Charles Sturt University
Charles Sturt University

Emerging Zones of Legal Ambiguity and Lethal Violence: Deaths in Australia's Offshore Detention Centres

Alison Gerard and Tracey Kerr, in Walklate, S & Fitzgibbon, K. (Eds) Murder, Gender and Responsibility, Routledge: London, 2016

This chapter examines intersections of gender, race and sovereignty in official responses to the death of Iranian asylum seeker, Reza Barati, in the Australian-funded, offshore detention centre on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea. The securitisation of migration has become the dominant theme in refugee and asylum seeker policy, not just in Australia, but around many parts of the globe. Such policies have made travel more dangerous for asylum seekers and have expanded the use of prisons, particularly in offshore locations, to manage those perceived as a security risk. This chapter critically analyses gendered and racialised dimensions of the lethal violence that took place within one of Australia’s offshore detention centres. It contemplates how the legal ambiguities, which are pervasive in offshore detention, impact accountability and constructions of responsibility. We argue that asylum seekers are further criminalised in narratives that serve to depict them as unruly and responsible for the consequences of having arrived in Australia outside of accepted legal channels. We trace how notions of territorial sovereignty are invoked to outsource legal responsibility, with the emphasis on individual criminal responsibility and the actions of an isolated few. As a result, the systemic issues that are responsible for deaths in custody remain unaddressed.