UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Between care and control : the uses and abuses of humanitarianism in contemporary migration debates Mead, Tania Sawicki


The coexistence of punitive forms of border control and a commitment to humanitarianism in liberal states – the liberal paradox – has long been a vexed issue in migration theory and policy. Despite the hegemonoic focus on deterring and detaining irregular migrants at the border, states acknowledge their commitment to compassion by resettling refugees and providing financial assistance to humanitarian organizations. This thesis considers how the tensions between these two approaches is enacted in contemporary migration debates in order to better understand how this paradox persists. Specifically, it uses a discourse analysis approach to consider government elite and policymaker responses to two migration crises in 2015; the large scale drownings in the Mediterranean in April, and the stranded boats carrying Rohingya migrants in the Bay of Bengal in May. The thesis asks to what extent is humanitarianism deployed as a tool by states for legitimating border controls? It identifies key rhetorical techniques that elites and policymakers use to defend their commitment to punitive forms of migration control, and demonstrates that ‘humanitarian’ policy solutions to migration crises primarily serve to reinforce states security interests.

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