Emerging mechanisms of legislative and political power in response to irregular migration

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By bringing the Australian and Italian developments into dialogue, the workshop maps significant points of connection and difference between otherwise distinct jurisdictions. The comparative approach allows similarities and differences between the two destination countries, Australia and Italy, to be explored in a global, comparative context and thus present a different paradigm through which to view problems and solutions. The transnational and interdisciplinary nature of this workshop will provide an important foundation for sharing experiences and knowledge concerning the politico-legal issues surrounding irregular migration, with a view to reframing and reconceptualising this unresolved problem for states.

he movement of populations across geopolitical spaces is an increasingly vexed question of law, politics and culture, and the control of borders elicits strong political debates. Within these debates, forms of migration that challenge traditional and conventional ways of entry controlled by the sovereign state (hereafter, irregular migration) is a topic that provokes strong public reaction and feeds the policy profile of political parties. The contested nature of irregular migration means that official policy responses are often reactive: based on a political construction of the migration problem as a highly visible security crisis.

This workshop seeks to challenge this representation of irregular migration and reframes the debate by adopting a comparative and interdisciplinary approach. By comparing the European and Asia-Pacific regions, with specific emphasis on Australia and Italy, this workshop seeks to contribute to an informed debate towards more effective and balanced migration policy. Comparative analysis of regulatory regimes and social, political and legal discourses on the control of peoples into and out of sovereign territories is sure to produce fresh insights into this phenomenon. A comparison of recent responses to irregular migration in Australia and Italy and their surrounding regions suggests a few orienting issues:

First, the construction of the problem as a question of numbers and peoples plays a large role in developing border control policies. Reactive policies are developed around highly visible cases. Instances of highly visible irregular migration in Australia and Italy include the post-Tampa crisis and the ‘boat people’ debate in Australia and the critical situation in the small Italian island Lampedusa (close to Tunisia). These instances elicit strong and equally visible responses such as recent attempts to send refugees in Australia to Malaysia as part of the ‘Malaysian solution’, and the transformation of Lampedusa into an offshore detention ‘container’ that evokes rather closely Christmas island detention facility.

Second, these policies have socio-political implications. They give rise to new forms of legal governance that increase state powers. These emerging power configurations are enforced in their immediacy, minimising their scrutiny. The absence of critical assessment of how these state practices reduce accountability for their use further silences its voiceless targets. This process is not new, but is becoming more significant to political and legal authorities as they attempt to broker competitive advantages in conditions of globalisation whilst postponing or avoiding scrutiny by domestic and international bodies. Within this context,the workshop aims to compare and contrast the impact of judicial interventions such as the 2011 High Court’s ruling regarding deportation of some migrants under the ‘Malaysia solution’, and the intervention of the European Court of Human Rights since 2005 regarding the protection against the deportation of Lampedusa’s migrants.

Third, both countries have made attempts to use the ‘burden sharing’ policy within their regions, and in both cases we can identify countermanoeuvres to limit their reach and impact. However, due to their respective regional positions, Italy and Australia have different political ground, with Australia being a strong negotiator within the Asia-Pacific region (the 2011 Malaysia solution being an example of this), and Italy’s state powers being limited by the European Union (an example is the 2011 European Union temporary suspension of the Schengen agreement on free mobility).

By bringing the Australian and Italian developments into dialogue, the workshop maps significant points of connection and difference between otherwise distinct jurisdictions. The comparative approach allows similarities and differences between the two destination countries, Australia and Italy, to be explored in a global, comparative context and thus present a different paradigm through which to view problems and solutions. The transnational and interdisciplinary nature of this workshop will provide an important foundation for sharing experiences and knowledge concerning the politico-legal issues surrounding irregular migration, with a view to reframing and reconceptualising this unresolved problem for states.

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Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

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