belgrade Centre for Human Rights, and Macedonian Young Lawyers Association 2017); the containment of migrants in authoritarian and failed states where they are habitually subjected to torture and enslavement (Amnesty International 2020; Liguori 2019); and the banishment of large numbers of migrants to small island states that contain them in concentration camps (cf. Boochani 2018;Nethery and Holman 2016;Shachar 2020b, 46-51). ...
Article
Full-text available
States cannot legitimately enforce their borders against migrants if dominant conceptions of sovereignty inform enforcement because these conceptions undermine sufficient respect for migrants’ basic human rights. Instead, such conceptions lead states to assert total control over outsiders’ potential cross-border movements to support their in-group’s self-rule. Thus, although legitimacy requires states to prioritize universal respect for basic human rights, sovereign states today generally fail to do so when it comes to border enforcement. I contend that this enforcement could only be rendered legitimate if it was predicated on more desirable conceptions of sovereignty that supported the universal prioritization of basic human rights. Specifically, desirable conceptions would not establish and require absolute state sovereignty over borders as a necessary precondition for true popular self-governance.
Article
All asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are subject to mandatory immigration detention. Since 2001, Australia has housed asylum seekers in offshore immigration detention facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The detention centers have been criticized both locally and internationally for the inhuman conditions in which asylum seekers are forced to live. In 2016, The Guardian Australia published more than 2000 leaked incident reports from the detention center on Nauru detailing incidents related to health, safety, and well-being of detainees. This study reports on analysis of 2,116 publicly available incident reports recorded from May 2013 to October 2015. A qualitative content analysis was conducted, resulting in the categorization of the reports into six codes based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). More than half of the incidents (n = 1,463, 69.1 percent) were categorized as in breach of human rights Most violations related to the right to life, liberty, and security (n = 748), and the right to an adequate standard of living (n = 673). While some of the reports described minor incidents, others were life-threatening or critical in terms of the asylum seekers’ mental or physical health; numerous reports involved children and youth. The reports reflect the severe mental burden of immigration detention and the inappropriate physical conditions in the center. The results are consistent with other research on immigration detention that has identified poor conditions and negative consequences of detaining asylum seekers.
Article
The controversial mandatory immigration detention framework in Australia restricts individual freedoms in the most fundamental way and warrants close scrutiny. This article takes a pre-formulated theory of administrative justice as a lens to consider law-making and decision-making in mandatory detention cases where people sought asylum in Australia without a valid visa. In so doing, the article takes novel steps beyond defining the concept of administrative justice to applying a comprehensive administrative justice theory to this particular Australian setting. It provides a basis for analysing the limitations of the mandatory detention framework from a normative legal perspective and highlights areas of concern that are ripe for reform in the delivery of administrative justice. The article proposes a set of normative benchmarks that are founded on four administrative justice themes: the proper exercise of power, equal treatment, due process, and accessibility. These immigration detention-specific benchmarks are drawn from domestic law and policy, international law and literature in public administration and human rights. The article then analyses overseer recommendations, law reform reports and scholarly material to reveal the extent to which immigration detention practices meet normative administrative justice values. The article analyses how power imbalances destabilise the principled tensions that should exist between administrative justice properties and the subsequent effect that such imbalances have on those subject to mandatory immigration detention. This article proves that administrative justice theory provides a suitable lens for normative analysis of a public law system and emphasises the need for principled tensions between administrative justice properties.
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The relationship between immigration detention and trauma is well established, and scholars have often employed Agamben's notion of the camp to explain the psychological deterioration that asylum-seekers experience in detention. Using Australia as a case study, this article argues that while the camp model is highly instructive in some contexts (such as Australia's offshore processing facilities), it is less useful in understanding facilities that are ostensibly bound by social and legal constraints (such as Australia's onshore detention facilities). Detention centres such as those on the Australian mainland, this article demonstrates, are best understood not as camps but as prisons. In making this claim, this article opens up a rich body of empirical and theoretical research regarding the operation of power - and, in particular, the infliction of psychological pain - in carceral institutions. In doing so, it provides a theoretical scaffolding for understanding how immigration detention facilities can and do inflict harm in situations where governments must maintain an appearance of civility and respect for the law. Furthermore, it provides a grounding and vocabulary for understanding outcomes such as trauma and mental illness not as failures of immigration detention systems, but as some of their core functions.
