The Australian government introduced mandatory immigration detention in 1992 as a means of deterring ‘unauthorised arrivals’ from coming to these shores and it has since been supported and extended by successive federal governments. Whilst immigration detention only forms one component of Australia’s Migration Act 1958 (Cth), it has attracted widespread attention in recent years as the federal government has turned increasingly towards modifications in the Act, arguably as a means of augmenting its capacity to exercise punitive control. Such modifications, aside from the introduction of mandatory detention, have included the introduction of offshore processing, whereby asylum seekers are dispatched to detention in remote locations whilst their claims are assessed. These are located on the island republic of Nauru, approximately 4000 kilometres from eastern Australia, and a naval base on Manus Island, an outpost of Papua New Guinea. Removing them physically from Australian territory minimises their access to community and legal support, and presumably acts as a warning to asylum seekers that any attempt to land on Australian soil without going through the proper channels is precarious. The offshore processing of claims, known as ‘The Pacific Solution’, is all the more distressing given the isolation of these locations, the lack of support and other resources at hand, and the often inhospitable landscape and climate. (Nauru, for example, after many years of intensive phosphate mining, resembles a barren lunar wasteland.) A number of detention centres on Australian soil were initially set up in similarly remote locations, mainly in the desert, where detainees have often spent years awaiting the processing of their claims, many miles from towns and communities, surrounded by dry, flat, landscapes.
Recommended CitationLoughnan, C., Detention and the dwelling: Lévinas and the refuge of the asylum seeker, Law Text Culture, 11, 2007.