The Great Escape: Refugees, Detention and Resistance

13 Pages Posted: 15 Feb 2010

See all articles by Michael Grewcock

Michael Grewcock

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice

Date Written: February 13, 2010


In my book, Border Crimes: Australia’s war on illicit migrants, I develop Green and Ward’s (2004) focus on institutional deviance to argue that the Australian state’s alienation, criminalisation and abuse of unauthorised migrants constitute state crime. In this context, state crime is defined by the forceful denial of the legitimate expectations of unauthorised migrants, rather than breaches of formal rights under international humanitarian law selectively bestowed by the state. This paper employs these themes to develop an analysis of the resistance by refugees to the Australian state, with a particular emphasis on escapes from detention. The paper outlines the extensive and often unreported forms of resistance undertaken by refugees before detailing particular examples of escapes. It then proceeds to analyse the High Court of Australia’s decision in the case of Behrooz and its role in legitimising the mandatory detention policy. The paper then discusses how refugee resistance might be conceptualised within a state crime paradigm. It argues that in comparison to the state of absolute rightlessness epitomised by the ‘Muselmann’ of Auschwitz, refugees in Australian detention centres are more appropriately understood as being in a liminal state, in which they have a limited but fluid degree of agency and some capacity to engage with the civil society of the detaining state. Recognition of this liminal state is important for two reasons: in practical terms, it helps cohere opposition to state practice and policy within civil society; in conceptual terms it provides insight into the nature of the social audience capable of rejecting state practice as deviant and the ways in which such deviance can be formulated.

Keywords: Immigration Law, Human Rights

Suggested Citation

Grewcock, Michael, The Great Escape: Refugees, Detention and Resistance (February 13, 2010). University of New South Wales Law Research Paper No. 2010-8, Available at SSRN:

Michael Grewcock (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - UNSW Law & Justice ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
+61 (2) 9385 9563 (Phone)
+61 (2) 9385 1774 (Fax)


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