Publication Details

B. Hightower, 'The refugee limbo: negotiating the bar of Australian law' (2015) 24 (4) Griffith Law Review 548-570.


Often refugees and asylum seekers are said to be in some sort of limbo: physical, social, and/or legal. This article picks apart the limbo-concept through the expanded metaphor of the Limbo dance; a performance that illustrates an ‘inner history’ that evolved from the conditions aboard the slave ships of the Middle Passage. ‘Playing‘ the Limbo allows the experiences of the slaves to be reenacted: due to the limited space and terrible conditions, slaves had to arch their backs in order to fit inside the ship’s hulls. They had to remain limber or limba before they could re-emerge on the other side. Likewise, this paper investigates the possibilities of an ‘inner history’ of refugee boat arrivals in Australia. However, it is not suggested that the sorts of limbo that refugees encounter are somehow a game or have a lighter meaning. Refugee Limbo is not simply an empty metaphor for the refugee experience. As such, the Limbo line, bar, and the physical bodies placed under the bar are each considered. Due to the restrictive policies in Australia, there lies a particular essence in refugee character, something which can be identified as ‘limberness’.



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