Outsourcing, Responsibility and Refugee Claim-Making in Australia’s Offshore Detention Regime
Chapter in Siobhan McGuirk and Adrienne Pine (eds), Profit and Protest in the Asylum Industry (PM Press, Forthcoming).
13 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2019
Date Written: January 1, 2019
On 31 October 2017, the Australian-run Manus Island Regional Processing Centre (RPC), located at the Lombrum Naval Base in Papua New Guinea (PNG), officially closed its operations. At the time, 606 men still lived there. All of these men had been forcibly transferred by the Australian authorities from Australia to PNG and detained at the centre at some point during the proceeding four years. Most of these men had subsequently been found to be refugees by the PNG immigration authorities. In this chapter, I locate the struggles around the closure of the Manus Island RPC in the context of broader legal, political and economic contestations surrounding Australia’s punitive offshore refugee detention regime in PNG. I argue that Australia’s draconian policies of offshore processing have increasingly sought to place the economics of immigration detention outside of the realm of domestic political debate and to obfuscate the Australian state’s obligations under international refugee law. These policies have done this through two key strategies of outsourcing and offshoring that have both, in different ways, devolved legal and practical responsibility for the management and processing of asylum seekers to private corporations and external state authorities. In the most recent iteration of Australia’s offshore detention regime, this mix of external public and private actors has included two neighbouring island states (PNG and Nauru), transnational private companies (G4S, IHMS, Transfield, and Wilson Security) and non-governmental organisations (Salvation Army and Save the Children).
However, as the events of October 2017 demonstrate, the Australian government’s practices of exclusion and expulsion have been met with a series of mass refugee protests and practices of claim-making from the men held within the Manus Island RPC that instead insisted upon articulating relationships of political, legal and moral responsibility towards the authorities that exercise control over their lives and futures. One site where such forms of refugee claim-making have been articulated is in court litigation, both in Australia and PNG. I examine two recent legal challenges initiated by and on behalf of the affected refugees that have shaped the political struggle around the legality and legitimacy of Australia’s regional offshore detention regime. At the time of writing, these series of legal litigations have not (yet) been successful in bringing about an end to Australia’s offshore processing regime, and the plights and protests of the asylum seekers and refugees who are subjected to this violent and harmful regime remain ongoing.
Keywords: Australian refugee politics, refugee protest, offshore detention, privatisation, strategic litigation
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