Bienvenu à l’espace discussion du cours HIS3585 (automne 2020)

Le 30 juin 1960, Zaïre indépendant – Tshibumba Kanda-Matulu

Ici ce situent les blogs conçus et créés par les expert.e.s d’une ou des lecture(s)/source(s) à préparer pour les cours Histoire de la décolonisation de l’Afrique francophone.

En quelques paragraphes concis, présentez le.s texte.s. Identifiez le.s auteur(s) que vous présentez. Expliquez en survol le contexte historique ou l’aspect historiographique qu’il.s ou elle.s aborde.nt. Résumez l’argument principal et les points essentiels. Choisissez un titre pour votre blog ainsi qu’un image qui illustre le contenu. Incluez au moins deux questions de discussion pour entamer le débat virtuel. Vous devez téléchargez votre blog au plus tard à 23h59 le vendredi AVANT la discussion qui se déroulera à partir de mardi à 8h30 (et se clôturera le jeudi suivant à 23h59). Assurez vous, lorsque vous servez d’expert, de répondre aux commentaires et aux questions de vos lecteurs (vos paires) tout au long de la période de discussion. Pour tout autre renseignement, consultez le syllabus (sur le site Brightspace du cours).

“Petitioning Geneva: Transnational Aspects of Protest and Resistance in South West Africa/Namibia after the First World War” by Tilman Dedering

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Tilman Dedering is a Professor of history at the University of South Africa. His fields of academic interest are Namibian and South African history, modern German history, and globalization. He specializes in history and technology, the League of Nations in Africa, and relations between Germany and South Africa.  

This article examines the role of the League of Nations in the South West African/Namibian independence movement. Dedering argues that although the League of Nations era is largely passed over by historians, since the short-lived organization was unable to affect any real change, it is actually an important part of the narrative. Despite stemming from a time of hope after WWI, Western powers saw the League largely as “reformed” imperialism. Yet, marginalized people were empowered by the Wilsonian language of self-determination and took advantage of new structures that allowed all people to petition the League of Nations and bring forward their complaints.   

In the case of South West Africa, Dedering looks at two rebellions specifically. The 1922 Bondelswart Rebellion is significant because of the League’s reaction to South Africa’s harsh and violent handling of the rebellion, which the South Africans described as “unprecedented bitterness” towards this common treatment of a colonial people far removed from Europe. South Africa was told that they needed to handle “backward” populations in a civilized manner, using the rhetoric of civilization against a mandatory power. The 1925 Rehoboth rebellion was significant because despite wanting to take a firm stand against the Rehoboth rebels, the colonial administration, scared of the same international backlash as in 1922, allowed dissidence to fester among the Rehoboth with “gritted teeth.” The Prime Minister of South Africa himself ensured that there was open communication between the Rehoboth petitioners and Geneva. Thus, the administration did not immediately take action against the political agitators, and were forced to justify the actions they did take in a report to the League.

Why were these petitions important? The League was the first international organization that scrutinized the domestic affairs of all countries, including the treatment of poorer/colonized nations. Even if the League of Nations never ruled in favour of colonized peoples, the League of Nations provided a framework in which local issues were seen by a global audience. This resulted in a shift away from traditional colonialism to one in which colonial powers were actually held accountable – even minimally. For example, despite the lack of action taken by the League, the Rehoboth consistently sent petitions to the League in this period – and the South Africans were forced to allow this to happen.    

The language of self-determination was explicitly not meant for marginalized peoples, but they coopted it anyway. Wilson became a symbol for colonized people, and even when the promise of liberal equality fell through and they turned towards Bolshevism, Wilsonian language remained. The petitioners from South West Africa used the rhetoric of civilization to hold the League of Nations accountable. Even when acting South African administrator H. P. Smit told the Rehoboth that the League extended its protection to “’barbaric‘ indigenous peoples,” but did not grant to them a full set of civil rights, petitioners continued to argue that they were owed the right to self-determination. After WWII, this language remained – in 1958, they petitioned the UN saying: “we appeal to the UN, as the legal successor to the League of Nations, to uphold our rights.” Dedering points out that it is not clear how the remote Rehoboth people even gained knowledge of European events or language, but they used the petitioning system continually using the League’s own moral vocabulary.

Was Dedering right? Was the League of Nations the result of an era of hope after WWI, or was it just a tool to justify colonialism?

Even though the League of Nations did not accomplish much, and nothing came out of Namibian petitions, is the era still worth researching?

Dedering says that because there was a different context post-WWII, the interwar period is often skipped over. What are the differences in context? Why did these differences result in more success after WWII for Namibian independence?  

The Rights of Spring: A Memoir of Innocence Abroad by David Kennedy (the Harvard Law professor, not the astronaut)

David Kennedy is Manley O. Hudson Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, where he has worked since 1981, and is the director there of the Institute for Global Law and Policy. Originally from southern Michigan, he also taught at Brown University as Vice President for International Affairs and in 1991 founded the European Law Research Center at Harvard. He has plenty of experience advocating for human rights in a legal capacity and has worked with such international initiatives and institutions as the United Nations, the Commission of the European Union, the Qatar Foundation, the US Council on Foreign Relations, and the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Commission. Find out more at

The Rights of Spring tells the story of David Kennedy’s early experience in Uruguay as a “first generation human rights professional,” using his experience in law alongside New York doctor Richard Goldstein and Washington writer Patrick Breslin to investigate the current well-being of four medical students made political prisoners and tortured over the preceding two years. This is a heartfelt and honest account meant to recapture the doubts and ambiguity that plagued Kennedy both during and after the trip. Sometimes sensational in the level of introspection he brings to the narrative, it is an evocative portrayal of human rights advocacy meant to spur the reader into questioning the cold bureaucracy of the institutional and professionalized model used by NGOs today.

The account takes place in the “spring” of 1985, and not to nitpick, but this makes the timeline of the narrative rather confusing. In the epilogue, Breslin writes from Washington in February the same year that Ramon Hernandez, one of the three male political prisoners in question, was released on New Year’s Eve while the rest had been released in September. Kennedy says early in the book that he received the call about going to Uruguay just after Christmas and was asked if he could go over his spring break (ie. according to the American school calendar, not Uruguayan spring which begins in December). Bear in mind also that the civic-military regime of Uruguay was replaced in March 1985, the result of a democratic election finally allowed by the military in 1984. Hopefully you can all forgive the reluctant history student’s impulse to try to sort out such inconsistency, which I assume is the result of a simple error (most likely the story takes place in the spring of 1984, with Kennedy having been invited after Christmas of 1983).

Returning to the story at hand, most of Kennedy’s musings pivot around the intermingled feelings of estrangement and empathy he felt with both the tortured medical students and those responsible for their plight. He discusses his role as an outsider and potential cultural imperialist, trying to impose universal standards on a regime quick to vilify those that challenge its dictates. When confronting the warden of the Punta Rieles women’s prison, his effort to break down potential barriers to examining the prisoners and ultimately defending their rights leads him to question the balance between empathizing with those responsible for such barbarity and the sense of complicity he feels as a result. Kennedy describes only being able to keep himself grounded by keeping his attention on those he came to help, which leads to a whole new set of emotionally-charged depictions of how one thinks when confronted with stories of violation and brutality. Ana’s experience horrifies the reader, her recollection of unimaginable torture over at least two weeks in 1983 causing the author to question his own capacity to relate or represent, exploring his own preconceptions of gender and victimization while trying to bounce between fluid roles of cold legal representation and sympathetic concern.

Kennedy repeats much of this thought process in his account of meeting the director at Libertad prison (a cruel joke of a name considering Uruguay’s motto “libertad o muerte”), after meeting the prison’s director and then with minimal privacy or flexibility being allowed to examine and question the three male prisoners: Ramon Hernandez, Ana’s boyfriend and imprisoned for having been a member of the school’s student council; Francisco Zelaya, tortured, isolated for over a week in punishment cells; and Victor Guerra, veterinarian medical student and imprisoned for attending a rally and later voting against the military in a referendum held that year. Kennedy questions the ease with which he associates with the first two men as passionate activists, instead seeing Ana and Victor as helpless victims for whom he is all the more compelled to deliver aid. Again, much of the author’s introspection here revolves around the complexities of dealing with real people and the need to balance abstract ideals with real-time improvisation and human connection.

