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The global community will continue to be faced with the issue of migration, as the increased influx of intra-state violence will only add to the growing numbers of displaced persons.

The Commodification Of Migration: The Australian Solution

July 28th, 2015

By Amarpreet Cheema – Research Assistant

The images of migrants on boats as they make their journey to Mediterranean countries in the hopes of escaping the conflicts in their home-countries has once again put this issue onto the forefront of security agendas. The response to the increase in migrants to the European mainland by receiving nations has received much criticism by human rights groups. The increasing amount of migrants on a global scale has put to test the policies of developed countries. The focus on the media has been that of the European response to this crisis, however recently the actions taken by Australia to address their migration issue highlights the increased dehumanization of this matter. It has come to light that Australia has made an agreement with Cambodia that effectively outsources Australia’s migrant issue. The price tag that has been put on the lives of immigrants is represented by the $40 million in aid money that Australia has agreed in exchange for Cambodia resettling migrants.[1] Effectively, this could create an alarming precedent that renders the lives of migrants into commodities to be traded for aid money. The global community will continue to be faced with the issue of migration, as the increased influx of intra-state violence will only add to the growing numbers of displaced persons. If adequate attention is not given to Australia’s deal with Cambodia then the crisis will eventually minimalize human dignity for the sake of commodity.

Australia’s Approach to Migration Has Always Been Securitization

For many years now, the Australian government has characterized the migrant issue as one of securitization. The notion of securitization comes from the Copenhagen School, which delineates a model of analysis that highlights how states define issues as security threats that allows for extraordinary measures to be taken to combat it. Evoking policies of isolationism coupled with firm controls on the flows of migrants through its borders, it has resurrected itself has a seemingly impenetrable fortress. The traditional policy of Australia has been to reject migrants that have arrived by sea and detain them as their applications are being processed on nearby impoverished islands, such as Nauru.[2] Therefore, the outsourcing of the migration issue to other countries is not an unprecedented decision for Australia. However, by attaching a monetary value to this process they have effectively allowed for a form of border commodification. The countries it has chosen to send migrants to have historically been considered impoverished nations that struggle to adequately provide for its own populations. Australia has already faced much criticism regarding its practice of sending asylum seekers and migrants to the camps on Nauru, which many have claimed, are in contravention of Australia’s obligations under the Refugee Convention.[3] Under this Convention, states owe refugees an obligation if they arrive within the nation’s territory via boat or plane. The receiving nation cannot eject or return refugees. Despite that, Australia has sidestepped its duties by barring refugees or migrants from waiting out processing times in Australia and essentially imprisoning them on offshore detention centres which effectively blurs the lines of jurisdiction. Further, the lengthy processing time and the lack of a standard of access to basic needs have been among the various things that the international community has highlighted as problematic. It should be noted that Australia has made an agreement with Papua New Guinea to resettle those who obtain refugee status there instead of Australia. There is a clear pattern that has emerged from Australia’s policies on migration, one that meets at best the bare minimum of its obligations under international law. As such, as has been briefly summated here, the Australian approach to migration has always held an element of securitization, which has led it to establish practices that outsource the issue to countries that have been considered inadequate.

Bargaining Chips and Unsettling Precedents

The new aid deal struck between Australia and Cambodia has ushered in a new era of border commodification that has essentially dehumanized the processes of migration. The attachment of monetary value has effectively turned migrants into “bargaining chips, coins of trade in its foreign relations”.[4] Inevitably, this will set a precedent that continues to underscore the global human rights movement. Creating a link that attributes pecuniary methods onto the issue subverts the attention away from the real issue at hand. That is the resettlement and aid of individuals who are fleeing from areas of conflict or persecution. It allows developed nations to jettison its migration issues to impoverished nations by dangling the promise of aid to these states. It is a deal that most struggling nations would not refuse and it requires very little from them as they are quintessentially offering desolate conditions in return for millions of dollars. The contract that has been struck is not balanced in terms of what Cambodia is receiving and Australia is offering. It highlights the power that more developed nations have and the potentiality that such agreements could have on dealing with the global migration crisis that is present today. Many migrants have fled their countries for better lives only to be ‘imprisoned’ in Nauru for lengthy times. Now the Australian solution in lieu of these waiting times is to give them the option to be resettled in an improvised nation where the standard of living would unlikely match that could be provided in Australia. The migration crisis is a serious one facing the international community and the solution should not be to buy off poorer nations in order to hide the issue out of sight. Unfortunately, the further entrenched this crisis has become so has its securitization. For example, the news of Hungary’s plans to erect a fence along its border with Serbia continues to illustrate the deepening of the securitization of migration. As states begin to implement practices that dehumanize their obligations to migrants and prioritizes border security, the human rights system put in place becomes tainted. This new approach taken by Australia to outsource it’s migration issue has the potential to set an alarming alternative in other states as the crisis deepens. Despite the legal safeguards put in place to protect migrants, Australia has been able to create a loophole that avoids their obligations with insignificant consequences for doing so. Coupling securitization with border commodification undermines human rights and the international community has as obligation to hold Australia accountable and to promote the betterment of lives. If states are not sanctioned for their inability to meet their obligations to migrants, this ability to find new alternatives could undermine the entire system of protection leaving those fleeing with little hope and regularizing protectionist norms.

[1] http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/05/cambodia-australia-refugee-dumping-ground-201451513349894334.html

[2] J Hyndman and A Mountz 259

[3] C Fleay and S Hoffman, “Despair As A Governing Strategy: Australia And The Offshore Processing Of Asylum-Seekers On Nauru” (2014) Refugee Survey Quarterly 33:2, 10.

[4] http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/03/05/cambodia-and-australia-treating-refugees-bargaining-chips


About Amarpreet Cheema

Amarpreet has a keen research interest in humanitarian intervention, international organizations, Responsibility to Protect, international law, terrorism, and security discourse in various legal frameworks. She has a keen research interest in humanitarian intervention, international organizations, Responsibility to Protect, international law, terrorism, and security discourse in various legal frameworks.