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Résumé Ce chapitre introductif cartographie l’architecture politique et juridique globale sous-jacente de ce que les médias ont nommé la crise des migrants ou des réfugiés au Moyen-Orient. Au-delà des tropes annonçant le dépassement ou l’affaiblissement de la souveraineté, l’effondrement de la raison humanitaire européenne ou un énième échec des Nations Unies, voire du système international de protection des droits de la personne, la crise des réfugiés met en lumière le biais étatiste des réponses politiques et légales à cette crise. Ce chapitre s’entend donc comme une description de la raison souveraine, celle-là même qui gouverne la réponse humanitaire à la crise des réfugiés. La première partie identifie trois séries de stratégies ou dispositifs politiques déployés par les États qui contribuent à renforcer ce préjugé étatiste. La seconde s’attarde à cartographier les ressources juridiques mobilisées par les États qui concourent, elle aussi, à renforcer le préjugé étatiste de la réponse humanitaire. Que ce soit du point de vue des cadres normatifs déployés ou des réponses politiques mises en oeuvre, tout mène à la (re)production du préjugé étatiste du droit international et, ultimement, à la sanctuarisation de la souveraineté dans les relations internationales. Ultimement, il s’agira d’évaluer dans quelle mesure le droit international contribue à la protection des migrants ou, au contraire, fragilise leurs statut et condition.
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In August 2019, academics, practitioners and advocates as well as individuals with lived experiences of confinement, came together at the University of Melbourne to reflect on the parallels between the spaces and practices of care and control in diverse sites of confinement. This research workshop sought to generate insights into places of confinement from varying perspectives. In the following dialogue between former migration support worker, Judge, and one of the editors of this Special Themed Collection of papers, Loughnan, the daily violence of Australia's immigration detention system is brought to light. Judge shares her stories of working in regional offshore processing centres. This provides important insights into the Australian government's border protection policies, described as one of the harshest in the world. Judge witnessed this first-hand when she was employed by the Australian Government to implement these policies and laws as a migration support worker. During this time, she was consistently faced with a tension between her role responsibility and her ethical obligations to others. The decisions she made to document these practices, to resist and then speak out have had a lasting impact on her: she says she is compelled to continue to document these stories, despite the severity of potential criminal repercussions for doing so under ‘gag orders’ on imposed on detention staff through laws enacted by the Australian Government.
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Australia’s refugee policy can be characterized as crimmigration since it constructs asylum seekers as illegal and subjects them to indefinite detention in offshore processing centres where human rights abuses occur. In addition, Australia’s highly secretive refugee processing arrangements in remote locations, where a multiplicity of state actors and private security firms are involved, makes human rights monitoring by lawyers, journalists, medical professionals and refugee advocates virtually impossible, and also means it is hard to assign responsibility for human rights violations under state-centric international law. Transparency and accountability are further impeded by the Australian state’s creative use of law, or ‘rule with law’, to deter refugees and keep its border enforcement operations secret. While criminal prosecution under Australian federal law is conceivable, that is itself complicated by the fact human rights infringements have occurred wholly outside Australia. In light of these factors, and given the Australian Government refuses to change its asylum policy, this chapter considers some of the small ways both asylum seekers and employees resist significant levels of surveillance and control within detention centres, as well as some of the ‘counterveillance’ tactics, such as letter writing and social media messaging, they have employed to tell stories of detention centre conditions as a direct challenge to state secrecy.
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Institutional confinement is paradoxically characterised by intense surveillance, while those confined are often rendered invisible as persons of value and agency. Our capacity to ‘see’ violence in such sites can also be harder to discern when it is the manifestation of neglect: not so much as mistreatment but untreatment, the failure to act. Drawing on Mbembe’s concept of necropolitics and Agamben's conceptualisation of the exception and abandonment, I propose that the deaths resulting from the untreated skin wounds of Annunziata Nancy Santoro, in aged care, and those of Hamid Khazaei, in immigration detention, are the effect of their location in what I call ‘zones of neglect’. Whether in places of care or punishment, neglect functions here as a form of power, in which responsibility for suffering paradoxically recedes from view. This analysis contributes to a growing body of research on quasi-carceral sites that sit uneasily along a continuum of care and control.
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Increasingly, scholars are exploring the politics of migration and the shifting terrain of citizenship from a critical mobilities perspective. To contribute to these discussions, in this paper, I explore how processes of sub-citizenship occur as nation-states craft immigration, citizenship, and border securitization policies and practices. I argue that complex and shifting processes of sub-citizenship largely occur through the nation-state’s production of ‘insiders’ (‘citizens’) and ‘outsiders’ (‘non-citizens’). As a nascent attempt to introduce sub-citizenship, I draw upon recent high-profile cases of family separation, abuse, and neglect experienced by children with ‘illegal migrant’ status in the United States and Australia. Under the international nation-state system and the neoliberal globalization paradigm, the border policing powers of nation-states are primed to expand and intensify processes of sub-citizenship. Those at lower levels of the sub-citizen hierarchy are at risk of experiencing various forms of state-led violence, including deportation, detention, and torture.