As another aside, Kennedy very briefly remarks on the justifications used by the warden, director, and later Judge Silva Ledesma, with all three portraying themselves as subject to rigid military and legal requirement all while villainizing the students as long-term dissidents and violent threats to the established order. Note the Libertad director’s office, where Kennedy sees pictures of victims from Tupamaro terrorist attacks. Known more for theft and political kidnapping, the movement became more violent at the end of the 1960s and was almost completely suppressed by 1973, during which time they had engaged in assassinations and guerrilla tactics. They used several bombs that caused injuries but no fatalities, and on one occasion shot down several soldiers defending a high-ranking general. Twelve years later, their actions were still being used by the regime to justify fear and repression with no thought towards proportion, relevance, or decency. I would argue that we ourselves are not above such distortion of fear, whether in right-wing responses to terrorism, intolerance and prejudice on all sides of the spectrum, and general attitudes of pessimism regarding the human condition. Perhaps a similar realization is what allowed Kennedy to find himself wishing the warden of Punta Rieles well despite knowing the horrible system with which he was directly involved.

It suffices to say that Kennedy’s reflections present the dark side of human rights advocacy but are also meant to counter disillusionment or emotional distance. It is a compelling challenge to get involved and experience the ambiguities of activism firsthand, and it is a story that ends rather auspiciously with the release of the political prisoners and the downfall of the military regime in Uruguay.

Important quotes:

“As an absolute language of righteousness and moral aspiration came to be used strategically, it became less persuasive, easy to interpret as nothing but strategy, cover for political objectives, particular interests clothing themselves in the idiom of the universal.”

“I’ve become ever more convinced that we must learn to embody the will to power, to confess our politics to ourselves. If you don’t want to rule the world, I tell students, why are you taking this course?”

“I have often heard some of the best-educated young people in the world demur when asked how the world might be made more just – we really don’t know enough; we’re not qualified, not ready for rulership.”

“Increasingly, I see worry about standing — like so many of the human rights movement’s self-flagellating debates: about cultural imperialism, about “Asian values,” about intervention and relativism and all the rest — as symptoms of our unwillingness to own a politics. And the divided selves that go with politics, the intensity, the desire, the will to power and submission, to affirm and deny, to affiliate and disaffiliate.”

“Moreover, refusing to analyze our prison experiences in the language of credibility and doubt seems no more faithful to Ana than doing so. Although it might capture something of our solidarity with the women, it would also suppress the ambiguities of our experience with them. “They were also strategizing, emoting, reciting scripts, and making it up as they went along. In a way, assessing her credibility may be the only way to avoid placing Ana on a pedestal of untouchable authenticity. Analyzing our experiences from the remove of my Cambridge study, there seems no escape from the simultaneous necessity and danger of assessing the truth of Ana’s story.”

“To a certain extent, this fluid confusion served a purpose. It often allowed us to differentiate our moral and our instrumental selves, our retrospective sense of the authenticity of our relations with the prisoners and our more purely instrumental relations with Uruguayan officials, without abandoning our sense that these two dimensions of our personality and activity were integrated in some way. Indeed, we pursued these official relations in part precisely to reconnect connect us with the authenticity we now imagined ourselves to have experienced with the prisoners.”

“Ramon and Francisco seemed to carry themselves as temporarily defeated warriors in a greater political struggle, and that is how they seemed to view their own stories of capture, torture, and imprisonment. Imprisoned warriors like Ramon and Francisco seemed our equals; they needed no rescue. To them we were comrades, participants in a political struggle. The connection we had felt when in their presence achieved by contrast with our experiences at Punta Rieles-diminished my sense of purpose. Like Ana, Victor, the passive victim, awakens my indignation and motivates me to act. Suddenly, our meeting the next morning at the court might be more than a formal plea for pardon. We might be able to do something. Victor, pleading legal procedure and propriety, rekindles our involvement, somewhat dampened by our abstract political solidarity with his fellows.”

“The human rights bureaucracy, built up so dramatically since we were in Uruguay, is as much the machinery of our mutual estrangement as of any connection.”

“Immersion in the machinery of international human rights could not discharge the taint of our distance from those we had come to know in the Uruguayan prisons, precisely because that bureaucracy is the machinery of our mutual estrangement as much as of any connection.”

[*** Though I assume everyone read the book, the next quote may disturb those who have experienced any sort of sexual trauma – for those able to read on, I think it is important to understand the brutal reality of what these individuals experienced, if only to know what we are up against.]

“A woman was tortured. Electrodes on her genitals. Female victims, profane men and male avengers. In this frame, we would represent Ana far more than Ramon, Francisco, or Victor. Maybe once electrodes had been placed on their genitals, they were women. It was hard to think of them as either engaged, fighting, deploying themselves, or as suffering. Suffering as men.”


Do you think we need to understand the logic of torture and other rights violations in order to fight them? (vs. reporting it, using the “narrative unknowability of violence” as Kennedy describes it)

Why does Kennedy think the desire to rule the world is necessary and do you agree? Do you agree that debates about cultural imperialism, about “Asian values,” intervention, and relativism are self-flagellating and show a failure or unwillingness to own a politics?

Kennedy intentionally explores issues of gender and sexism, particularly surrounding his thoughts on torture and his own self-consciousness. Do you have any initial impressions or critiques of his thought process here, both as he connected with the political prisoners and in his musing after?

Migration Managerialism

Nabil Iosif Morad visits the house where 3 women travelling alone with their children are temporarily staying while waiting for their family re-unification claim to be approved. Coming from the cities of Homs and Damascus the women left Syria with their children and risked the dangerous journey in a bit to join their husbands who are now in Germany. All of the residents in the LM Village are families or single parent families and more than half of the population are babies and young children. ; Located on the northwest of the Peloponnese near the village of Myrsini the LM village is now temporary home to more than 300 Syrian and Iraqi refugees, more than half of whom are babies and young children. All of the families at the LM village have applied for the EU’s relocation scheme but none of them know how long they will have to wait before they are able to start their new life’s. The driving force behind the idea of offering a disused tourist resort to house Syrian refugees was Nabil Iosif Morad, a 54 year old doctor of Syrian descent who has lived in the area of Ilia, Greece for the past 25 years and is the first non-ethnically Greek mayor to be ever elected in the country. He offered the LM Village (which is owned by the municipalities of Andravidia-Kyllini and Fyli) to the Ministry of Migration with the condition that it would be used to house families and women traveling alone with their children. The local community provides food, medicine and clothes for the new arrivals and volunteer doctors and lawyers visit the site regularly to offer advice. The local volunteers who visit the site daily say that by now the refugees living there have become family and that they will continue offering their time and help for as long as it is necessary.

Welcome to this week’s discussion, which is also our last discussion. I want to thank each of you for continuing to participate fully in your projects and in discussions online. Please answer as many or as few of the questions below on the readings/podcast for today:

This week we read Chapter 6 of Itamar Mann’s Humanity at Sea, “Imagination and the Human Rights Encounter.” Mann argues that western hosting states have constructed migration managerialism over the last fifty years since South East Asians seeking refuge fled Vietnam by boat. He gives several important characteristics defining migration managerialism:

  • “Migration managerialism appears as a politically safe middle ground between two perceived impossibilities: open or closed borders. But it is a particular way of capturing this middle ground while rendering the question whether incoming migrants are “refugees” or not secondary (pg. 192).”
  • Managerialism is an attempt to detach law from the existential questions associated with what I have called the human rights encounter (pg. 193).”
  • Managerialism is a mode of governance that transforms rights and their corresponding duties into questions of pragmatic problem-solving… [and] occludes and displaces a notion of duty, at the basis of what I have called human rights law (p. 204).”
  • Migration management has constantly sought to conceal [possibility that obligations under the social contract to fellow citizens can end up being death sentences for non-members of the social contract] (p. 209).
  1. For Mann, the most significant thing about migration managerialism is the way that the state wields it to render the human rights encounter invisible to “us”–citizens of a functioning polity. Why is the invisibility of the human rights encounter a problem. Many of your projects have aspects of migration managerialism obscuring the plight of refuge-seekers from public view. Based on your own research and reading of Mann, what do you think is the solution to this invisibility?
  2. Towards the end of the chapter, Mann critiques the liberal portrayal of refugees as skills-bearing contributors to the domestic economy. We touched on this critique in our reading of Nayeri last week. What is Mann’s view on this question?
  3. Mann views refuge hosting as, not only a moral and voluntary act of charity, but rather as a duty. What is the source of this obligation in his view?
  4. In “Last Resort,” Act 3 of This American Life “Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee,” how did you react to the views expressed by Greek citizens towards Syrian refugees and the mayor who arranged for them to be hosted in the abandoned resort, which he calls a refugee hospitality centre?
  5. What do you think of the way that Iosif Nabil-Morad, mayor of Andravida-Kyllini, responded to refugee complaints? How does this response align with Mann’s last chapter?

