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The securitisation of humanitarian migration Watson, Scott D.

Abstract

The different responses of Canada and Australia to the arrival of asylum seekers present an interesting puzzle for IR scholars. My analysis analyzes how the use of the coercive capacity of the state against refugees and asylum seekers has come to be regarded as essential in some liberal democratic states while in others these policies remain unacceptable? Using a focused case comparison between Canada and Australia, I show that discursive practices of influential societal and political actors construct the identity of refugees and the receiving state in such a way that makes certain policy choices acceptable to state leaders. In cases where the securitising discourse constructs refugees as the primary referent object of a security threat and the receiving state as a responsible humanitarian international citizen, state leaders adopt policies consistent with norms of the international refugee regime. In cases where this discourse is challenged, societal actors attempt to reconstruct the identity of refugees as security threats to the receiving state. When these securitising attempts are successful, state leaders more readily adopt policies designed to ’protect’ the state rather than refugees. To support these conclusions, I employ discourse and textual analysis during three notable refugee ’crises’ in each state. In the Australian case, the three crises are: the 1979 Indo-Chinese boat people exodus, the 1992 boat arrivals and the 2001 Tampa affair. In Canada, I examine the 1979 Indo-Chinese boat people exodus, the 1986-1987 boat landings and the 1999 boat arrivals. In all six crises, humanitarian and communitarian securitising discourses reconstructed the identity of asylum seekers, their home states and the receiving states, limiting policy options available to state leaders. My findings have important broader theoretical and practical implications. Theoretically, my work contributes to a better theoretical understanding of the conditions under which the coercive capacity the state can be employed; also, the dissertation makes a significant contribution to understanding the role of discursive practices in limiting policy options and has important practical implications for the media and societal leaders in influencing/challenging the securitising attempts of state leaders.

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