Australian Imperialism, Colonialism, and Neo-Colonialism

Critical Migration Law Research Paper by Charles Gimoh

Australian Imperialism, Colonialism, and Neo-Colonialism as a Microcosmic Reflection of Western Refugee Injustices: the System, the Suffering, and the Strategy of Resistance (Charles Gimoh)


This paper points the searchlight on the unjust condition of the refugee in major western nations, focusing on Australia as a microcosmic embodiment of imperial western states and a vivid reflection of their injustices to refugees. The refugee has become an object of systemic western neo-colonial violence evidenced in the exclusion, racialisation, criminalisation, commodification, biopoliticisation, and extermination of refugees in Australia and imperial western formations.

The paper interrogates the subtle old colonial logics behind the neo-colonial and imperial activities of modern western hegemonies not only in imperial states like Australia in terms of their asymmetric engagement with indigenous communities and developing countries, but also with reference to their manifestations as concrete structural strands of contemporary imperial domination, manipulation, exploitation, and oppression of the refugee.

Using a range of theories encompassing philosophy, law, and history to illuminate the argument, Australia is presented as a case study against a general western backdrop, and her offshore processing system is the prism through which the research focuses specifically on the unjust Western system of refugee management; and highlights the sufferings refugees are exposed to. It concludes with a call for resistance, as a fightback strategy against these injustices.

The research is intended as a scholarly contribution to the field of critical migration law.


The global refugee statistics are staggering. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently 65.7 million forcibly displaced persons in the world, 22.5 million of these are refugees, and about 50% of them are below 18.  ‘At this moment, there are more people seeking asylum than at any point since World War II.’   The refugee ‘crisis’ has become one of the defining features of the 21st century, and attempts by major western governments to manage it have generated some of the most atrocious injustices in recent history.

Western hegemonies,  the usual culprits in the imperialistic drive for global domination and aggressive neo-colonialistic exploitation of poor countries politically, economically and culturally, are expanding and consolidating their sphere of manipulative influence in the field of international migration flows. The asymmetrical stratification of the world along exploitative neo-colonial lines by Western imperialists,  which is conspicuously manifest in the peripheralisation of developing nations, is now strongly evident in the colossal quantitative imbalance in global refugee intake between rich and poor countries. The 36 most fragile countries on earth, representing only 2.6% of global GDP are host to 71% of the world’s population of internally displaced people; the US, represents approximately 23% of global GDP but are hosts to only about 4% of refugees and asylum seekers; and the EU has almost a quarter of global GDP but hosts only 15% of refugees and asylum seekers.  ‘South Sudan, the world’s most fragile country, hosts 219 displaced people for every 1,000 inhabitants. By comparison, the UK, Canada, and Australia each only host 3 for every 1,000 of their inhabitants.’  This lopsided condition was recently highlighted by former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon who revealed that ‘the burden of helping the world’s forcibly displaced people is starkly uneven,’ and  ‘poor countries host vastly more displaced people than wealthier ones. While anti-refugee sentiment is heard loudest in industrialized countries, developing nations host 80 percent of the world’s refugees. This situation demands an equitable solution.’

Western imperialists are implicated in the illegal arrogation of international prerogatives and the usurpation of global legal authority, as they systematically manipulate national laws and structures to promote insular interests and undermine international laws protecting refugee rights.  The unjust condition of the refugee in Australia is a picture of the wider conditions of refugees in major Western nations as governments contrive increasingly pernicious migration stratagems to manage refugee inflow. This has led to widespread injustices and the emasculation of the fundamental rights and freedoms of refugees.  The refugee has become a byword for exclusion, criminalisation, racialisation, commodification, biopoliticisation, and even extermination.

Australia is unarguably a microcosmic representation of imperial western governments in terms of their unjust colonial-like treatment of refugees. She takes a leading role in churning out draconian migration laws and in evolving unjust refugee management systems. Her treatment of asylum seekers is so atrocious that in their latest Universal Periodic Review by the UN Human Rights Council, over 100 countries, representing more than half of the entire global membership of the UN, took turns to criticise her treatment of refugees and indigenous people. ‘Even North Korea, a country with perhaps the most egregious human rights record on earth, criticised Australia: “We still have serious concerns at the continued reports of … violence against refugees and asylum seekers and violation of the human rights of Indigenous peoples in Australia”.’

Australia’s treatment of refugees has been likened to her unjust treatment of indigenous peoples. Australian aboriginals are still suffering from the modern-day neo-colonial excesses of the Australian government. Colonialism has mutated to more discreet forms, and Aboriginals are being subjected to these surreptitious and insidious forms of colonial subjugation. Significantly, this is the same format that is being deployed in Australia’s treatment of refugees.

This paper represents a contribution to this very important discourse which is a source of ongoing scholarly investigation. It is an attempt to interrogate this phenomenon using the Australian offshore processing system as a case study. The paper will argue that Australia is a microcosmic reflection of western refugee injustices with an offshore processing system that is prepensively structured to create suffering for refugees. It would advocate resistance as a fight-back strategy against this unfair system.

The first segment of the paper will examine Australia’s offshore processing system focusing on its western imperial, colonial, and neo-colonial colourations and on how this unjust refugee management system mirrors ongoing colonial conditions of Aboriginals in Australia. The next segment will outline some of the terrible suffering being experienced by maritime refugees who have fled to Australia for refuge. And the third section will advocate a strategy of resistance against the unjust system.

The research will use a range of theories encompassing migration law, philosophy, and history to illuminate the argument.  Using Australia as a case study, it will explore the unjust treatment of refugees by the west through the themes of imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism. Stylistically, there is a deliberate deployment of the literary technic of repetition, for functional and aesthetic purposes. They will function to emphasise and reinforce the over-all argument; and aesthetically, they are intended as a modest attempt to brighten up a narrative that is largely melancholic and troubling.


Imperialism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism, what do these three have in common? These concepts collectively encapsulate fundamental inequities at the heart of the current Western-dominated global system. They are indicative of the multidimensional strands of systemic injustices prevalent in modern global formations and are reflective of the underlying philosophy behind Western engagement with developing nations and subaltern collectivities.

While the West has assiduously perpetuated the myth that these practices belong to their dark colonial past, it is illusory to believe this tripartite evil no longer exists. Graham Huggan posits that ‘we live in neocolonial, not postcolonial, times.’ And that ‘Postcolonialism…does not imply that the colonial era is over; on the contrary, it confronts the ‘’neocoloniality’’ of our present times.’  Thus while the overt form of colonialism appears to have ended; it has only taken on a covert persona. Neo-colonialism is a dimension of this new persona, and imperialism is one of its underlying philosophies and practical manifestations.

