The Struggle of Autonomy and Authenticity: Framing the Savage Refugee
Social Identities, Vol. 21, Iss. 4, pp. 373-394, 2015
23 Pages Posted: 8 Dec 2015
Date Written: December 7, 2015
James Hathaway has described refugee law as ‘fundamentally oriented to the promotion of autonomy’. Borrowed from the Kantian roots of liberal rights theory, this theme has come to the fore as refugee advocates decry increasingly draconian experiments in deflection and deterrence. But what exactly does it mean for a refugee to exercise autonomy? And how is it connected to that other popular refrain – that those who arrive irregularly by boat in Australia, despite high recognition rates, are not ‘genuine’ refugees? By examining the assumptions underpinning autonomy as a contemporary political value, and working within the theoretical construct that identifies a state’s ‘recognition’ of autonomy with authenticity, this article explores tensions within both public discourse on refugees and the discipline of refugee law itself. It considers how and why the refugee exercising ‘authentic’ moral agency by boarding a boat is depicted not just as a threat, but as inherently irrational (and thus not ‘authentically’ autonomous) and less ‘genuine’ (and thus virtuous) than the ‘passive’ refugee languishing in a camp overseas, awaiting ‘our’ redemptive touch. Finally, it asks whether refugee law similarly suffers from the contradictory moral promise of human rights law which places autonomy at its heart while in practice requiring that humanity be split between victim, savage and redeemer.
Keywords: authenticity; autonomy; genuine; queue; recognition; refugees; redemption
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