Academic journal article Refuge

Fear and Loathing Down Under: Australian Refugee Policy and the National Imagination

Academic journal article Refuge

Fear and Loathing Down Under: Australian Refugee Policy and the National Imagination

Article excerpt


This paper looks at Australia's refugee policy in light of incidents that took place in the summer of 2001, with the refugees aboard the Tampa. Analyzing the discourse that resulted from these incidents, I show how Australia believes it is a nation under threat that prides itself as generously welcoming as man), refugees as it can and who, of late, is only trying to protect its borders from so-called refugees who really are "queue jumpers. " I contrast this view with what emerges from the facts: that Australia's racialized past makes it very easy for it to believe that it is under siege from refugees, and that it has done all that is legally possible to disinvest itself from its international obligations. This has meant turning boats away at sea, excising certain territories from its jurisdiction, and interning the refugees who arrive in Australia. Through this analysis, I argue that the current policy is a re-emergence of the earlier White Australia policy.


Cet article examine la politique australienne sur le droit d'asile et les refugies a la lumiere d'incidents survenus a l'ete de 2001 avec les refugies du Tampa. J'analyse le discours qui a decoule de ces incidents et je montre comment l'Australie est convaincue qu'elle est une nation assiegee; qui, en meme temps, s'enorgueillit du fait qu'elle accueille genereusement autant de refugies qu 'elle le peut; et qui, recemment, a du boucler ses frontieres contre les soi-disant refugies qui ne sont en fait que des resquilleurs. Je compare ce point de vue avec les faits suivants : que le passe racise de l'Australie fait que ce pays succombe facilement a la notion qu'il est assiege par des refugies; et qu'il a fait tout ce qui etait legalement possible pour se departir des ses obligations internationales. Cela s'est traduit par le renvoi de bateaux en haute mer, l'excision de certains territoires de sa juridiction et l'incarceration des refugies qui debarquent en Australie. A travers cette analyse, je soutiens que la presente politique est en fait une reapparition de la politique de l'Australie pour les Blancs.

   Apparently nobody wants to know that contemporary
   history has created a new kind of human being--the kind
   that are put in concentration camps by their foes and in
   internment camps by their friends.

Hannah Arendt (1)


The twentieth century is often referred to as the century of the refugee. Beginning with World War I, and brought to the world s attention after millions were forced to flee their homelands during and after World War II, and continuing into the last years of the past century with conflicts in central Africa and Europe, refugees are arguably the largest group needing protection in the world today. The United Nations states that there are somewhere around 15 million refugees in the world today, 80 per cent of whom are women and children, and that number is constantly growing due to new or aggravated conflicts all over the world. Moreover, according to Britain's Home Office, over 30 million people are smuggled across international borders annually in a trade worth between $12 billion and $30 billion (in U.S. dollars). (2)

In the western world, this refugee "crisis" plays out on many fronts. For instance, many countries from which refugees hail already have sizable populations in western Europe, North America, and Australia. Thus, for these communities, the issue is close to their heart, as they lobby their governments to accept more refugees. On the political front, the question of refugees, like immigration, is a delicate one that often has dire consequences during elections. Politicians understand that the public has a fragile tolerance for refugees, one that can tip quickly into intolerance when a boatload of refugees lands at their shores. In these instances, refugees become a political issue more than a humanitarian concern and the refugees themselves often get lost in the debate. …

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