Colonial history is replete with egregious injustices perpetrated by imperial Western states against subjugated peoples. Now subtle, secretive, and subdued, it is still essentially the same system, engineered by the same powers, driven by the same goals, informed by the same logic, and embodied by many similar practices. The injustices being experienced by contemporary refugees in America echo the sufferings of Native Americans under white settler-colonialists.  The oppression that black African refugees are exposed to in Europe today is a protuberance of the colonial inequities black Africa has been subjected to by European imperialists for centuries. And the exploitation that has characterised the history of Australian Aboriginals is similar to the current suffering of Australia’s maritime refugees.

This unjust Western system, built on colonial exploitation of ‘the other’, is the underlying logic behind Australia’s unjust offshore refugee processing system.

The ‘offshore processing’ system, ‘(referred to by the Australian Government as “regional processing”) is the term used to describe the arrangements by which Australia sends people seeking asylum who arrive by boat to either Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG), where their refugee claims are determined.’  This draconian system called the Pacific Solution was established in 2001 by the John Howard government following what became known as the ‘Tampa affair’ when a Norwegian vessel MV Tampa, rescued over 400 refugees and attempted to land them on Christmas Island. The refugees were eventually taken to Nauru.

‘In September 2001, a month after the Tampa incident, the Australian federal Parliament passed legislation that excised island territories from the Australian “migration zone…” The legislation limits the ability of boat people to invoke the state’s obligations under the refugee conventions.’  Known as the Migration Amendment (Excision from the Migration Zone) Bill 2001, it excised Christmas, Ashmore, Cartier and Cocos (Keeling) Islands from Australia’s migration zone for migration purposes.

The offshore processing programme was discontinued in 2008 by the Rudd Labour government restored in 2012 by Julia Gilliard’s administration.  The following year, the Abbott led coalition government adopted a concurrent secretive militarised boat-turn back policy, ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ which involved turning back refugee boats from Australian waters.  To facilitate the transfer of boat refugees beyond her territorial jurisdiction, and to mask the illegality of this aberration from her international law obligations, Australia capitalised on her imperial influence over two of her former Pacific island colonies. Consequently, ‘on 29 August 2012 the Australian Government signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of Nauru and on 8 September 2012 …with the PNG Government.’

Under this system, ‘irregular’ boat migrants are transported to detention centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea (PNG) where they are mandatorily detained indefinitely while their asylum claims are processed. They face a life-time ban from entering Australia.

In these facilities run by contracted private agents,  refugees are exposed to horrendous forms of human rights abuses. Many have been detained for years in inhospitable conditions, and with limited access to services and facilities. Scandalous reports emerging from these centres have attracted global attention and provoked widespread outrage. There are myriads of accounts, including the Nauru Files, detailing shocking abuses by guards, rapes, attacks from locals, suicides, psychiatric problems, torture, and deaths.

Some of the initial refugees have returned to their home countries in frustration, including those relocated to Cambodia.  As at 2016, the number of refugees and asylum seekers in Nauru was estimated to be about 1200, and those in PNG are approximately 992. Though the PNG Supreme Court has ruled against Australia’s continued detentions in the country,  refugees are still there.

This supposedly liberal nation has intentionally contrived these authoritarian measures which negate international laws which she is a signatory to.   Under widespread condemnation, Australia shields her activities on these islands. The Australian Border Force Act 2015 prevents staff from disclosing happenings at detention locations.  Australia’s imperial influence has ensured the erection of invisible bureaucratic rings around the islands making it virtually impossible for international observers and media to visit both locations. Though the centres are now open, conditions remain brutal and prospects remain bleak for many.

While criticising offshore processing, Melissa Phillips and Martina Boese point out that Australia opened its borders to thousands of boat refugees, and Chinese migrants in the past under the administrations of Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and Bob Hawke.  Jim Molan supports and prescribes Australia’s boat turn-back policy for Europe, contending that ‘in Australia’s situation, des­troying the criminal people-smugglers was the centre of gravity of our border-control policies, and judicious boat turn-backs was the key”.’  Justifying the deterrence-based system, Gilliard has argued that the policy was informed by the need to de-incentivise people smuggling; ensure boat migrants do not get an unfair advantage; secure borders; and prevent sea deaths.

However, Alison Mountz has posited that there are more sinister reasons why states are using offshore processing. ‘The relative distance of islands from mainland territory exacerbates the isolation of detainees, limiting access to advocates and asylum.’ Also, ‘state and non-state institutions exert more control over detainees, information, and people moving into and out of facilities. Because detainees are remote and difficult to reach, they remain largely hidden from view of media and human rights monitors.’  Stewart Motha corroborates this view arguing that ‘these [deterrence] measures limit refugees’ access to lawyers, medical services, and the courts.’  Jane McAdam argues that ‘these policies breach Australia’s international human rights obligations…undermine the humanitarian object and purpose of the Refugee Convention, [and] violate concrete legal obligations.’

This externalisation of migration control which hinders jurisdictional access to refugees and migrants ‘is often deceptively framed as either or both a security imperative and a life-saving humanitarian endeavor rather than simply as a strategy of migration containment and control’.

Indicating a pervasive systemic pattern, Bill Frelick et al while acknowledging that these western states have generally provided protection for asylum seekers with legitimate claims, have also pointed out that these powers currently have migration externalisation projects in place, ‘a toolbox for preventing migrants, including asylum seekers, from reaching their territories and triggering the states’ international obligations.’  Importantly, ‘Australia’s new twist on externalization excised Australian territories, for immigration law purposes, by a stroke of the pen rather than through any extraterritorial actions, creating the sort of “rights-free zone” that had proved so convenient for the United States at Guantánamo.’

This system has generated strong condemnation and attracted some commendation. It has been criticised by many scholars,  condemned by various civil society groups,  but commended by those concerned about mass immigration, populists, and racists like Reclaim Australia.  This approval from extremists is significant as it underscores the white colonial, imperial and neo-colonial logics behind the system in general, and Australia’s offshore processing in particular. It is a system founded on self-serving logics of colonialism, imperialism and neo-colonialism; and facilitated by self-legitimising fictions of revisionism, illegalism, and propagandism.

A System Founded on Self-Serving Logics of Colonialism, Imperialism, and Neo-colonialism

This system has many of the negative, abusive, and destructive hallmarks of imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism. Basic definitions of these concepts are imperative at this stage, to aid insight into how their unjust features are integral to Australia’s offshore processing system which is a microcosm of a wider western system. The definition of a refugee is also relevant. While there is a proliferation of inter, intra, and cross-disciplinary conceptualisations of some of these terminologies, this paper will restrict itself to a limited set of definitions and explications that are relevant to this discussion.

