Refuge beyond Reach: How Rich Countries Repel Asylum Seekers

By Stepnitz, Abigail | Law & Society Review, January 1, 2019 | Go to article overview

Refuge beyond Reach: How Rich Countries Repel Asylum Seekers


Stepnitz, Abigail, Law & Society Review


Refuge Beyond Reach: How Rich Countries Repel Asylum Seekers. By David Scott FitzGerald. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019

David Scott FitzGerald's comprehensive and insightful book on the ways that wealthy states around the world go to great lengths to prevent asylum-seekers from reaching their borders to ask for protection could not be more timely. As attention increases on the process and the people involved in asylum-seeking, at the US southern border, and also elsewhere internationally, Refuge Beyond Reach situates contemporary global responses to those displaced by and fleeing violence and persecution as global, historical, and perhaps more importantly of all, intentional. FitzGerald exhaustively describes and analyses the "constellation of "remote controls" (71) - the measures designed to prevent access to asylum around the world. In doing so he demonstrates without question that, to use a modern maxim, deterrence and repulsion of asylum seekers are features of the immigration system, not bugs.

The comparative, well-organized approach, drawing on the United States, Canada, Europe and Australia, further highlights how an emergent "architecture of repulsion" (14) exists at a global scale, a result both of policy decisions and political will within states and regions, but also as a result of convergence and replication. These efforts create what he calls "domes" around wealthy countries; domes extending far enough beyond physical borders that most suffering is never known to and certainly never seen by citizens.

FitzGerald situates the pattern and expansion of remote measures to deter and prevent asylum in a post-Cold War reality, one in which there are both reduced incentives to use overtly humanitarian policies as a way to shame other states and increased causes of global displacement, including but not limited to war, environmental destruction and deterioration of the rule of law. Displacement levels are now higher than they have been since the end of the Second World War, and neither public opinion nor political realities support efforts to provide opportunities for people to seek and enjoy asylum. In many ways it is a perfect storm, furled in particular by the continued rise of right-wing political parties and cultural shifts towards increased nationalism and xenophobia.

FitzGerald makes clear that attention on and even demonization of asylum-seekers in Europe and Australia has been part of the social and political conversation about migration control for many years, yet both scholarly and public conversations in North America, and in the United States especially, have tended to focus more broadly on questions of documentation and criminalization of individuals without legal permission to enter or remain in the country. It may be that asylum seekers were paid less attention in the US because until very recently both law and social attitudes regarded asylum-seeking as not only a necessary and legal pathway to protection, but also a fundamentally moral and humanitarian good. In many ways both legal and social responses to asylum seekers were perhaps the last great holdout of the deeply-rooted myth of America as a genuinely welcoming place of refuge for those escaping persecution. …

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