Economic Benefit/Cost to Host, Refugee Perspective, Stories/Agency , Final Argument.

By : Dominique , Brayden and Ashley.

Economic Costs/Benefits:

The Government of Australia’s “Pacific Solution” was implemented in response to the growing number of refugee-seekers arriving in Australia via irregular means, most notably by small-vessel over the open-ocean. In order to maintain public support for the highly-controversial policy, the Australian Government has sought to portray refuge-seekers in largely two ways: as either threats to Australia’s national security, or as economic migrants simply aiming to take advantage of Australia’s policies towards refugees (Bem, 12). Regardless of how refugee-seekers were portrayed, the Government has argued that the cost of the “Pacific Solution” is not only cheaper than processing and settling refuge-seekers domestically, but that it also helps keep Australian citizens safe. Both of these claims are false.

In 2002, following the Tampa incident and the implementation of the “Pacific Solution”, the Government of Australia released to the public what it anticipated paying to implement the operation. A$129.3 million was allocated to maintain their offshore processing centres, with an additional A$26.5 million committed in extra aid to secure Nauru’s cooperation, and A$19 million budgeted to purchase the capital necessary to deter and interdict incoming vessels (Parliament of Australia). That same year, the estimated average cost for reception, processing, and detention of an unauthorised arrival in Australia was about $29,000. Based on the 1,515 people detained on Nauru and Manus Island at that point, the estimated cost jumps to A$44 million for the year (Parliament of Australia). These figures add up to roughly A$218.8 million dollars, but they demonstrate the Government’s efforts to hide the true costs of the program by distributing funds to a collection of government agencies. 

Nonetheless, the Government anticipated receiving 4,500 refuge-seekers per year to be detained and processed through the offshore processing centres. Based on that estimate, the budgeted per person cost for offshore processing was roughly comparable to processing refuge-seekers domestically. However, that estimate did not include the considerable capital cost of the new facility on Christmas Island, health services, or any Defence Force expenditure (Parliament of Australia). Once all of these additional expenditures are accounted for, over the roughly 5 year span between the implementation of “Pacific Solution” and its suspension, the program cost over A$1 billion to process only 1700 refuge-seekers. This meant that the Government was paying just under A$600,000 to process an individual refuge-seeker. In comparison, if the Government had processed asylum seekers in a mainland centre, the Department of Immigration estimates that this could have been done at roughly 3.5% of the cost (Bem, 4).

At the time, the Government sought to justify the exorbitant costs by highlighting the deterrent value of the “Pacific Solution” and pointed to the substantially lower numbers of detained refugee-seekers than initially estimated. However, the UNHCR delegitimized this claim by showing a worldwide drop in the amount of people seeking-refuge in Western states due to “improved conditions in some source countries”, such as Afghanistan (Bem, 13). Consequently, soon after the report, the Government of Australia announced that it would be suspending its Pacific Solution – until 2012, when the new Labour Government resumed operations.

In May of 2012, the Department of Immigration and Citizenship estimated that the cost of running offshore detention centres for the 2012-2013 financial year would be over A$1.3 billion dollars (Merope) – more than the cumulative cost of the prior operation over the span of 5 years. By February of 2013, the estimate had nearly doubled to A$2.124 billion (Merope). These estimates ballooned rapidly due to the greater than anticipated costs for staff, air transport, and health services. What is not included, however, is “capital expenditure”. Due to the lack of infrastructure on Nauru and Manus Island, the Department of Immigration estimated capital expenditure of A$316 million to construct the necessary facilities on Nauru to hold 750 people, with an additional A$230 million allotted to construct facilities on Manus Island. With all expenditures factored in, the Government of Australia estimated that the cost of establishing and maintaining the detention centre on Nauru alone for four years would cost A$1.9 billion dollars – all to detain up to 750 refuge-seekers in conditions described as “cruel, inhumane, and degrading” by Amnesty International (Merope).

While excessive, the costs to the Australian Government do not end there. Nauru charges an additional A$1000 a month in “visa fees” for each refuge-seeker detained on the island, and the additional costs incurred to the Department of Defence for their surveillance and interdiction operations cannot be measured (Merope). The long-term expenses for mental health services will not be apparent until years down the line, but they too are expected to be quite costly. The devastating impacts of long-term detention are already apparent amongst many of the refuge-seekers, but many health care workers also witness suicide and self-harm on a daily basis, which takes a toll on their mental health as well. It is estimated that for each asylum-seeker settled in Australia, as well as for many healthcare workers, the Government will incur charges of over A$25,000 for mental health services over their lifetimes (Ward, 1).

From 2013 to 2016, the Government of Australia spent over A$6.5 billion dollars, amounting to over A$390,000 to detain each refuge-seeker – an amount more than twice what any other Western nation pays to process refugee-seekers in offshore detention (Taylor). The economic cost of A$6.5 billion dollars is quite obvious, but less apparent is the wider, long-term economic impact of the “Pacific Solution”. The anti-refuge-seeker rhetoric that surrounds the “Pacific Solution” has shifted attitudes towards legal immigration as well. Subsequently, conservative governments are increasingly turning to restricting immigration as a means to maintain public support (Taylor). However, Australia has a rapidly aging population, and higher rates of immigration are vital to maintaining Australia’s economic success both in the short and long term. Nonetheless, in the most recent election, Prime Minister Morrison announced that Australia would begin reducing the number of immigrants allowed into the country by 30,000, or almost 16%, over 4 years (Taylor). While the economic costs of this decision may not be apparent now, in the long-term Australia will have to deal with the ramifications of a labour force incapable of funding all of the social programs necessary for an aging population.

It is important to note, however, that these costs are not necessarily inevitable. Ironically, Australia has already demonstrated that a different approach can be vastly more successful. While refuge-seekers who arrive via boat are detained in offshore detention centres, refuge-seekers who arrive with a valid visa, such as for business or tourism, and who make a claim for asylum once on Australian territory, experience a wildly different process in which they are detained in the community (Merope). A 2011 UNHCR report estimated that offshore detention would cost roughly A$339 per refuge-seeker per day. In comparison, the community-based model of detention (Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme) provided A$438.41 per fortnight/every 2 weeks, equal to roughly A$31 per day. NGOs estimate a mere 30% of asylum-seekers living in the community use these benefits (Merope). Thus, community-based processing would save A$308 per person per day – but those savings would only apply to the 30% who use government benefits. The other 70% of refuge-seekers would result in savings of A$339 per person per day for the government.

Advocates of the “Pacific Solution” have often argued that hidden amongst the refuge-seekers are threats to national security, but statistically speaking the community-based approach to processing poses minimal risk to the public. Refuge-seekers going through this model have strict monitoring requirements, and from 2011 to 2013 (the time period just before the re-implementation of the Pacific Solution), out of the 12,100 refuge-seekers released into the community, only five had been charged with a crime – meaning that refuge-seekers were 45 times less likely to commit a crime than a member of the general public (Hall). What this means is that the Australian Government has been operating an alternative model of refuge-seeker processing that is not only more humane, but also substantially less costly both in the short and long-term.

Works Cited:

Bem, Kazimierz. A Price Too High: The Cost of Australia’s Approach to Asylum Seekers



“Chapter 11 – Pacific Solution: Outcomes and Cost.” Parliament of Australia, 9 Jan. 2014,


Hall, Bianca. “Few Asylum Seekers Charged with Crime.” The Sydney Morning Herald, 1 Mar. 2013,


Merope, Sienna. “The Economic Cost of Our Asylum Seeker Policy.” Right Now: Human Rights in 

Australia, 27 May 2016, 


Taylor, Jack. “Smoke and Mirrors.” Harvard Political Review, 2 Oct. 2019,

Ward, Tony. “Long-Term Health Costs of Extended Mandatory Detention of Asylum Seekers”. Yarra 

Institute for Religion and Social Policy, Oct. 2011,;



Finding stories about the refugees on Nauru is, as we have continuously mentioned, very difficult due to media censoring. It is also difficult to paint a clear single picture of the refugee because asylum seeking is never a single story. This aside, the stories that do come from Nauru are as shocking as they are interesting and telling of Australian and world politics. 