A refugee is anyone who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.

Ronald J. Horvath defines colonialism as 'A form of domination-the control by individuals or groups over the territory and/or behaviour of other individuals or groups’; he identifies the important difference between it and imperialism as ‘the presence or absence of significant numbers of permanent settlers in the colony from the colonizing power.’

French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre conceptualises colonialism as a system, a functional reality embodied by the experiences of millions of subjugated people who are kept under its grip and influenced to conform to its systemic expectations.  It was a perception that saw colonialism and neo-colonialism as embodying the same thing.  This is consistent with Franz Fanon’s perception of colonialism as a single formation.  However, Robert Young has argued that while French colonialism was ‘comparatively systematic’, British colonialism never was.’

Renisa Mawani argues that ‘colonialism created categories of people through a juridico-political and temporal process that differentiated individuals and demarcated populations as racially distinct and as inhabiting competing and incommensurable times of colonial settlement’.  For Frederick Cooper, colonialism is ‘the erection by a state of an apparatus of administrative control over peoples who are defined as distinct [it] is a specific form of imperialism’. And imperialism is ‘the exercise of power by a state beyond its borders’.  Imperialism is about dominating and ruling ‘peoples of another stock…for the promotion of its political and strategic interests…’  In Joseph Conrad’s, ‘Heart of Darkness’ we get an insight into the racism and barbarism at the heart of imperialism.

Neo-colonialism represents the ‘subtle propagation of socio-economic and political activity by former colonial rulers aimed at reinforcing capitalism, neo-liberal globalization, and cultural subjugation of their former colonies.  Kwame Nkrumah propounded that ‘the neo-colonialism of today represents imperialism in its final and perhaps its most dangerous stage…The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.’  Edward Said highlighted and explored the cultural dimensions of European imperialism.  Huggan identifies ‘US military intervention… structural dependency…continuing racial oppression…the global hegemonies exercised by multinational companies…favoured nation treaties and trade blocs that reinforce economic divides’  as features of ongoing neo-colonial activity.

There are those who have argued in support of colonialism and imperialism such as Rudyard Kipling whose apologetic work ‘The White Man’s Burden’  is suggestive of their civilising and beneficial aspects.  Social Darwinians like ‘Jules Ferry (1832–1893) explicitly argued that “the superior races have rights over the inferior races”,’  and Karl Pearson, declared that ‘history shows me one way, and one way only, in which a high state of civilization has been produced, namely, the struggle of race with race, and the survival of the physically and mentally fitter race.’

Chris Kortright contends that ‘the present global stratification and make-up has been dictated in totality by the colonization and conquest of European nations. Although direct colonialism has largely ended, we can see that the ideology of colonialism has lingered.’ He highlights some features of a colonial system as ‘political and legal domination over the “other” society, relations of economic and political dependence, and institutionalized racial and cultural inequalities.’ He elaborates further that to ‘impose their dominance physical force through raids, expropriation of labor and resources, imprisonment, and objective murders; enslavement of both the indigenous people and their land is the primary objective of colonization.’

These features are clearly visible in western imperial formations, and in spite of attempts to disguise them, they are not invisible in the Australian system. Western imperialism and neo-colonialism, embodied by the United States of America, Britain, Australia, and their major allies are active militarily, economically, politically, and culturally in virtually all regions of the world today, dictating, destabilising, and destroying, while also delivering development aid that is at times self-serving.

America’s military bases are strategically positioned all over the world to facilitate her imperial interests as the self-appointed Global Sheriff.  Weak developing nations and their peoples have felt the brutal force of imperial might when they have attempted to step out of line.  ‘Over the past decade and a half, the US and its allies have invaded, occupied, killed, wounded and dispossessed over ten million people, in countries from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.’  Petras sums up the story of modern western imperialism:

'Promoted by the US, torture, arbitrary arrest and incarceration have become the norm creating lawless and chaotic societies, which had once been productive and stable.  The shredding of social structures has [provoked] massive population flight, with millions of desperate refugees fleeing invasions, wars and total society breakdown. The result of these deliberate imperial policy decisions has been emptied cities and neighborhoods, broken families, destroyed lives and futures for many millions of young Arabs and Muslims. As the human toll mounts and Western Europe is flooded with the results of US aggressive wars, the imperialists have sharpened their shrill rhetoric, labelling all of their adversaries and critics as ‘accomplices in war crimes’, and ‘barbarians’'.

This same western logic informs Australia’s offshore processing in Nauru and PNG. It is an ongoing colonialism. These island nations which were historically under Australia are now subservient having been impoverished by this neo-colonialist.  According to Alecia Simmonds, ‘Nauru is a product of European and Australian imperialism. What we forget in the asylum-seeker debate is that the history of offshore processing is but another chapter in a history of empire.’  She argues that ‘Australia oversaw the strip-mining of over 80 percent of Nauru’s land, leaving it unpassable and unfarmable’.  The story was no different for PNG; repression was mixed with resource extraction. Like offshore refugees, her Indigenous people had next to no rights. While illegally mining Gold in PNG, there were times when Australian miners ‘shot villagers, burned houses and stole…until independence in 1975, the administration and governance of mining benefitted few and was biased in favour of Australian miners. This situation was common in other industries.’  PNG was reduced to a ‘weak state in need of Australian aid after independence in September 1975. This was what Australia’s rulers had always wanted: a pliable border state’.

Stewart Motha posits that ‘islands have proved to be sites of sovereign excess rather than limitation; their watery shores hardly serving to ‘hem-in’ the power of the sovereign.’  This represents a consistent and systemic historical pattern stretching back to the Slave Trade with slaves being shipped off by imperialists to various island nations in the Caribbean and other regions.  Palm Island was used as a penal colony by Australia till the 1960s, and just like boat refugees today, Aboriginal Australians were transported there by colonialists. ‘The people of this remote community were thrown together against their will, effectively imprisoned and forced to survive under the harshest of living conditions.’  Their ordeal reminds us of offshore refugee injustices:

Families were separated, with children being incarcerated…Curfews, seizure of property, censoring of mail and communications, supervised visits between family members, strict dietary rationing, control of finances, imposed labour, segregation, arbitrary law-making and enforcement and invasion of privacy are just a few of the many injustices faced daily by Palm Island’s inhabitants. Government-appointed administrators exercised total control over people’s lives. Palm Island’s population grew through transportation of supposed ‘criminals’ to more than 1600 in twenty years…all of whom were held against their will and threatened with starvation, violence and other punishments.’

