Academic journal article Refuge

The Spaces in Between: American and Australian Interdiction Policies and Their Implications for the Refugee Protection Regime

Academic journal article Refuge

The Spaces in Between: American and Australian Interdiction Policies and Their Implications for the Refugee Protection Regime

Article excerpt


Interdiction policies by countries such as the U.S. and Australia are embedded in these states' perception of their obligations to asylum seekers as strictly territorially bound. With the aim of limiting asylum seekers access to protection mechanisms, these policies are carried out in an arena firmly within the reach of executive-driven actions yet beyond the purview of constitutional or judicial safeguards. In the case of the U.S., the long-standing Haitian interdiction policy illustrates the manipulation of this protection gap, and, in Australia, the administration's reaction to the Tampa incident in 2001 and the subsequent policy developments provide further illustration. The autonomy with which states carry out such policies poses a significant threat to the refugee protection regime, especially the international norm of non-refoulement.


Les politiques d'interdiction poursuivies par certains pays, tel les Etats-Unis et l'Australie, reposent sur leur conviction profonde que leurs devoirs envers les demandeurs d'asile sont strictement limites a leur territoire. Dans le but de limiter l'acces des demandeurs d'asile aux mecanismes de protection deja en place, ces politiques sont appliquees clans des lieux fermement sous le controle des forces de l'ordre, tout en ne beneficiant d'aucune garantie constitutionnelle ou judiciaire. Aux Etats-Unis, la politique d'interdiction deja ancienne envers les Haitiens illustre bien la manipulation de ces interstices dans la protection, tout comme les politiques australiennes qui ont suivi l'incident du Tampa en 2001. La grande liberte dont disposent les Etats pour appliquer de telles politiques constitue une menace pour le systeme de protection des refugies, en particulier pour le respect du principe cardinal de non-refoulement.

I. Introduction

Interdiction policies highlight tensions in the current relationship between the liberal democratic asylee-receiving state, the international human rights regime, and the realities facing the asylum seeker. Embodying the discourse of the human rights regime in the context of globalization, Soysal holds that "individual rights, expansively redefined as human rights on a universalistic basis and legitimized at the transnational level, undercut the import of national citizenship by disrupting the territorial close of nations." (1) In a similar vein, Jacobson notes a process of "deterritorialization" whereby the "nation" is becoming de-linked from the territorial state. (2) The realities of interdiction, however, present a stark contrast to this vision. The draconian measure of forcing a ship from a country's territorial waters in order to avoid legal obligations exhibits, not deference to a transnational rights bearing regime, but a reassertion of the primacy of territoriality and boundedness of the duty of protection. Even a ruling in an international tribunal stating that such protection duties are attached to states operating outside their physical boundaries does not have the leverage of directly impacting state policy or jurisprudence. (3) Through their interdiction campaigns, the U.S. and Australia have demonstrated the lacuna between the physical spaces in which states exercise jurisdictional control and the spaces in which they will assume juridical responsibility. The existence of such policies and the relative impunity with which states enact them expose deficiencies in both the institutional and legal mechanisms of the refugee protection regime. The right to seek asylum, although provided for by international human rights doctrines, remains a territorially bounded claim.

While U.S. President Ronald Reagan's codification of interdiction policy in 1981 represented a formalization of the use of interdiction as a form of immigration control, the United States had been guilty before of turning vessels from its shores at the cost of human life. Denying the U.S. St. Louis, a passenger ship from Hamburg, Germany, permission to dock after being turned back from its original port of call, Havana, had drastic humanitarian repercussions. …

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