As we have previously mentioned, asylum seekers on Nauru are sent there by the Australian government, as an alternate option to having them land on mainland Australia. The asylum seekers on Nauru are not a singular group; they do not all come from the same country of origin and they are not all fleeing the same persecution. This means that every refugee is coming to Nauru with a different story of fear, persecution, trauma and needs. Primarily these asylum seekers are coming from countries in the Middle East (such as Iran and Afghanistan), Pakistan and some from East Africa (such as Somalia) (UNHCR). It is very difficult to describe a story of these asylum seekers before their arrival on Nauru, due to this diversity. Their only real common link is that they arrived by boat in Australian waters and were turned to Nauru instead. 

The Guardian, a British newspaper that covers global news affairs has worked hard on uncovering certain details about the refugees on Nauru, especially through the media censorship on the island. In the article linked below, 5 asylum seekers on Nauru briefly explain their lives on the island, but also touch shortly on their lives prior to Nauru, why they sought asylum in Australia and why they felt the need to flee their country of origin. However even here the focus is on the stories coming from Nauru, rather than the plight of these refugees prior to Nauru.

In a personal side note before continuing, I feel this relates to what Nayeri was describing as the having to give up your personal story prior to becoming a refugee. Despite the diversity of the people living on Nauru, there is relatively little information about the things these people have experienced prior to their detention on the island. I suppose it is, at least, productive that there is a focus on their story in Nauru, however this focus comes more from the inhumane conditions and treatment they are experiencing, and not out of wanting to let refugees tell their own stories. 


Due to extreme censoring politics on Nauru, many asylum seekers living there do not have access to resources which would allow them to narrate their own stories. The authority to tell stories rests primarily in the hands of the Australian and Nauruan governments to narrate the lives of these asylum seekers. As we’ve explored in previous presentations, the Australian government uses specific conservative political language to express that this is the “best option” to protect Australian borders (Government of Australia). Similarly the Nauruan government writes that “the increased temporary resettlement of refugees will be good for Nauru” (Government of Nauru). Interestingly, in both these discussions the asylum seekers are not active participants nor are their needs at the front of the discussion. It shows that there is a privilege to being able to tell stories, an autonomy that the asylum seekers on Nauru are missing. 

Over the years some special groups have gained access to Nauru for various reasons. It is primarily through these groups; of journalists, human rights activists, doctors and lawyers, that the asylum seekers’ stories begin to take centre stage (although they are still not always telling their own stories outright, rather having them told through a third party).

What comes to light through these means is a story of abuse and crisis. Especially as media censorship has lightened ever so slightly (it is still very difficult to gain access to Nauru, although the media has given it enough attention that there are more efforts to find work arounds to this access issue, even if very few of them succeed). Mental illness, depression and suicide are on the rise in camps on Nauru, and from what can be gathered this is due to the lack of care and treatment that asylum seekers are receiving and have access to on the island. They risked so much, and did not find the asylum they were hoping for. 

 Linked below is a podcast (transcript available as well) of an Australian reporter discussing with a child on Nauru via Skype about her experiences. This was a rare access to information, and the story told is heartbreaking. Maya, a young asylum seeker describes her daily life and struggles and speaks out about the difficulties her family and friends are facing living on Nauru. 

Another project that was shocking to discover was the All We Can’t See initiative. A group of activists and journalists have come together to create an exhibition which demonstrates, through creative expression, the abuse and neglect of asylum seekers on Nauru. It is based on leaked files from Nauru detailing many cases of assault, sexual abuse, self-harm and child abuse which were protected by Australian and Nauruan officials. It is a great effort at providing a link between the asylum seekers individual stories and the public (especially Western audiences). The link to the files is below. 


While this is the final part of my discussion on the topic of stories, I warn against saying that this is the final part in a refugee’s story. Especially in light of course readings we can collectively agree that a refugee’s story does not come to a conclusion after resettlement, it is just another stage. However, resettlement does represent a perceived end to a story, and a new beginning. 

The actual number of asylum seekers who have been resettled is relatively low. Again in recent years the government of Australia stated that they have no intention of accepting any of these refugees onto the mainland, and would instead prefer they be resettled elsewhere. 

Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, a legal centre based in Australia provides some details regarding the asylum seekers on Nauru. In 2017 54 refugees were settled in the United States. As of March 2, 2020 there were 211 asylum seekers remaining on Nauru. 

The resettlement of asylum seekers from Nauru is still very recent, so there are not a lot of stories being published, although I would expect that it is possible for the resettled population, and those still being sent to Nauru will have more autonomy and opportunity in the coming years to become storytellers in their own right. 

** Some of the Above links were unable to be posted here, Brayden will create another post with those links so they are available to you ! Thank you ! **


The summative argument for these presentations has been clear and simple; that the international laws surrounding refugees and asylum seekers specifically migrants arriving by boat are unclear and can create inhumane conditions. Specifically focalized on the island of Nauru these laws meant to protect, failed many. What happened on Nauru should not be ignored, the conditions on the island of Nauru were and are a bi product of these international laws, as highlighted in the immigration laws of Australia. Countries can be vague and veil the true nature of their policies whilst being within their legal rights. As  Itmar Mann touches on within his book “in confronting these events, I will argue, the formalism of rules, indeed, does not give us sufficient guidance”( Mann, Pg 3) . The international law is designed to fail, it does not create a set structure of operating conditions for countries and allows behaviours such as Nauru to continue as in every technically they are not violating any condition of the refugee act. These refugees were not being sent back to where they were being persecuted and are being processed, albeit very slowly. These past presentations intended to highlight the issues surrounding Naru in a global manner, there is a global responsibility that surrounds refugees and in the refugee age we must come to terms with this responsibility in a manner that can institute and protect these stateless people. The economic benefits for Nauru as discussed previously in this presentation highlight the exploitation of these stateless peoples for economic gain, they are treated as simply a bargaining chip. The Tampa highlights, just as the exodus did, a human rights encounter and in the case of Nauru the authorities have chosen the wrong path, rather than sympathizing with this idea of a broader connecting humanity they chose to distance themselves and remove the power of the refugee in the encounter all together, through interception measures and removing refugees from Australia and placing them out of sight out of mind. 

Itmar Mann, Humanity at Sea, Page 3 .

 Itmar Mann,Humanity at Sea, Page 55.

Cambodia: Refugee Warriors and Economics

by melody and damian and olivia

Image result for khao i dang

Since their inception, refugee camps have been viewed as places offering a safe haven for refugees waiting to be resettled far away from the dangers of their home countries. This perception of refugee camps have been conceptualized as a means of giving them legitimacy, but as Itamar Mann has stated, the reality of the camps are simply a measure of keeping people alive instead of killing them, and only providing the services needed to give refugees the minimum needed for them to survive (Mann, 18). Moreover, conditions in camps varied depending on their location and, as in the case of the Thai-Cambodian camps, were worsened by the famine stemming from the period of the Khmer Rouge.Thus, overall conditions in most camps have been kept at a minimum as a way to ensure that refugees would not try to overstay their welcome, while also trying to keep those who might take advantage of the hospitality of the host country and the UNHCR out of the camps. However, despite these attempts to keep those seen as ‘undesirable’ out of the camp’s walls, camps like those on the Thai-Cambodian border provide an interesting example of how the mere life provided to a host of refugees can also be exploited by groups on the outside.

Although the Khmer Rouge were defeated and ousted from power in 1979 and replaced by a Vietnamese-controlled communist government, the battle continued on well into the 1980s and launched a third wave of refugees fleeing from Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia. Camps on the Thai-Cambodian became fertile ground for groups seeking to overthrow the Vietnamese from power to recruit into their ranks, which was further aided by Thailand, who further aided the Khmer Rouge by ensuring that they could be “fed as refugees, and furnished as warriors.” (Robinson, 26) “the border war promoted a feeling of cynicism toward refugees and the humanitarian agenda on the part of many in Thailand and Cambodia,” (Robinson ,35) and the misuse of refugee camps as resource sites for guerilla groups fed into the anti-refugee rhetoric, as it provided evidence for that refugees were actually “vile terrorists” and to not be trusted as true asylum-seekers. Refugee warriors thus aided in the construction of a narrative that saw refugees as opportunists, making it difficult for future refugees to be taken seriously.