A System Facilitated by Self-Legitimising Fictions of Revisionism, Illegalism, and Propagandism

In the light of these largely retrogressive, obviously abusive, and seriously destructive impacts of the western hegemonic system, one may wonder why it remains the dominant global order. Its tenacity and continuity are largely attributable to the ingenuity and proficiency of these imperialists to deploy a combination of historical revisionism,  mass propaganda,  and legal fiction,  to obfuscate historical facts, cultivate favourable public perception, and manipulate the law to serve their interests. Britain destroyed thousands of documented evidence of its colonial atrocities. 

Nadine El-Enany has criticised the ‘absence of an acknowledgement of the racism, violence and brutality of British colonialism, and its ongoing dispossessing effects’.  Liam Fox’s recent statement that ‘the United Kingdom is one of the few countries in the European Union that does not need to bury its 20th-century history,’  and Gordon Brown’s declaration that ‘the days of Britain having to apologise for its colonial past are over’ are suggestive of the pervasive nature of imperialistic revisionism;  Australia’s attempts to restrict access to refugees on Nauru and PNG, and gag detention staff, are indicative of her aggressive culture of imperialistic propagandism.  Australia’s excision of her maritime islands, and recourse to offshore processing to escape obligations, constitute a caricature of international law and are indicative of imperialistic illegalism.

Australian imperialism is an offshoot of Australian colonialism. Like other Western imperialists, her ongoing colonial projects are premised on self-legitimising legal fictions, deceptive self-serving myths, and historical revisionism.

Under international customary law, colonies were established under the doctrines of conquest or cession. According to Carl Schmitt ‘every new age and new epoch in the coexistence of peoples, empires, and countries, of rulers and power formations of every sort, is founded on new partial divisions, new enclosures, and new spatial orders of the earth’.  Though Aboriginal Australians are believed to have inhabited Australia for ages and are acknowledged as custodians of the oldest surviving human culture,  with recent genetic studies confirming they are ‘descendants of the first people to leave Africa up to 75,000 years ago’,  their land was curiously colonised by whites in 1778 on the premise of a legal fiction. 

Arising from Discovery,  and applying the legal principle of terra nullius which is a Latin term for land belonging to no one,  ‘British colonisation and subsequent land laws were established on the claim that Australia was terra nullius, justifying acquisition by occupation without treaty or payment. This effectively denied Indigenous people’s prior occupation of and connection to the land,’  and facilitated their subjugation. Though the Mabo Case cancelled this legal fiction, discrediting both discovery and terra nullius – ‘at least in the manner of their application to indigenous peoples during the periods of colonial acquisition, yet their devastating effects on indigenous peoples can be only partially remedied.’   As Mabo did not lead to the ceding of sovereignty to Aboriginal people, they remain marginalised.

According to Moreton-Robinson, ‘they claimed the land and systematically dispossessed, murdered, raped, incarcerated the original owners on cattle stations, missions, and reserves. In all these contexts the lives of the Indigenous people were controlled by white people sanctioned by the same system of law that enabled dispossession.’  She stresses that this unjust system still subsists, as ‘Indigenous people…continue to be the most socio-economically impoverished group in Australia.’  Like these Aboriginals, many refugees are coming to Australia and Western states from countries that have been dispossessed and impoverished by Western imperialism, colonialism and ongoing neo-colonialism. Herded into detention camps like Nauru’s they are being subjected to similar abuses, sanctioned by imperial self-legitimising laws.

Highlighting the connection between Aboriginal and refugee experiences, Emma Patchett identifies ‘correlation between the detention and displacement of Indigenous and refugee populations…the high rate of incarceration- in which for example indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be detained than non-indigenous children, and often followed by deaths in custody, reverberates with uneasy echoes of reports of violent degradation in detention on Nauru’.   Geordan Shannon argues that ‘since colonisation, Aboriginal people have been internally displaced from their country.’ Just like offshore refugees, ‘a large number of homeless and itinerant Indigenous people now live in Katherine in town camps … Conditions are unhealthy, overcrowded, and, at times, dangerous.’  In some Aboriginal communities, ‘it is commonplace for more than 20 people to live side-by-side in a single-bathroom, two-bedroom run-down house.’

Like traumatised refugee kids detained by Australia offshore and EU child refugees living in ‘abysmal conditions’,  Aboriginal children suffer historic injustices. During colonialism, ‘Aboriginal children across the country were taken from their families… They were taught to reject their Aboriginality, and often experienced abuse and deprivation.’

Aboriginals are criminalised, racialized and excluded. They are ‘massively overrepresented in the criminal justice system of Australia. They represent only 3% of the total population, yet more than 28% of Australia’s prison population are Aboriginal.’

The picture that emerges is one that shows that Australian Aboriginals are still suffering under this system which is informed by a colonial logic. Underscoring this logic that undergirds the Australian offshore processing system, Linda Briskman advances that  ‘in acts of colonial mastery, asylum seekers have been transported and warehoused…Despite well-documented claims of suffering…there has been bipartisan support for keeping populations deemed ‘surplus’ away from the Australian mainstream. An exploration of the suffering generated by this inhuman system is the preoccupation of the next chapter.


As was argued in the preceding chapter, this system is implicated in surreptitious ongoing colonial, imperial and neo-colonial activities which have resulted in the commodification, criminalisation, racialisation, exclusion, biopolitisation, and extermination of offshore refugees. It is beyond the scope of this paper to comprehensively elaborate on each of these strands of systemic injustices. The goal here is to simply highlight systematically orchestrated refugee sufferings by briefly outlining the nature of some of the injustices they are subjected to.

The question of refugee injustices is one that has received elaborate coverage. In the last century, the unjust situation of the refugee was thrust into global focus following the mass displacements of the World Wars. Rabid racism and imperialism, embodied by Germany, were largely responsible for the expulsion and dispersion of millions of Jews and Europeans. The injustices suffered by these refugees formed the fulcrum of a number of Hannah Arendt’s writings.

In ‘We Refugees,’ Arendt gives us a traumatic vision of refugee life. ‘We lost our home, which means the familiarity of daily life. We lost our occupation, which means the confidence that we are of some use in this world. We lost our language, which means the naturalness of reactions… We left our relatives…our best friends have been killed…that means the rupture of our private lives.’  It is a picture of poverty, difficulty, vulnerability, and precarity. They reflect the different forms of life Motha brings together in Archiving Sovereignty.  Agamben’s bare life,  Nancy’s abandoned being,  Butler’s grievable life,  and Santner’s creaturely life;  all archives of sovereign violence  She highlights the suicidal extremes refugees are forced into, ‘wherever European Jews are living today…Suicides occur…’  Manus Island and Nauru are scenes of similar refugee suicides.

