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School of Law

The Medical Border and Australia’s Extraterritorial Asylum Regime

When: Thursday, April 11, 2024, 3:00 PM - 4:30 PM
Where: Online / Room 2.1, Second Floor, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary University of London 67-69 Lincoln’s Inn Fields London WC2A 3JB

In this seminar, Dr Sara Dehm will develop the concept of the ‘medical border’ to explore the operations and harms of certain state refugee externalisation policies, using the case study of Australia’s extraterritorial asylum regime in Nauru and PNG. The idea of the ‘medical border’ helps illuminate how medical personnel, practices, knowledges, and logics are enmeshed in state projects of policing, restricting, or facilitating different forms of mobility. This seminar analyses the denial of quality healthcare to refugees under Australia’s care and control in ‘offshore’ detention or temporary resettlement, including the contested medical evacuations processes for the provision of emergency treatment. The seminar draws on over 60 cases of refugee-led litigation that have successfully utilised Australian torts law to compel their transfer back to Australia for medical treatment, effectively curtailing the Australian government’s ability to keep refugees indefinitely in ‘offshore’ locations. Locating these cases within longer global histories of racialised exclusion, Pacific colonialism and refugee expulsions, this seminar critically considers three interconnected themes: the medicalisation of refugee bodies and suffering; the complex transnational architecture of legal responsibility and wrongdoing; and the recording of embodied refugee resistance, self-advocacy and survival.

The presentation will be followed by a discussion with comments from discussants Dr Monish Bhatia (University of York) and Dr Nicolette Busuttil (SOAS, University of London).

Attendance is free, but registration is required.

About the speakers

Dr Sara Dehm is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney. Her research expertise is in the history and theory of international migration and refugee law, with a focus on practices of border control, knowledge production and migrant resistance. Her first book, Administering Migration: International Law and the Global Ordering of People, explores how international organisations have regulated human mobility over the course of the 20th century, and is under contract with Cambridge University Press. She has also published widely on topics relating to Australian refugee law and practice, including on gender-based harms, necropolitical violence, immigration amnesties, COVID-19 litigation and refugee as workers. Her current project on the health-related harms of Australia’s extraterritorial asylum regime has to date produced a co-authored CONREP policy report (2022) and a parliamentary submission (2023). Sara is also a Chief Investigator on an Australian Research Council funded project exploring the journeys, struggles, contributions and legacies of European émigré jurists, including Jewish refugee lawyers, to Australian law, the legal profession and academia (1930-1960). She is an Associate Member of the Institute for International Law and the Humanities, Melbourne Law School, and an Editorial Board member of the Australian Journal of Human Rights.

Dr Monish Bhatia is an academic at the University of York, Sociology Department. He researches and teaches in the areas of race, migration, and state violence. He has published several articles and book chapters and is the co-editor of numerous books and journal issues including (and to list a few) Media, Crime, and Racism (Palgrave, 2018), Migration and Racist State Violence (State Crime Journal, 2022), Critical Engagement with Borders, Racisms, and State Violence (Critical Criminology, 2020) and Race, Mental Health, and State Violence (Race and Class, 2021). In 2021, he received the best article award from the British Criminology Society’s Hate Crime Network for the article Permission to be Cruel: Street-Level Bureaucrats and Harms Against People Seeking Asylum (Critical Criminology, 2020).

Dr Nicolette Busuttil is a Lecturer in Law at SOAS, University of London she lectures on and researches the rights of refugees and migrants under international and EU law, with a focus on persons with disabilities. Nicolette specialises in the intersection between international and EU law for this cohort, focusing on the implications of the adoption of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities for refugees and other migrants in the EU. Her doctoral research examined the impact of the evolution in disability human rights for migrants with mental healthcare needs facing expulsion from the EU and looked at how existing interpretations of the non-refoulement obligation operate to disable migrants with healthcare needs. Nicolette’s wider research interests include the impact of inter-state and regional cooperation on the effective implementation of rights in the migration and asylum sphere. As a former practitioner working with refugees and those in immigration detention in Malta, Nicolette remains involved in initiatives focusing on the implementation of refugee and migration law at the EU’s southern borders and its impact on refugees and other migrants with disabilities. Nicolette is a Research Affiliate of the Refugee Law Initiative (University of London) and a member of the Immigration Law Practitioners Association (ILPA).

About (B)OrderS: Centre for the Legal Study of Borders, Migration and Displacement

Founded in 2022, the (B)Orders Centre focuses on the study of bordering, ordering and othering processes through law. It constitutes an excellence hub for intellectual collaboration and the evaluation of the role of law in the making and unmaking of borders and their impact on global (im)mobility. It connects scholars within and beyond Queen Mary Law School to harness existing inter- and multi-disciplinary research into law, borders and (im)mobility and shape future policy and research agendas in response to global challenges.

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