Economics of Refugeedom: The State

When approaching the issue of economic costing of a refugee crisis, particularly in the case of Cambodian refugees from the 1970s till well into the 1990s, it is important to consider the totality of cash flow as a result of this issue. What this means is that the cost of clothing, feeding, and housing refugees, as well as the potential benefit to the host country, is the tip of a much larger regional, and at times global, investment in either stabilising the area or through financing, weapon sales, proxy wars, destabilising existent regimes for political ends. This is particularly true in the case of Cambodia where from decolonization to the Domino Theory that was used to justify anti-Communist expeditions in Asia, there was a large amount of foreign money that deepened the decades long humanitarian crisis and prolonged the conflict.  

In a 1977 House of Lords sitting in the UK, it was noted that Thai authorities received from the UN grant of 25 cents ($1.05 in 2019 USD) per each refugee admitted from their eastern neighbours. Considering that throughout the 70s and 80s over 300 000 refugees crossed the border, Thailand potentially received up to $75 000 ($316 356 in 2019 USD) as a grant for allowing the Cambodians and others to cross the border. This must be qualified that the House of Lords noted that subversive Cambodian elements were rooted out prior to admission. However, as shown in the large presence of militant groups in the border camps and cooperation between various authorities and militants, there either was not a serious attempt at preventing guerrillas from entering, or there was an attempt to offload the costs of a proxy war against Vietnam onto various international humanitarian organizations. What is also important to note is that this grant seems extremely small for the volume of refugees Thailand received and the existence of a border conflict with Vietnamese forces and militants taking advantage of a porous border.

Economics of Refugeedom: Refugees and Camps as Sovereignties

Khao-i-Dang was an interesting refugee camp as it represented for many Cambodians a possibility to emigrate, as it was directly administered by the Thai Interior Ministry and UNHCR. As a result, the camp was also free of control from the many militant groups fighting Vietnamese troops across the border. This quote from a 1987 Christian Science Monitor article highlights what Khao-i-Dang represented to the refugees: 

“The disquiet turned to alarm on Jan. 15, when Khao I Dang residents heard that 1,683 displaced persons in Site 8, one of the Khmer Rouge-run civilian camps, were rounded up by Khmer Rouge forces and trucked, in the middle of the night, to Na Trao, a Khmer Rouge military base. The base is controlled by the so-called ‘butcher of Kampuchea,’ Ta Mok, and international relief organizations have no access to it. A month later, there was no sign of what had happened to the displaced persons who were rounded up.”

Khao-i-Dang was representative not only of hope but of safety from Khmer Rouge and other guerrilla press gangs. Thus, an extensive network of “paymasters” and other individuals sprung up to traffic Cambodians into Khao-i-Dang, this widespread practice gave rise to terming these refugees as illegals. This is important to recognize that these camps amounted to miniature semi-sovereign entities, with their own borders, populations, and structures of governance or occupation. In 1987 USD (2019 USD) the per capita income of Thailand was $646 ($1454), while refugees were charged upwards of $400 ($900) for passage. However, this was no guarantee of eventual safety as the possibility of “deportation” to their camp of origin (they were sent back, but the reality of what this meant to the refugees after being trafficked is akin to deportation).

Refugee perspective / stories / agency

For Cambodian refugees, their stories are often left out of history. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge and the subsequent conflicts, Cambodian refugees’ experience was mostly told through the lens of relief agencies, meaning that relief agencies were in control of which stories and experiences were presented to the world. Peter Gatrell suggests that,“[d]isplacement was associated with a lengthy test of resolve. By contrast the reflections of Cambodian refugees are mostly hidden from history, except insofar as they emerge in the record of relief organizations. In particular there was no Khmer equivalent to the large Vietnamese diaspora whos extensivette transnational connections have begun to illuminate refugee experiences.” The controlled outlet for stories that relief agencies have means that the ‘correct ‘experience is told. The lives of Khmer refugees and Chinese refugees are less frequently told, creating a great loss of perspective. The diverse experiences of people in refugee camps as well as in some cases their stories as refugee warriors are not present in popular history. 

Currently, people globally are using different means in order to express their experience and give more control over the narratives that are often told of refugees. A way to project this information is through the internet. Gatrell explains, “[t]he internet has become an important means of collecting information from disparate sources and disseminating it more widely.” 

Aid agencies often used stories of refugees to showcase victims in need of their support as well as conceal the often undesirable conditions of refugee camps. By presenting their own stories, refugees are able to gain more agency of their experiences and break this narrative. 

Below are some examples of Cambodian refugees taking back their agency: 

Vannead Horn discusses his own family experience in Cambodia and reflects on the current refugee crisis

Vannead Horn: A spirit of a fighter

The story of Samneang Moul


Adelman, Howard. 1998. “Why Refugee Warriors Are Threats”. Journal of Conflict Studies 18 (1).

Hansard, “Cambodian Refugees in Thailand” House of Lords Sitting (12-Dec, 1977). Series 5, Vol. 387.

Mann, Itamar. Humanity at Sea: Maritime Migration and the Foundations of International Law. Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Robinson, C. “Report. Refugee Warriors at the Thai-Cambodian Border.” Refugee Survey Quarterly 19, no. 1 (January 2000): 23–37.

Weaver, Mary Anne. “Cambodians in Limbo. Refugees on Thai-Cambodian Border Face New Status as `Displaced Persons’.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 1987.

North American Border: Sanctuary Cities, Self Representation, and Economics

International Worker’s Day, early morning blockade outside ICE headquarters in San Francisco 2017. Photo: Peg Hunter

Important Update

 This past Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that his government would allow refugee claimants to cross the border and spend 14 days in isolation. Just one day after this announcement, the federal government unexpectedly reversed this policy. The federal government announced yesterday that individuals crossing the border irregularly, including refugee claimants, would not be allowed into Canada and will be returned to the United States (Amnesty, 2020). Organizations like Amnesty International have condemned this change in policy stating that “Canadian government is now violating our important international obligations to refugees, at a time when concern about their vulnerability to COVID-19 mounts worldwide”(Amnesty, 2020). The U.S. has similarly closed its northern and southern borders. Amnesty International has decried the decision to close the US/Mexico border to refugees, highlighting that it will only deepen a grave human rights crisis. Additionally, migrant workers have been thrown under the bus with regards to new border policies regarding COVID-19, stating that Canada would be indefinitely closing its borders to non-residents. In these unprecedented and uncertain times, it is important to consider the precarity refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented people and migrants face – especially in times of emergencies.

Refugee perspectives/stories/agency

Sanctuary history in the U.S.

US sanctuary practices can be described as comprising relatively cohesive, faith-based national movements, in contrast to sanctuary practices outside of the US. For example, sanctuary practices in Canada are not found on a national scale and are more socially and geographically detached and temporally limited incidents. As well, Canadian sanctuary practices are not closely associated with the theological imperative of sanctuary unlike the US movements that are exemplary of religious activism against the state. While most sanctuary movements in the US found origin through Christian churches, supporters were quick to note that concepts of sanctuary exist in most faith traditions. Still, US sanctuary movements are “not founded in ancient theological traditions of hospitality or the Old Testament traditions of cities of refuge; rather, the sanctuary movement is more properly understood in the tradition of civil disobedience” (Lippert and Rehaag, 34). Churches are said to engage in this act of civil disobedience largely because of inadequate appeal procedures and human suffering not addressed by those procedures. Many justifications articulated by supporters in sanctuary movements underscore the moral imperative of their work as “helping the weakest” even if it meant going against state laws as “God’s laws are superior”. The argument for building sanctuaries has been that the refugee system is often unhearing, uncaring, and unaccountable to vulnerable people in need of protection as it is founded in systemic discrimination and racism. Sanctuaries for refugees are therefore an expression of moral outrage at what was deemed a broken refugee system, and outrage at how their government handled deportees. Where the state was perceived to have failed to provide that protection, communities and frequently churches were portrayed as having stepped into this role, and, in doing so, claimed the higher moral ground. 