In ‘The Origins of Totalitarianism’, Arendt elaborates on the refugee’s predicament. We see the ironic image of human rights-bearing refugees who have been let down by an unjust system that does not recognise their humanity outside the borders of their own state.  This unjust situation orchestrated by Western powers in international law remains a key reason why offshore refugees are unable to enjoy their so-called inalienable human rights in Australia.

Agamben and Rancière have argued that ‘the classical Greek opposition between zoe …and bios…was at the heart of Arendt’s critique of the rights of man as a collapsing of bios into zoe’. Agamben goes on to advance the idea of biopoliticisation,  a concept applicable to the offshore system in Australia today, indicative of sovereignty establishing a space of exception like Nauru, to facilitate the deployment of sovereign violence against refugees. Ranciere on the other hand, has argued that the individual denied his right should stage a dissensus to assert the right being denied.  Refugees should assert the rights being denied them by the Australian government.

For Stewart Motha, ‘the refugee’s body is a sign of a state’s aspiration for sovereign solitude. The refugee body is also a sign of its abandonment. In this sense the body is an archive of sovereign violence’,  and ‘extremes of neglect and cruelty. But staging dissensus as Rancière has suggested hardly offers relief to the migrant at sea or in camps as we have seen.’

These scholarly argumentations on the suffering refugee who is unable to enforce his fundamental rights establishes the background for outlining some of the specific injustices being perpetrated against offshore refugees in Australia which are microcosmic representations of western refugee injustices.

Racialisation, Commodification, and Exclusion of the Refugee

The refugee is racialized, commodified and excluded by the system. Racism is integral to imperialism and colonialism. Western anti-racism rhetoric and the proliferation of western-backed laws against racism contribute towards perpetuating the myth that racism is gone. Cheng and Shabazz argue that ‘in the era of “post-racialism” and “color blindness,” racism is proclaimed to be over, and race is refused any relevance to individual experience as well as to large-scale processes.’  They go on to relativise ongoing racist activity within the context of Ruth Gilmore’s definition of racism as ‘the state-sanctioned and/or extra-legal production and exploitation of group-differentiated vulnerability to premature death’,  and conclude that racism is ‘readily apparent across spaces and scales’.

The commodification and exclusion of racialized bodies by colonialists did not end with the national decolonisation process. The racial colonial logic behind the current ‘otherisation’ of Aboriginal and coloured people, informs the racialisation, commodification and exclusion of Australia’s offshore refugees.

‘An estimated 160,000 felons were transported from 1788 to 1850 to Van Diemen’s Land (today, Tasmania) and New South Wales, and to Western Australia between 1850 and 1868.’  Since illegally possessing the land, there has been deliberate government policy to perpetuate whiteness and assert racial superiority in Australia just like the west is doing globally.  ‘White Supremacy dictates that the Western mind and Western culture is naturally superior to all others, always has been and always will’.  And ‘for settler-colonialism to maintain itself, it has to rely on the identity of whiteness and therefore turns anyone who doesn’t meet the colonialist’s definition of whiteness as “other.” This process of creating an “other” has historical implications of violence and exclusion towards People of Color.’  The restriction of Chinese migrants from the 1850s, the White Australia Policy of 1901 to 1973, ‘Stop the Boats’ and offshore processing are all pointers to an underlying racist logic that seeks to exclude ‘others’. Under the White Australia Policy, a dictation test reminiscent of Britain’s Life in the UK Test, and Australia’s current English Language test for migrants ‘was used to exclude certain applicants by requiring them to pass a written test. Often tests were conducted in a language the applicant was not familiar with and had been nominated by an immigration officer.’

Statements like Charles Pearson’s…“We are guarding the last part of the world, in which the higher races can live and increase freely, for the higher civilisation…describe the 19th-century attitude of most Western nations…an attitude still prevalent in Australia in the 1940s as evidenced in the words of the then prime minister John Curtis “This country shall remain forever the home of the descendants of those people who came here in peace in order to establish in the South Seas an outpost of the British race”.

This enduring racist view defines Australia’s border management approach, particularly offshore processing. According to Etienne Balibar, the border ‘mainly works as an instrument of security controls, social segregation, and unequal access to the means of existence, and sometimes as an institutional distribution of survival and death: it becomes a cornerstone of institutional violence.’

As the west continues to exclude refugee populations, the commodification of individuals has become a key strategy of achieving that goal. Peter Schuck had proposed a refugee quota sharing system ‘a regionally based, consensual arrangement combining a quota system that distributes refugee burdens among the wealthier states with a market option…’  While James C. Hathaway and R. Alexander Neve, advanced a ‘solution-oriented temporary protection, conceived within a framework of common but differentiated responsibility toward refugees’.  However, both approaches have been criticised by scholars such as Anker et al who argue that they amount to the “commodification” of refugees, which implies treating refugees as commodities.

Australia’s refugee transfer arrangements with Cambodia,  Nauru, and PNG, based on financial incentives, reflect refugee commodification.  In the case of Nauru for instance, Australia had to increase the price of her financial aid to the nation five-fold to get them to accept offshore refugees.  On the private side, the Australian government has engaged the services of various private entities to manage her activities at offshore detention centres. Broadspectrum, G4S, and Serco are private corporations contracted for this process.

Consistent with the problem of commodification are the human rights abuses that are generated as the humanitarian aspect of the refugee situation is overshadowed by inhuman capitalist considerations. Consequently, offshore detention facilities operated by these entities for Australia ‘have been described as ‘hellholes’, with suicide attempts, inadequate sanitation, disease, threats of violence and the tragic death of asylum seekers”;  and there have been allegations against these organisations bordering on ‘sexual abuse of women and children and threats of rape by guards’.  Women were reportedly asked by guards to ‘expose their bodies in order to be allowed to shower for longer than two minutes’, and an Australian guard allegedly ‘said he wanted to have sex with children on the island and forced two underage asylum seekers to perform sexual acts in front on him’.  Thus these neoliberal multinational corporations (MNCs) are complicit in inflicting suffering on refugees, just like oligopolistic neoliberal MNCs are doing to developing nations with the support of neo-colonial western governments.  Leaked documents reveal that for ‘more than a year, camp managers and security staff have waged a campaign to make Australia’s detention centre for refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island as inhospitable as possible’.  In the words of a refugee ‘camp managers are …“trying to traumatise us…slowly they are killing us from minds…the mark isn’t showing on our bodies, but we are dying”.’

