Informit article: Why settler Australia needs refugees

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Australia’s newest refugee policy, like its predecessors, is ostensibly designed to address the refugee ‘problem’. However, in this article I argue that despite concerns about ‘national interest’, ‘security’, and ‘border protection’, asylum seekers – dehumanised people piled up in different configurations outside of Australia’s borders – are useful, indeed necessary, to settler Australia. Here I adopt the specifically Australian definition of refugee: someone who must not be allowed to enter a particular space no matter how urgent his or her human right to do so, and someone who is not entitled to protection unless he or she is ‘processed’ first. It is a definition that only makes sense in the context of Australia’s public debate, and a definition that is not consistent with that of international law. Focusing on the ways in which a specifically settler-colonial understanding of Australia’s sovereign capacities informs public sensitivities can shed light on a particularly Australian process of paranoid abjection. (Not only are the two definitions different; one is the exact complement of the other: if a refugee is normally someone who must depart, in the Australian definition he or she is someone who must not arrive; in the one case, one can be anywhere but an original location; in the other, one can be anywhere but the hoped-for final one.)

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