The first wave of Sanctuary Movement (SM) in the U.S. formed in response to the Refugee Act of 1980 and was primarily concerned with the plight of Central American refugees. During this time, violent wars raged in El Salvador and Guatemala (El Salvador had been engulfed by civil war since 1979, while in Guatemala, 11,000 people were killed in just 1983 alone). While the Act was supposed to be a more just version of the refugee policy already existing in the U.S., it proved to be quite the opposite. While it intended to establish a non-ideological standard for refugee and asylum determination, stating that a refugee was ‘any person’ who was ‘unable or unwilling to return to … that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.’ In reality, someone fleeing a country friendly to the U.S. was less likely to gain asylum than someone fleeing an unfriendly country (such as one from the Soviet bloc), even if the harms suffered were the same. This led to refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala fleeing to the U.S. seeking political asylum were routinely rejected and deported. At its best, the Central American Sanctuary Movement is said to have involved over 400 sanctuary spaces that, together with 2000 supporting congregations, provided sanctuary to at least 3000 Central American refugees (Lippert and Rehaag, 31). 

New Sanctuary Movement (NSM) is known as a revival of the SM. It arose in response to the treatment of migrant workers and undocumented migrations from Mexico and South and Central America. Churches in a handful of U.S. cities hoped to unite faith-based groups in a push for immigration reform that would help undocumented migrants stave off deportation orders. This second wave of sanctuary movement was meant to “enable congregations to publicly provide hospitality and protection to a limited number of migrant families whose legal cases clearly reveal the contradictions and moral injustice of our current immigration system”(Lippert and Rehaag, 31). Supporters of sanctuary movements searched border areas for people in distress and also started a programme of setting up water stations in the desert. When asked about the legality of their actions, one leader of the movement stated: 

“ ‘We are doing nothing more than giving humanitarian aid to people in the desert who may be dying or in failing health. These people were in a life-or-death situation. It was a matter of saving lives. If they were caught by Border Patrol and sent back to their country in handcuffs, they were delivered to the death squads’ ” (Lippert and Rehaag, 35). 

For some migrants, sanctuary meant literal refuge – ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is usually reluctant to enter churches to execute deportation orders while insisting on its right to do so. For instance, Rosa Ramirez (a pseudonym) and her family in the Kansas City area speak of their encounter with sanctuary being an actual safe haven: ‘I would feel safe in the church, but when I went out to drop off [my son] at work, I can’t describe the fear I felt’ (Lippert and Rehaag, 96). However, NSM went beyond ensuring physical sanctuary and focused more on providing a new means of telling the story of the human costs of US deportation policies. Undocumented immigrants who were generally told to avoid driving attention to their status, were more encouraged to to speak out publicly about their stories of seeking asylum and the failures of refugee system that hurt them and their families. In this way, NSM was able to offer a counter-narrative to dominant discourses on refugeedom of the time, as well as give concrete meaning to abstract and complex struggles. This allowed undocumented activists to voice their claims to legitimacy on topics like immigration policy. For example, Elvira Arellano, a Mexican immigrant who sought sanctuary in Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago in 2006 with her young son Saul (a US citizen), and became the most prominent spokesperson for the emerging immigrant rights movement, insisted on the importance of offering a counter-narrative from the unauthorized immigrant’s point of view: ‘I wanted to talk about what was happening in my case in particular and to call attention … to what is going on … and ask what we want to do about it. I wanted to give us a voice’ (Lippert and Rehaag, 94). 

Challenging and changing unjust laws 

“As an organization, we do not encourage people to break the law. We, do, though, advocate quite strongly that unjust laws be changed. In fact, we don’t think it’s right that honest people should have to die in the desert to try to find a job” – from SM movement supporter.

On the other hand, sanctuary movements directly challenged the discourse around the economic cost or benefit of resettling refugees. A response to the charge by authorities and opponents that the immigrants were simply migrant workers entering the US to find work was that they ‘were able to counter their argument with evidence of why the refugees were really coming here—because they were trying to save their lives, not make money” (Lippert and Rehaag, 31). Although supporters of sanctuary movements often appealed to accounts that depicted refugees as positive contributors to society, those appeals were made from a purely moralistic perspective that would portray the claims to their removal baffling and subsequently extend their outrage to the general public. There were frequent accounts of positive experiences with refugee claimants clearly intended to rebut negative stereotypes that practitioners felt were often portrayed in the media. 

Sanctuary Cities under Trump 

Only five days after his Inauguration, President Trump issued an executive order called “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States”. This executive order specifically targets sanctuary cities, where “jurisdictions that willfully refuse to comply with 8 U.S.C. 1373 (addressing information sharing regarding immigration and citizenship status among government officials) are not eligible to receive Federal grants, except as deemed necessary for law enforcement purposes”(ACLU, 2018). Throughout 2017, several cities fought legal battles to halt the enforcement of 8 U.S.C 1373 on the grounds that it is unconstitutional (ACLU,2018). In 2018, the Department of justice sent a notice to 23 jurisdictions “demanding all documents reflecting guidance to law enforcement employees regarding all communication with DOJ, DHS,

and/or ICE”(ACLU, 2018). All of these jurisdictions have high populations of immigrants, including New York city and Los Angeles. In July 27, 2018 the district court issued

Permanent nationwide injunction barring the Attorney General from imposing the notice, access, and 8 U.S.C. 1373 compliance conditions on most jurisdictions (excluding Chicago) and the court also finds that 8 U.S.C. 1373 is unconstitutional (ACLU, 2018).

The Center for Immigration studies, a think tank devoted to research and policy analysis of the economic, social, demographic, fiscal, and other impacts of immigration on the United States, posts updated lists and map of current sanctuary counties, and cities: 

Current map of sanctuary counties, cities, and states as of Feb 5, 2020

Each sanctuary city, county or state has a description of their position of their detainer policy (which can be found if you hover your mouse over the location). For instance, Grand County, Colorado’s detainer policy will not honor ICE detainer. 

Self-representations of Refugees in Popular Media

As discussed in previous blog posts, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and undocumented people are often lumped into the same group in popular media. Refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and undocumented people represent themselves within mainstream media and outside of it. Some self-representations of refugees engage with anti-refugee sentiments while others construct representations of themselves and their struggles outside of the narratives pushed on to them. 

The song titled Immigrants (We get the Job done) from the play Hamilton, involves a range of artists ( K’Naan,Snow tha Product, Riz Ahmed and Residente) that are all either immigrants, refugees, undocumented people themselves or are children of. The song describes immigrants as workers:

“And it’s, it’s really astonishing that in a country founded by immigrants

“Immigrant” has somehow become a bad word

I got one job, two job, three when I need them

I got five roommates in this one studio, but I never really see them

Who these fugees what did they do for me

But contribute new dreams.” (Genius, 2016)

The artists emphasise the economic benefits their communities have brought to their host countries. Rather than asserting their rights on the basis of their humanity, they engage with their own existence and the existence of their community on economic terms. 

In contrast, the song F*CK ICE 2 by Manny Sanchez unapologetically and comedically discusses the realities of being undocumented and being confronted with racial profiling. The song has recently gone viral on Tik Tok. The song describes community resistance to ICE raids and deportation: 

“Shout out to my mom serving beans and tortillas

F*ck ICE, b*tch, we sending shots, no tequila

Free all them kids, man, I can’t forget my tía

Shout out to my immigrants, I know they valiente

Chinga la migra, fuck deportation

‘Cause when I’m on the mic I represent all nations” (Genius, 2019)

 Manny Sanchez is able to represent himself without engaging with narratives pushed onto his community. The unapologetic nature of the song is resistance to the pressure to justify safety, and opportunity, for specific groups on economic terms. 

Economic cost/benefit

The economics of refuge-seeking is a complicated issue; while some view refugees as an economic burden, others point to refugees’ economic contributions to Canadian and American society. Others, however, have argued that decisions about refugee-hosting should be made independently of economics, given that refuge-seeking is primarily a humanitarian concern. Thus, in understanding the economics of refuge-seeking, it is important to both look at how refugees are perceived by the general population, as well as scholarly research that discusses the economic costs and benefits of refuge-seeking. 

An economic burden?

