Go back

Refugee Deterrence and Diplomacy: how states influence each other's asylum policies

Published 20 Apr 2018

On 17 April, a special panel discussion was held at Glover Cottages on government-to-government measures to deter refugees. The event was co-hosted with the Kaldor Centre for Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales and the Macquarie University Law School. Discussion was moderated by Leanne Smith, director of the Whitlam Institute at Western Sydney University and an international human rights lawyer. Leanne began discussion with an account of the state of international refugee deterrence and the general lack of political will in Australia to create more humane policies. Practices such as detention, extra-territorial processing and turning back boats are spreading globally.

Our first panel speaker was Dr Daniel Ghezelbash, senior lecturer at Macquarie University, founding director of the Macquarie University Social Justice Clinic, and a practicing refugee and immigration lawyer. Drawing on his recent book Refugee Lost: Asylum Law in an Interdependent World (Cambridge University Press, 2018) Dr Ghezelbash explored the formation of a new ‘deterrence paradigm’ in the global community. Rapid influxes of refugees escaping persecution, war and poverty in the 21st century had caused panic in policy makers across the world.

Governments had found it easy to look abroad for policy ideas, particularly to like-minded ‘western’ countries; Australia for example had adopted the policy of offshore processing and detention based on US practice at Guantanamo Bay. Under a shroud of secrecy, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States engaged policy sharing as a means of creating more effective deterrence policies. Meetings between governments are closed off to the media and non-government organisations, leaving policy makers increasingly unaccountable and prompting a ‘race to the bottom’ in adopting more aggressive deterrence. In order to reverse this tide, a new political culture must arise where intergovernmental cooperation is made transparent and accountable.

Our second speaker was Professor Guy Goodwin-Gill, Acting Director of UNSW’s Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law and a long-standing authority on refugee and humanitarian law. He focussed on the effects of refugee hysteria upon our democratic institutions, arguing that Australia’s current ‘sovereign border’ refugee policy is built upon a lack of strategic thinking as well as disregard for humanitarian principles embodied in international law. Australia has failed to create strategic networks in its region to effectively cope with refugee arrivals. Australian governments have become determined to ‘maximise control’ in determining the fate of refugees.

By conflating refugee deterrence with national security, governments have enacted self-serving legislation that undermines the autonomy of our legal institutions. Ultimately, Professor Goodwill-Gill argued, the rise of populist policies which supposedly deter refugees are not just non-democratic but anti-democratic, accustoming us to ever-increasing illiberal policies adopted in the name of national security. The repercussions are already having dangerous effects on the civil liberties we take for granted.

Report by Christopher Khatouki,
AIIA NSW intern