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This paper reflects on how refugee studies have developed and it identifies areas for future research. First, the paper sets the scene through an overview of refugee protection regime and on patterns of displacement. Second, the development of theories that try to explain refugee movements is explored. Third, the policy focus of refugee studies and the inherent tensions between stakeholders are examined. This is followed by an exploration of three areas for further research: durable solutions, borders and bordering practices and the inter-generational impacts of refugee migration. These areas allow for multi-level analyses, expose the tensions between structure and agency, power and resistance and the post-colonial world order, and place emphasis on everyday lived experiences. The paper argues that social science disciplines have an important role to play in the field of study but need to include historical analyses and engage in inter-disciplinary alliances to enable shifting paradigms.
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Administrative detention, a form of non-judicial incarceration, was a powerful tool of settler colonialism. Administrative detention enables governments to incarcerate whole categories of people, often indefinitely and under unregulated conditions, to manage perceived threats to national identity, integrity, or security. In Australia, various forms of administrative detention have been implemented almost continuously since British settlement. By treating different forms of administrative detention as variations of the same category of governmental power, this article depicts this form of incarceration as fundamental to the creation and character of settler colonial societies. The article develops a history of Australian administrative detention by identifying the striking similarities between three historical forms – Aboriginal reserves, quarantine stations, and enemy alien internment camps – and immigration detention in the present day. Administrative detention has been used to establish order and hierarchy in the settler colonial state by classifying populations into subgroups, and has contributed to the character of its culture: in particular, the precarious sense of belonging afforded to some categories of non-citizen, and the primacy of executive power in controlling these categories. The article offers an endogenous explanation for the entrenchment of immigration detention policy, despite its flaws and harms.
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In the interdisciplinary scholarship regarding immigration detention, the social, political and psychological costs of confinement are well documented. In recent years, however, scholars have also drawn attention to coerced forms of movement in some detention systems. Drawing on thirty in-depth, semi-structured interviews with volunteer visitors to Australia’s immigration-detention facilities, this article makes two main contributions to this scholarship. First, it presents empirical evidence regarding the use of forced mobility in Australia’s detention system. Dialoguing with work from other countries, it shows how these practices impact detainees and their supporters in the Australian context. Second, it builds upon and extends existing theoretical insights regarding the purposes of such mobility. While previous studies have concluded that relocations serve to isolate, punish and disorient prisoners, this article takes this argument a step further, positing that coerced mobility is also employed to encourage so-called ‘voluntary’ repatriations, thus serving overarching political objectives.
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Manus prison was officially closed in 2017 following Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) Supreme Court decision that the existence of the camp breached the PNG Constitution. The ‘Namah’ decision was significant in signalling and seeking to curb the imperial reach of Australian law but insufficient in resolving the question of refugee imprisonment. Far from ending the imprisonment of refugees, the closure following the judicial ruling has facilitated the expansion of the imperial carcerality that has characterized Australia’s immigration detention policy since 1992. By revealing how refugee incarceration has been extended and offshore processing instantiated following the closure of Woomera camp in 2003, we argue that official closures of refugee camps Woomera and Manus have been constitutive of carceral expansion that is imperial in form and that reiterates patterns of colonial violence. After tracking imperial expansion, we make a call for prison abolition in the refugee incarceration arena as this is a critical decolonizing strategy.
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Our article illuminates a particular way to think about the relational nature of public accountability and how that might guide further study of liberal democracies’ treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Public accountability is in trouble in liberal democracies, conceptually and practically. Scholars in the field identify a lack of clarity surrounding the ‘ever-expanding’ idea of accountability—its meaning and want of deep conceptual roots; the separation of theorizing from lived practice. At the same time, we see in liberal democracies, particularly in cases regarding the treatment of non-citizens, disturbing attacks on traditional mechanisms of accountability. We focus on the crisis of public accountability manifest in Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in offshore detention. We suggest that the lack of clarity around the concept of public accountability—and the lack of an ethical understanding of the public’s critical role in demanding it—informs what is occurring in countries like Australia.