An analysis of political discourse in Canada and the United States reveals that ‘refugeedom’ and asylum-seeking are clearly perceived in terms of economics. Not only in Canada and the United States, but also elsewhere, refugees have been accused of being economic migrants claiming to be persecuted in order to gain entry; in 2008, for example, the UK’s Immigration and Border Minister Phil Woolas asserted that “‘most asylum seekers, it appears, are economic migrants’, as opposed to being genuine refugees fleeing persecution (Zimmermann, 335). The arrival of such individuals has been criticized, with US President Donald Trump stating in the 2016 Republican Party Convention that the arrival of such individuals has “produced lower wages and high unemployment for our citizens” (Borjas). Similarly, not only do opponents of refugee-hosting use economic justifications for their arguments, so too do proponents of refugee-hosting. As Dina Nayeri writes in her article “The ungrateful refugee: ‘We have no debt to repay,’” friends would use her contributions to American society as proof of the benefits of accepting refugees, “As if that’s proof that letting in refugees has a good, healthy return on investment” (Nayeri). 

In regards to concerns, media in Canada and the US has pointed out the cost of hosting asylum-seekers and refugees, with the City of Toronto alone having spent $64.5 million on emergency housing for refugees in 2017 and the province of Ontario recently demanding $200 million from the federal government for costs incurred relating to asylum-seekers arriving via non-official land entry points ( (Armstrong, “What governments spend on refugees”). The UNHCR also recognizes that refugee-hosting is not without cost. In the words of the UNHCR, “States that host refugees incur substantial financial costs, not least in paying salaries and meeting the other expenses of officials and members of the security services who are responsible for refugee-related tasks” (Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme). 

But it is equally important to remember the cost of strict border controls that stop to prevent refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants from entering. As the American Immigration Council wrote in 2019, the US federal government has spent approximately $330 billion on the agencies that carry out immigration enforcement since 2003 (“The Cost of Immirgration Enforcement and Border Security”). In October 2019, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the US employed over 84,000 people in total (“The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security”). The cost of detaining migrants in detention centres is also relatively high; according to ICE’s 2018 budget, the average cost of maintaining one adult detention bed was $133.99 (Urbi). These high costs have led the government to look to private prisons, which can receive stipends from the federal government if their costs are lower than public detention centres (Urbi). Not only have strict controls on migration led to higher enforcement budgets, they have also taken an impact on jobs and the economy. In 2012, Alabama legislators passed one of the strictest immigration laws in the US making nearly all interactions with the state a test of one’s legal immigration status (McMahon). Which the state deemed the law as a way to fight unemployment, expecting that as undocumented immigrants left new jobs would be opened for US citizens, Trisha McMahon writes that as companies such as Alabama’s poultry processers could no longer find enough workers, leading them to import African and Haitian workers (McMahon). Similarly, strict immigration laws in Georgia resulted in $140 million in agricultural losses (McMahon). Laws such as those enacted in Alabama and Georgia in 2012 pose challenges for those seeking asylum whose status in the US has not yet been regularized. Whether one is in favour of stricter controls on immigration and refuge-seeking or whether one is in favour of welcoming more refugees, there is thus clearly a cost involved.

A Complex Reality

While those opposed to migration and consider refuge-seeking to be an economic threat often rely on the argument that there are a fixed number of jobs in the economy and that newcomers “just compete for a slice of the piece rather than helping the pie grow” (Kerr and Kerr), it is important to recognize that the reality surrounding refugee-hosting and the economy is more complex than it may seem. Similarly, while political discourse often portrays refugee-hosting as an economic burden, the economic consequences of refugee-hosting are actually more complex. In an article entitled “When Migrants Rule: The Legacy of Mass Migration on Economic Development in the United States,” Andrés Rodríguez-Pose and Viola von Berlepsch go beyond most studies on migration and refuge-seeking which look uniquely at the short-term effects of migration (p.645). Instead, they look at the long-term effects of migration beginning in the late 19th century and argue that “those places where migrants settled in large numbers are significantly better off than those that were relatively untouched by migration” (p. 645)

The UNHCR — while recognizing the cost of refugee-hosting (see Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme) — is also keen to point out the economic contributions that refugees bring to their host country. In an article entitled “Refugees are Good for Canada,” the UNHCR points out the economic contributions of refugees to Canada, such as the story of Ahmad Abed, a Syrian refugee who became an entrepreneur after founding a business called “Our Sock Shoppe” in Guelph, Ontario (“A Syrian refugee returns to entrepreneurial roots in Canada”). Beyond anecdotal evidence, research conducted by the Harvard Business Review shows that immigrants writ large tend to overcontribute to entrepreneurship than the U.S.-born population; while immigrants make up only 15% of the workforce, they represent a quarter of entrepreneurs (Kerr and Kerr). Research also casts doubt on the argument that refugees are primarily unskilled workers. As Aimee Chin and Kalena E. Cortes write, “refugees fall in the middle of the distribution of educational attainment among US immigrants” (Chin and Cortes, 603); this means that the average refugee hosted by the U.S has a level of educational attainment higher than that of family preference immigrants (Chin and Cortes, 603). 

Conclusions: The Pertinence of Economics in Refugee-Hosting?

It is therefore important to go beyond looking at simply the economic cost. While refugee-hosting is clearly seen as an economic issue in both Canada and the U.S., it is important to remember that refugees’ motivations are not primarily economic; as Christian Dustman et al. write, refugees are accepted for humanitarian reasons and “host countries tend not to have economic integration of the refugee migrants as their primary objective” (Dustmann et al., 501). Beyond economic arguments, one can also look to the cultural and social contributions of refugees; however, as Dina Nayeri writes, accepting refugees is a “basic human obligation,” as “It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.” In the 1951 Convention, which Canada has signed and to which the US has indirectly agreed to by ratifying the 1967 Protocol, the principle of non-refoulement prohibits states from expelling refugees against their will “to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom,” irrespective of the economic burden accepting such a refugee would entail (UN General Assembly, 176).  Finally, it is important to remember that both Canada and the U.S. have a greater financial ability to host refugees than other countries. As Timothy J. Hatton points out, with approximately three-quarters of the world’s refugees remain in Asia and Africa, the “burden” of refugee-hosting still fails primarily with the world’s poorest countries (Hatton, 456). 

Despite concerns by Canada and the U.S. on the cost of hosting refugees, the financial cost of taking in refugees falls by and large outside of North America.

Discussion Questions:

  • Should refuge-seeking be treated as an economic issue or should it be seen as solely a humanitarian one?
  • How do economic concerns (such as the idea of refugees as an economic burden) influence the way refugees are such in public discourse?


When looking at the recent history of refuge-seeking along the Canadian and North American border, it is clear that this is a period in which the “human rights encounter,” as Itamar Mann would write, has been reduced and nearly eliminated. As Mann writes, “Comparable dynamics have also developed on the U.S.-Mexican border, where drones and other surveillance technologies have transformed the border into a much wider ‘borderland’” (Mann, p. 172). Likewise, rather than viewing the decision to accept migrants as stemming from a human rights commitment, this decision has instead been viewed in economic terms, with refugees and asylum-seekers either being viewed as an economic burden or as economic contributors who make Canada and the United States better places. The human rights encounter has also been weakened by a lack of understanding around who is arriving at the border; while non-Mexicans far outnumber the number of Mexicans apprehended at the U.S. southern border (, there remains a lack of understanding in the general population about who is arriving. Our research on the political stakes has shown that immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers have often been grouped together in discourse. Similarly, by looking at incidents from the Komagata Maru in 1914 to current political discourse, it is also safe to conclude that race and racism have played a role. Also of importance, the high budgets and over-bureaucratization of agencies such as ICE appear, as well as safe third country agreements, such as the treaty between Canada and the U.S. and the agreements recently signed by Trump and Central American countries, appear to greatly weaken the leverage that refugees and asylum-seekers have.

In North America, refugees, asylum seekers, and other migrants have consistently been understood from the lens of economics. The pressure to display the ability to contribute economically to the host country has made it increasingly more difficult for refugees or asylum seekers to assert rights on the basis of their humanity. However, despite these hurdles faced by refugees, asylum seekers and migrants that weaken the human rights encounter, there is still reason for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers to remain optimistic. From legal challenges to the work played by refugee advocacy groups, refugees have found ways to overcome these struggles. Susan Coutin’s research on the legalization strategies of Salvadoran migrants, for example, shows that rather than being passive victims, refugees and asylum-seekers have in fact taken action to secure their rights (Coutin).