Refugees are thus devalued to mere objects. This outright violation of the principle of human dignity enshrined in human rights law reflects the racially-denigrating colonial logic behind the system.

Human Rights Watch has accused Cambodia and Australia of treating refugees as ‘bargaining chips, coins of trade’ and of selective interpretation of international laws in relating to refugees.  This is indicative of the low premium placed on racialized bodies by western imperialists. Australia’s offshore arrangements, the EU’s refugee containment arrangement with Morocco,  as well as her refoulement arrangement with Turkey,  all epitomise this trend.  Like slaves, refugees have no say on these matters. They are commodities. A commodity has no voice, no choice, and no rights. It is an object.

Distressingly, it is often weak impoverished states like Nauru, PNG, and Cambodia who are grappling with problems of their own, and with inadequate capacity to cater for vulnerable refugees that are lured with cash by rich nations to take them. As the humanitarian element is subservient to the need for sovereign solitude,  the best interest of children as specified in the Convention on the Rights of the Child,  and the interests of other vulnerable refugees as stipulated in the Refugee Convention and human rights treaties are not prioritised. These nations are themselves fragile and often not strong on human rights protection. Cambodia has been criticised by the United Nations for its callous deportation of Vietnamese asylum seekers who were hiding in the country’s forest due to persecution.  Refugees are consequently exposed to hostile resource-strapped local communities. There have been reports of rapes, physical violence, abuses, and other forms of attacks against refugees in Manus and Nauru. Significantly, many poor countries do not have social welfare services that are available to citizens in western countries. The glaring injustice of this system is clearly visible.

Criminalisation, Biopoliticisation, and Extermination of the Refugee

The refugee has become a byword for criminalisation, biopoliticisation, and even extermination. The refugee is criminalised by states for illegal entry, and then gets biopolitically exploited by the sovereign for irregular stay. The criminalisation of migrants and migration has led to the evolution of Crimmigration, which Bowling and Westenra, conceptualise as ‘the intertwinement of crime control and immigration control’, and as representing the ‘distinct laws and legal processes that states employ as a means of exerting control over a sector of our global society.’  They argue that it is an ‘independent, specialized penal system, what we call, a ‘crimmigration control system’. Authorised by [a] unique panoply of ‘crimmigration law’…tribunals; and a ‘secure estate’ of detention centres…divorced from the criminal justice system…’.

Leane Weber and Bowling, have posited that this is a punitive regulatory system.   Allison Hartry projects its gender angle, exploring the intersection with race, ethnic groups and classes.  Shacknove has pointed out that it is a shift towards a strategy of containing asylum seekers than protecting them;  and Richmond submits that it is an apartheid system arguing that ‘immigration control measures that have now been instituted by the EEC, USA, Canada and Australia are not altogether dissimilar to those adopted by South Africa, internally, to control population movements and to return people to their ‘Homelands’’, and ‘in the name of ‘state sovereignty ‘, ‘border control ‘ and ‘humane deterrence ‘, more barriers are placed in the way’ and human rights are being sacrificed.

Refugees are portrayed by governments and sections of the media as threats to national security. The Party of the European Left (EL) has ‘condemned the increasing criminalisation of refugees across the EU…refugees are fleeing wars “inspired, supported and financed by the imperialist policies of Western countries…The EL vowed to fight against the fascism, xenophobia and Islamophobia “that is fed by the unfounded criminalisation of refugees.” ’

America’s recent ban on migration from certain Islamic countries;  UK’s prison sentences for illegal workers,  fines for employers of undocumented migrants,  and prison sentences for landlords renting to illegal migrants;  as well as Australia’s detention of refugees offshore, are all manifestations of the criminalisation and biopoliticisation process.

Criminalisation facilitates biopolitical exploitation and inadvertent extermination. In an interview last year, the Greek Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas alleged that Belgium asked his country ‘to “push” migrants “back in the sea”.’  Sovereign violence has led to the death and extermination of thousands of refugees. The criminalisation of ‘irregular’ migration coupled with the securitisation of borders have spiked up the rate of perilous sea journeys, resulting in the virtual obliteration of thousands of refugees at sea. Last year, following a record 5000 migrant deaths in the Mediterranean, the UNHCR highlighted ‘the urgent need for states to increase pathways for admission of refugees…so they do not have to resort to dangerous journeys and the use of smugglers.’  

Multitudes of bodies are being washed ashore on islands which have become migration death zones and spaces of sovereign violence in regions across the world. From Cape Verde islands, location of the first European settlement in the tropics;  to Caribbean islands where imperial powers relocated thousands of African slaves;  to Canary Islands, surrounded by the watery graves of thousands of Europe-bound migrants who perished at sea;  to Chagos Islands whose native population has been uprooted by imperial sovereignty;  to Christmas Island, where refugees are locked up with hardened criminals;  and then to Nauru and Manus islands, offshore processing locations, where Australia has contrived ‘an elaborate fiction’ that it has no control over the detentions there, and a ‘carceral fiction’ that individuals are being detained by the island states:

Islands are cites where nation-states ‘exercise power through the management of global migration and sites ripe for investigation of how sovereign and biopolitical power operate offshore. Nation-states exploit legal ambiguity, economic dependency, and partial forms of citizenship and political status on islands to advance security agendas.

This conception of islands has historical connections to colonialism and imperialism, and it is in line with current debates on the biopolitical activities of western hegemonies on various islands across the globe.

In Motha’s ‘Archiving Sovereignty’, we are presented with an ‘archive of violence gathered, mediated, and sustained by law’, an archive of sovereign violence that is informed by ‘how the seemingly archaic past ‘‘juts into the present’’.  We are also left to wonder about ‘the fate of thousands either transported to island-prisons or expelled from their island-homes’.

In his biopolitical critique of Foucault’s notion of biopower, ‘in Homo Sacer, Agamben takes up Foucault’s analysis and reestablishes it on the very terrain that the latter had wanted to break from: the field of sovereignty.’  Loyda et al have argued that in line with Giorgio Agamben’s ‘conceptualization of the juridical construction of the camp as state of exception, islands can be understood as important sites where sovereign power works productively to blur inside and out, include through exclusion, through sovereign and non-sovereign territorial status’.  According to Mountz, ‘Detention offshore exemplifies one manifestation of this process, where the bodies and identities of asylum-seekers are contained and regulated in the name of border enforcement, national security, and geopolitical imperatives.’

