Refugees, limbo and the Australian media



Publication Details

B. Hightower, 'Refugees, limbo and the Australian media' (2015) 28 (2) International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 335-358.


It seems that more often than not, refugees and asylum seekers are associated with the notion of ‘limbo’. This terminology is used to illustrate situations in which people are unable to access systems that would alleviate their ‘standstill’ lives. In other words, when it is said that people are in limbo, it is understood they have a sense of hopelessness. Specifically, in the media, at least three examples of ‘limbo’ are often used: limbo as a physical space, limbo as a type of legal conflict or legal irreconcilability and metaphysical limbo or the type of limbo that exists in one’s mind. Unfortunately, the refugee experience is so commonly associated with the idea of limbo that it appears to be the central space that refugees ‘belong’—presumably, due to the inaccessible or unpreventable nature of their predicament, they are unable to escape their life in limbo. However, it is important to understand that limbo does not simply ‘exist’. It is something that is created. In the case of Australia, refugee limbos appear as certain types due to the restrictive nature of the Government’s laws and policies. This article explores the usage of the term ‘limbo’ in the media in order to draw attention to its overwhelming presence and map specific types of discourse and ideologies. Further, it is shown that limbo should not be considered something which is out of our control or something inherent in the refugee experience but instead, is a tool used by governments to restrict refugee access to the border and systems of protection.

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