“A Syrian refugee returns to entrepreneurial roots in Canada.” UNHCR Magazine, 19 February 219. Accessed 15 March 2020. 

Armstrong, Peter. “What governments spend on refugees is less important than how they spend it.” CBC News, 28 July, 2018. Accessed 15 March 2020. 

Borjas, George J. “Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers.” Politico Magazine (September/October 2016). Accessed 15 March 2020. 

“Canadian COVID-19 Policy Reversal, Shutting down US Border to Refugee Claimants, Breaches International Law.” Amnesty International Canada, 20 Mar. 2020,

Chin, Aimee and Kalena E. Cortes. “Chapter 12 — The Refugee/Asylum Seeker.” Handbook of the Economics of International Migration 1 (2015): 585-658.

Dustmann, Christian, Francesco Fasani, Tommaso Frattini, Luigi Minale and Uta Schönberg. “On the economics and politics of refugee migration.” Economic Policy (July 2017): 497-550. 

Executive Committee of the High Commissioner’s Programme. “The role of host countries: the cost and impact of hosting refugees.” UNHCR, 2011. Accessed 15 March 2020.

Griffith, Bryan, and Jessica M. Vaughan. “Map: Sanctuary Cities, Counties, and States.”,

Kerr, Sari Pekkala and William R. Kerr. “Immigrants Play a Disproportionate Role in American Entrepreneurship.” Harvard Business Review. 3 October 2016. Accessed 15 March 2020. 

Lippert, Randy K., and Sean Rehaag. Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives :

Migration, Citizenship and Social Movements . Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2013. Print

“K’naan (Ft. Residente, Riz Ahmed & Snow Tha Product) – Immigrants (We Get the Job Done).” Genius, 2 Dec. 2016, e-lyrics.

“Major Developments Relating to ‘Sanctuary’ Cities Under the Trump Administration.” American Civil Liberties Union,

Mann, Itamar. Humanity at Sea: Maritime Migration and the Foundations of International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016. 

“MANNY SÁNCHEZ – FUCK ICE 2.” Genius, 7 Aug. 2019,

McMahon, Tamsin. “The cost of intolerance.” Maclean’s 125, no. 46 (November 2012). Accessed 15 March 2020.

Nayeri, Dina. “The ungrateful refugee: ‘We have no debt to repay.’” The Guardian, 4 April 2017. [Accessed 18 March 2020]. 

“The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security.” American Immigration Council. October 2019. Accessed 15 March 2020.

UN General Assembly, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189. [accessed 18 March 2020]

Urbi, Jaden. “This is how much it costs to detain an immigrant in the US.” CNBC, 20 June 2018. Accessed 15 March 2020. 

Zimmermann, Susan E. “Reconsidering the Problem of ‘Bogus’ Refugees with ‘Socio-economic Motivations’ for Seeking Asylum.” Mobilities 6, no. 3 (September 2011): 335-352.

Gratitude, COVID-19 and Moral Blackmail/ Moral Risk

A Turkish paramilitary police officer carries the body of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum in September 2015.

19 March 2020

Welcome to our online discussion of today’s readings. I hope you all are doing well and trying to stay sane as our (North American) society experiences near universal proximity to precariousness for the first time.

I will start by posing some reflective questions on Dina Nayeri’s piece; then ask a COVID-19 related question that pertains to refuge-seeking history; and finally ask a few questions on the Mann chapter, which ties together his previous conceptual arguments and also links to Dominique, Brayden and Ashley’s ongoing project.

You may engage with as many questions as you would like. This discussion is one of the newly added graded discussions (check the Brightspace site for the updated syllabus).

Dina Nayeri: The Ungrateful Refugee

Here is a podcasted interview with Dina Nayeri regarding the above longer book by the same title.

My suggestion for participating in discussion of this piece is to select the three phrases that struck you the most, list them, and explain why. Here are mine:

  1. This must have been how long it took them to tell their parents about the Iranian kid.” This resonated with me because of how it explains how fear of the other is passed on from generation to generation, and how elders teach children to express that fear in hostility. In Princeton a couple of weeks ago, I was discussing with Gisèle Shapiro the fact that COVID-19 seems to be sparing most (although not ALL) children. “Survival of the fittest,” she responded, “They will live the future world without us…” This brief statement made me imagine how the world might change if suddenly adults were wiped out… Of course this is all in the abstract, but to connect it back to Nayeri’s sentence, one things that it makes clear is how racialized distancing is transmitted by adults on the basis of their historical thinking, and reproduced in children before they have the knowledge or intellect that would enable them to understand it consciously. To follow Shapiro’s statement through, we might assume that in a world without adults or older children already taught to think in certain ways, prejudice on the basis of race, origin, culture, etc, might be entirely absent.
  2. Glorifying the refugees who thrive” is the same thing as “endorsing the gratitude politics” that Nayeri unveils. As I read this, I realized that this is what makes me uncomfortable in the Tareq Hadhad story that Eliza referenced earlier this semester. A Syrian refugee, Hadhad created a chocolate factory in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and he now speaks in public on the merit of private sponsorship of refugees in Canada. Not only does this shore up the “separation of the worth exile from the unworthy,” a notion that Nayeri convincingly problematizes; it also places an added burden on Hadhad’s shoulders, who has already spent “much life” settling in, thereby perpetuating his indebtedness to Canada.
  3. It is the obligation of every person in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.” When Nayeri republished this piece as a short story, she changed this setting to a building on fire. This obligation is precisely the one that Mann theorizes as the moral risk that makes an application of purely positive law impossible, and that necessitates human rights law in its stead.


Health workers are preparing for COVID-19 cases to reach the migrant and asylum seeker camps along Mexico’s US border. [Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

A week ago, I introduced the notion of lifeboat ethics during our discussion. I have been thinking more about lifeboat ethics since the social distancing measures recommended to spare those most vulnerable to COVID-19 have been enacted in most states with outbreaks. I have been observing how people respond by either ignoring these recommendations or encouraging others to apply them and explaining their importance for maintaining collective strength in the face of a pandemic.

We have already learned how crises are like flashpoints for border security and refugee/asylum laws and protocols. COVID-19, a crisis facing all humanity in the shape of a virus entirely indifferent to politics and borders, is already having significant repercussions for borders as well as for displaced populations and refugees, including those already in detention centres. What are some of these changing policies that you have noticed? How do you think this pandemic may affect refuge seeking in the long term?

Itamar Mann, Chap. 4: “Between Moral Blackmail and Moral Risk.”

  1. Itamar Mann’s Chapter 4 begins with the Australian Navy ship Adelaide positioned just on the horizon where its Commander and crew used surveillance measures on a migrants’ boat. The ship kept out of sight in order to prevent migrants from jumping into the sea–which would have obligated the Australians to rescue them and subjected Australia to certain legal obligations. For this discussion, one of the things we might ponder is this notion of the hosting state seeing without being seen. How might we understand and analyse this “operational guideline” directing Adelaide’s Commander?
  2. On pg. 140 Mann writes that the Afghani on board the Tampa were “perceived [by Australian officials] to be not yet in, but already not out of its jurisdiction. Considering the different refuge-seeking milieus you are studying this term, do you think that the goal of many host states is to create a situation of legal limbo for asylum seekers similar to the one constructed in Australia in 2001? How might the new era of pandemic that we are now living through facilitate or complicate the keeping of asylum seekers in limbo–in a holding pattern where they cannot be “refoulé” but also cannot gain access to the courts where cases might be adjudicated?
  3. Australian law makes a distinction between “migration zone” and “Australia’s territory” that enables the executive branch to categorize migrants in territorial waters as a “border control” issue rather than an immigration issue. Are similar territorial/extraterritorial legal arguments being developed by North American states, namely the U.S. and Canada?
  4. On pg. 136, Mann writes that only complementary cooperation between branches of Australian government, i.e. executive, judicial and legislative, enabled the state to eliminate the “human rights encounter” initiated by seafaring asylum seekers. He describes the implications of this three-fold alignment again on pgs. 148 and 149. How does understanding the progression of Australia’s legal and practical response to refuge-seekers help us think through what we, as Canadians, do to ensure that our branches of government do not align to conceal the role Canada plays in the “allocation of death and unlivable life on the planet?” How does understanding the Australian case help us to make sense of the policies/practices that Trump has been enacting in the U.S. on the issue of asylum seeking?