Australia’s offshore detention zones are embodiments of such camps which exist in a state of exception.  In these camps, refugees undergo a process of biopolitical exploitation as they are racially, culturally, socially and politically relegated to a lower form of life, a bare form of life, the zoe life form. The refugee is homo sacer. The refugee is thus reduced to a beast.  This devaluation goes beyond animalisation. There is the objectification and commodification of the refugee as earlier mentioned. This is a deeper level of devaluation as the victim is completely dehumanised and de-animalised beyond Agamben’s zoe life form. The refugee becomes an abstraction. Australia’s offshore detainees are addressed by numbers instead of names. The final step in this devaluation process is extermination. This is rarely done directly. Through creating barriers, borders, psychological torture, frustration and hopelessness, refugees are indirectly biopolitically engineered by the sovereign to take suicidal actions. Suicidal attempts are rife and suicides are not uncommon at Australia’s offshore centres.   Boats are also either pushed back to dangerous conditions at sea, individuals are refouled to totalitarian states, or barriers are created to prevent safe migration. Extermination takes place in the thousands, mostly indirectly facilitated by the system. ‘Since 2000, the IOM writes, nearly 40,000 people, and likely considerably more, have died seeking a better life in a new country. Nearly half the migrant deaths were of people trying to reach Europe.’

There are 1,995 ‘known deaths associated with Australia’s borders since 1 January 2000.’  Some of these deaths are the direct results of Australia’s militarised boat turn-back operations, and some are at offshore detention centres. It is a catalogue of calamities. A Pakistani baby ‘died due to lack of medical care on board refugee vessel during Operation Relex interception’; Hussein Yahia, Thamer Hussein and Haithem Dawood feared drowned after their boat was forced back by Australia; Nader presumed killed after forced repatriation to Iran; Seong Ho Kang killed by a taxi during a pursuit by border officers; pregnant woman and child drowned during boat interception, and Omid Masoumali died of self-immolation at Nauru.  These are just a few of the many lives that have been taken due to the harsh border system.

Australia’s offshore processing project at Nauru and Manus islands has caused untold suffering involving ‘sexual and physical abuse of those detained, including rapes, beatings and the murder of one asylum seeker by guards; child sexual abuse; chronic rates of self-harm and suicide; dangerous levels of sustained mental illness; harsh conditions; and inadequate medical treatment leading to several deaths.’  And ‘recent leaks from within the camps, such as the Guardian’s Nauru files, have detailed chronic levels of physical and sexual abuse, especially of children, and widespread self-harm and suicide attempts. Two refugees set fire to themselves on Nauru last year, one of whom died.’  Motha submits that Nauru is a detention zone for ‘refugees that Australia has deemed expendable’.

In the light of these terrible atrocities, a coalition of legal experts has recently initiated legal proceedings against Australia at the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate possible crimes against humanity.


Australia, just like other Western imperial powers, is operating with impunity with regard to her unjust treatment of refugees. In spite of subsisting international treaties most of which she is a signatory to, Australia persists in wanton disregard of her legal obligations. Her refoulement and arbitrary detention practices contravene various international laws including the treaties on child rights,  civil and political rights,  refugee rights,  and the convention against torture.  Calls by the UN, states, international and local organisations, and civil society have been largely ignored by the Australian government. She continues to detain vulnerable children, women and men who have committed no crime, and she continues to violate their fundamental rights, subjecting them to torture and other atrocities. Having rebuffed various legal and non-legal attempts to get her to discontinue these injustices, and in the absence of other viable alternatives, what now remains is for ‘the people’ to resort to the time-tested strategy of resistance to fight against this system.

Henry Thoreau conceptualises resistance as civil disobedience. Comparing the state to a machine, Thoreau argues that if this machine ‘requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.’  He developed this view in contestation against America’s involvement in Slavery and unjust war. His argument is therefore pertinent to our discussion which revolves around similar issues. And becoming this ‘counter friction to stop’ the unjust sovereign is what is envisaged in this chapter.

The question of resistance is closely linked to the historical struggles for human rights. Under the dispensation of Natural Rights which preceded the human rights era,  the right to (not) revolt against sovereign authority constituted part of the social contract theories of natural rights theorists like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke.  While the Hobbesian view was a pacifist approach that disapproved of revolution against sovereignty, the Lockean theory was supportive of revolution in situations of sustained sovereign abuses. The notion of natural rights influenced the French and American Revolutions where citizens rose up in revolt against authority. According to Walter Benjamine, Natural Law ‘perceives in the use of violent means to just ends no greater problem than a man sees in his “right” to move his body in the direction of a desired goal.’

In the modern human rights dispensation, scholars have advanced various arguments on resistance. Gramsci has propounded the notion of counter-hegemony as a strategy of resistance. This involves a two-dimensional approach to resistance, which we may conceptualise as aggressive resistance and passive resistance.  Aggressive resistance which Gramsci calls war of movement encompasses the deployment of aggressive measures like popular protests and armed uprisings;  while passive resistance may involve taking a stand via non-aggressive tactics like ideological disputations.

Karl Polanyi has postulated a theory of double movement, where he explores the problem of a fully self-regulating market which aims to commodify all things including individuals, characterised by a ‘disembedding’ process; and an ‘embedding’ resistance posed by people as they stage a counter-movement to push for social protection in revolt against these principles, and retreat from this destructive system.

Antonio Negri has proposed that the common thread linking most modern revolutions, mass resistance or popular uprisings is constituent power, which is a projection of the popular will, or, better, it is the power of the multitude. He presents a picture of the continual conflict between constituent power (power of the people) and constituted power (constituted authority).

Costas Douzinas has pointed out that most of the rights we enjoy today are products of disobedience and resistance that were decried as criminal and violent by authority. He argues that many contemporary freedoms such as voting rights, basic labour protection, minority protection, all came out of resistance, and that ‘if you take away direct action and resistance from the West in the last two or three centuries we would still be in a Hobbesian state of nature’.  He concludes that ‘despite the reservations of philosophers and lawyers, resistance has become a normative principle, the modern expression of free action when the order of the world decays. The normative weight of this right is felt every time a Bastille is taken, a Tahrir or Taksim Square failed…There is an indelible right to resistance.’

We can conclude from these arguments, that resistance is a valid and viable strategy that may be deployed against the current unjust Western refugee treatment as epitomised by Australia. This paper proposes a strategy of refugee resistance encompassing individual and collective resistance, at local, national, and international levels, involving physical, cultural, intellectual, political, social, and technological elements.