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Covid-19 pandemic has overstretched public health systems and has also devastated the underlying bases of society including food systems, education, and economies. While the effect of the pandemic was initially seen as a public health problem, it has since evolved into a significant human rights concern. With enforcement of Covid-19 control measures such as lockdown and stay at home orders in Nigeria, palpable concerns about human rights violations by state actors, especially the security agencies emerged. Unfortunately, conceptualizing and structuring of responses to Covid-19 pandemic as a human rights issue has remained inadequate and very little research exists on the possible effects of the pandemic containment policies on human rights of informal workers in Nigerian cities. Drawing from secondary sources, this study examined how enforcement of Covid-19 control protocols by state actors impinged on the human rights of informal workers in Nigeria during the pandemic. The paper argues that enforcement of Covid-19 containment measures in Nigeria neglects social structures and local economic dynamics and invariably undermines the human rights of informal workers who depend on daily social businesses for their livelihood. It further posits that the nuances of African cultures and social economy need to be taken into consideration before the large scale adoption of these control measures to mitigate the pandemic. The study concludes that sustained rights advocacy and retraining of the security agents is relevant for effective implementation of Covid-19 protocols in Nigeria.
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In this chapter I will outline the change that the healthcare community should demand from the Australian government, the constraints on achieving said change and some fundamental reasons why present approaches to healthcare are not enough to challenge these constraints. First, I will outline an alternate vision for future policy. In doing this I propose what I see to be the minimum reform needed to address and protect the health, wellbeing and rights of asylum seekers in Australia. I will then consider the constraints on achieving reform. To do this I will discuss a range of historical, social and political factors which explain why Australia persists with these policies and has resisted demands for change. Finally, I want to discuss some fundamental reasons why present approaches to healthcare are not enough to overcome these constraints.
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The work outlined in this article has in part evolved as a response to Mr. Behrouz Boochani’s call to academics to engage with his work. First, I propose academics consider a form of public engagement drawn from narrative practice as social justice work in academia. In the next section, I illustrate my argument with an Australian case by discussing (a) a peaceful resistance undertaken by the refugees on Manus Island through the lens of definitional ceremony, (b) a public witnessing response by Dr. Surma to the written account of Mr. Boochani of the resistance, and (c) his reply to this act of witnessing. I complement this with my own response to both scholars on account of witnessing their exchanges. In the final section of this article, I articulate in more detail how this proposition of conceiving social justice work in academia is based on a politics of witnessing and acknowledgment. I argue that its epistemological and ontological dimensions hold promise for post-qualitative inquiry and that narrative practices more generally, can assist us in performing relationally situated research.
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This article shows how politics of scale influence states’ conceptions and performances of asylum-seeker and refugee responsibility and risk. The resettlement and border security initiatives that result have dramatic consequences for the forcibly displaced, shaping their experiences in displacement based on who they are, where they are and how they got there. Using Australia’s refugee, asylum-seeker, and border externalization policy from 1976 through 1999 as a case, I document the Australian Government’s embrace of the idea that proximity engendered special responsibilities to ‘regional’ asylum-seekers, yet that over time the Government came to reject ‘the regional’ as a unique scale of responsibility, replacing it with ‘the global’. The article also demonstrates how social contexts influence conceptions of risk and obligation and become codified into moral geographies of forced migration management; embodied and territorialized through programmes of refugee resettlement, border militarization and externalization.
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Since 2014, six communications have been made to the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the International Criminal Court (ICC) regarding Australia’s offshore detention of asylum seekers. Applying Green and Ward’s framework of civil society resistance to state violence, this article explores how those communications drew on international criminal law’s legal and expressive functions to label, uncover and sanction Australia’s offshore detention regime. Article 15(1) of the Rome Statute created a communicative space for civil society to engage directly with the Prosecutor and indirectly with the Australian Government, the Australian public and the international community. Through Article 15(1), civil society employed expressive messaging to resist offshore detention, prior to any overt action from the ICC or the Prosecutor. Fundamental to this resistance was international criminal law’s normative expressive function; that is, the ability of international criminal law to articulate and reinforce norms and values to build support and solidarity among the international community. In 2020, the OTP declined to formally open a preliminary examination into the situation in Australia. While some aspects of this decision had the potential to undermine the objectives pursued by the communications, other aspects were used by civil society to continue to advocate against offshore detention.
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Much research has focused on the damaging impact of Australian asylum seeker policies, and numerous studies have analysed the hostile discourses that have accompanied them. However, there has been very limited research that has offered a comprehensive analysis of the impact of these asylum seeker discourses upon individual refugees and asylum seekers. This article draws on the narrative analysis of in-depth interviews with Cambodian and Hazara refugees to explore how these discourses influence their storytelling about the refugee experience. The concept of the ‘good refugee’ emerged as a prominent theme. The participants mostly tell stories that comply with this concept to overcome their demonization in asylum seeker discourses and to find acceptance and belonging in Australia. The concept of the ‘good refugee’ is evident in the participants’ self-representation, their reluctance to use their political voice, and in the gaps and silences in their stories. Continued efforts are needed to challenge the concept of the ‘good refugee’ as it silences refugees and asylum seekers and undermines belonging.