Individual and Collective Resistance

This has to do with the 'who' element of resistance. Here we refer to the individuals and groups that could initiate resistance against the unjust system. At the individual level, it involves the recognition that everyone can make a difference. One of the greatest images of modern resistance emanated from the activism of one man who stood up to confront the fearsome military might of an oppressive Chinese government in Tiananmen Square. ‘The image of Tank Man quickly became a powerful symbol of both the bloody events of 4 June 1989 and of non-violent resistance.’ 

It took the defiant stand of one woman, Rosa Parks, who refusing to stand up and give up her seat for a white man sparked off the civil rights movement in racist America.  ‘The events that began on that bus…captivated the nation and transformed a 26-year-old preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. into a major civil rights leader.’  It took the violent act of self-immolation by one man, Mohamed Bouazizi, to set off the Arab Spring revolution. 

Though similar attempts by Omid Matsumali and Yasin Hoda in Australia’s offshore centres appear to have yielded no dividends, they nonetheless served in focusing serious national and international attention on the injustices going on at the camps. Omid was ‘denied painkillers and adequate medical treatment, his slow, agonised death brought the stark privation of Australia’s offshore detention regime to renewed international attention.’

In terms of collective resistance, we can point to the resistance of ordinary Arab citizens during the Arab Spring which led to the fall of a number of authoritarian leaders, like those of Egypt and Tunisia. The anti-globalisation movement in Seattle and subsequent similar mass protests are indicative of what collective resistance can do. Everyone concerned about the injustices of Australia’s offshore processing system and the injustices of Western border imperialism is a potential ‘Tank Man’, a potential Rosa Park, a potential agent of change.

Local, National, and International Resistance

This refers to the where question, in relation to the location zones for resistance. Resistance would need to be mobilised at the local, national, and international levels.

This paper proposes the setting up of a single strong umbrella coalition of refugee organisations composed of refugees themselves, to represent the global refugee populations and made up of local, national and international representatives. This civil organisation would solely represent the interests of the millions of refugees globally and would be empowered to speak on their behalf and mobilise them for collective action to fight against refugee injustices.

Local resistance would involve activism by community organisations, local NGOs, local religious groups, and other local stakeholders. The federal government’s Australian Border Force was forced to abandon a controversial visa crackdown in Melbourne on Friday, following sustained criticism of the operation from politicians, unions, the city council, human rights lawyers, and the people of Victoria. Melbourne city centre was brought to a standstill on Friday afternoon after protesters flooded Flinders Street train station…Holding up placards and chanting “border force off our streets” and “fuck off border force,” more than 200 protesters walked…causing chaos amongst the traffic.

National resistance would involve organisations and individuals working at state level to effect change. International resistance would involve international institutions like the UN, states, international NGOs and groups who could pile up pressure on the Australian government and other Western states to stop these cruel practices. Recent attempts by a coalition of lawyers to drag Australia before the ICC for crimes against humanity is a step in this direction.

Personal, Social, Intellectual, Political, Cultural, and Technological Resistance

This has to do with the questions of how and what, relating to factors of means and methods of resistance. It should entail various forms of physical demonstrations, boycotts, and agitations. Intellectual resistance would involve the use of information and education to enlighten the public, create awareness and counter government propaganda. Intellectuals and schools, particularly universities have a lot to do in this regard. To facilitate public engagement, scholars should make simplified versions of relevant research, accessible in language that is easily understandable to the man on the street. Universities are known for innovations. Innovative protests like the one done by intellectuals and activists who gathered to read the Nauru Files in front of the Australian embassy is a strategy worthy of recommendation and wider application.

Politically, those occupying political positions may use their offices to promote the cause. Nick McKim, an Australian senator is active in this regard.

Social and cultural activities may also be used to highlight the situation of refugees and generate resistance. The use of social media is invaluable for widespread impact in this regard. Activist networking groups may be set up to coordinate protests.

Technologically, various electronic and technological tools may be deployed including news media via TV and radio, as well as online. Hacktivism is also a growing resistance strategy.  ‘The main acts of resistance that have occurred at a transnational level have all been facilitated through technology and internet from Zapatistas’ uprising to Occupy… global forms of communication have been key to their emergence and existence.’


This paper has argued that Australia is a microcosmic representation of western imperialists and their unjust colonial-like treatment of refugees. It has examined the underlying systemic colonial logic that is at the heart of modern western hegemonies, reflected in their imperial and neo-colonial activities in developing nations, and exhibited in their inhumane human rights-denying migration management systems, targeted at vulnerable refugees who are fleeing the direct and indirect consequences of historical and ongoing imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism in their home states.

These draconian systems, emblematised by Australia’s offshore processing regime which mirrors the ongoing colonial experiences of Australia’s marginalised Aboriginal peoples, creates immense suffering for refugees as it facilitates their racialisation, criminalisation, commodification, exclusion, biopoliticisation, and even extermination.

Like Aboriginals, refugees are suffering and dying. This unjust situation looks set to continue if appropriate action is not taken. Attempts by the UN, humanitarian organisations and other stakeholders to stop these practices have not changed the situation. Just like in the periods of other cruel historical injustices such as the Slave Trade, Nazism, and Apartheid, the world looks on as innocent vulnerable children, women, and men are humiliated, devalued, dehumanised, and herded into Nazi-like camps, and Slavery-like island detention zones, where they are detained indefinitely and subjected to torture and crimes against humanity, contrary to the dictates of international law. The scenario is that distressing and the situation is that disturbing. On this critical migration and justice issue, humanity vacillates precariously at a crossroads, and the outcome of this situation will have far-reaching consequences on global unity, security, stability and prosperity.

In the light of this obvious need for more effective strategies, this paper has advocated the adoption of a strategy of resistance. It is a clarion call on individuals and collectives to rise up in resistance against this unjust system. Resistance should be local, national, and international. The formation of an international umbrella organisation, made up of a coalition of local, national and international refugee associations, strictly composed of refugees, would constitute a vital strand of this resistance initiative. The existence of millions of refugees worldwide would mean that these currently fragmented groups of individuals and associations, can come together to forge one strong united pressure group to catalyse and maintain the resistance. 

The resistance strategy should include physical agitations, cultural exhibitions, intellectual contributions, political representations, social demonstrations, and technological communications; all aimed at fighting back. For in the words of Etienne Barlibour, ‘I shall not hesitate to speak of a politics of global preventive counter-revolution or counter-insurrection.’ 

It is anticipated that resistance would lead to the end of these systemic refugee injustices. The French Revolution, the American Revolution, the US Civil Rights Movement, and similar resistance movements, constitute irrefutable historical proofs of the potentiality of resistance to turn the tide against injustice and oppression.

Charles Gimoh

RNI Research Department


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