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Securitisation of Migration.

November 30, 2017

 (UNHCR Official Images)



In the following essay I will focus primarily on addressing the question of securitisation of immigration as inevitable, however unjustifiable as a response to international terrorism in the Australian context. Arguing that the inevitability of immigration securitisation has its foundations deeply engrained in the political psyche, whilst directly reflective of Australia’s xenophobic history. Providing the historical context of the Australian settlement and the fear mongering of the “Yellow Peril”, I will lay the foundational underpinnings for the inevitable securitisation of immigration. Secondly, I will address the incidents of international terrorism that have taken place on Australian soil as the precursors for the increased reliance on intelligence and military apparatuses. Arguing that international terrorism is only a minuscule factor in what is a larger political, military and intelligence project. In defining terrorism I will adhere to the dictionary definition of terrorism, which is “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. Thus terrorism in this context will carry its broad definition throughout this essay encompassing threats from militant extremists, lone wolfs and even opposing governments. Thirdly, I will take a realpolitik perspective on military containment in the South China Sea dispute as the genuine underlying strategy for the securitisation of the immigration portfolio. Finally concluding that the securitisation of immigration in recent years is an inevitable but not a justifiable response to the threat of international terrorism.


The Australian Context.


In the Australian context immigration has always been a contentious issue with a much publicised, culturally insensitive and outright racially driven political strategy geared towards limiting the number of non Christian Anglo-Saxon migrants into Australia. In 1901 coinciding with Australia’s federation the then government implemented what is still the most controversial piece of legislation in Australian history, the White Australia immigration policy as part of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901 (Hogan 2012, p. 23). And it is with this very imposition that Australia’s journey into the militarisation and securitisation of immigration begins. As the first piece of government legislation that superimposes the defence and security agenda onto the immigration issue, this racially driven agenda is also the only constant in Australian policy decision-making since the first settlement in 1788 (Petrow 2012, p. 39). The consistency of Australia’s culturally desensitised and racially motivated immigration policies have always had undertones of security and military agenda setting, thus it comes as no surprise that the instantaneous reaction of the Australian government after the act of international terrorism on September 11, 2001 in New York would be to continue this trend. Before delving into Australia’s postmodern immigration condition, one must delve into Australia’s rich history of systemic oppression, xenophobia and fear mongering towards minorities in order to address the unjustifiable inevitability of securitising and militarising immigration in general. Australia’s xenophobic roots can be traced back to the first settlements, it is during this period that both missionaries, emissaries, convicts and settlers alike set the tone for the manner in which minorities would be dealt with socially and politically (Rowse 2012, p. 434).  The imperialist regiment of the British monarchy, which over saw the colonisation of India and the British West Indies, enslaved the native aboriginal people and continued this systemic oppression, abuse and exploitation into the late 20th century (Rowse 2012, p. 435). The oppression and subjectification of the native people reflects the inherent subconscious and cultural dominance falsely exuded by the British settlers of the time, however it is from this particular sense of superiority coupled with a xenophobic fervour not before seen on the land, that the shaping of ideology by the British had begun (Rupert 1993, p. 67). 



The Yellow Peril.


Fear of the unknown has always been engrained in the Australian social and political psyche; in this segment I will address the inherent and unwarranted xenophobia towards Asian migration through the “Yellow Peril” campaigns of yester year. These campaigns were neither inevitable nor justifiable but in the context of the securitisation of immigration, they play a pivotal role in shaping the direction immigration portfolios have taken over the previous century. Though not completely reflective of the international Islamic and political terrorism we have become accustom to in recent times, the “Yellow Peril” campaigns run by the government and mainstream media outlets such as the Bulletin, prior to the bombing of Darwin help contextualise the current inevitability of the securitisation and militarisation of immigration (Hollingworth 2002, p. 68). Prior to the 1942 carpet-bombing of the northern territory, xenophobic fear and racism levelled at a host of Asian countries was the driving force in switching the focus of the insidious hate and bigotry levelled at the Aboriginal people towards a new enemy (Kirby 2012, p. 226). Thus it is from this political and cultural construct of the necessity of the “other” or the “enemy” that the securitisation of immigration is inevitable. Australian behaviours towards both the indigenous and its foreign neighbours is that of the antagonist, using mainstream media as a vehicle to achieve a political ends, the Australian government had already engrained its securitised and racially driven ethos into the minds of the public. The “Yellow Peril” campaigns initiated around the 1880’s are the precursor to the anti-immigration ethos and the securitised portfolios which are now a staple, albeit a self created staple, of Australian immigration rhetoric (Hollingworth 2002, p. 68). Thus it is this creation of the other as evil through the repetition of xenophobic rhetoric, that the inevitability of the securitisation of immigration can be pinpointed in Australian history (Hollingworth 2002, p. 68 & Kirby 2012, p. 226). The fear mongering in the 1880’s and early 1900’s paved the way for the wider Australian populist to justify the implementation of the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, particularly the White Australia Policy. As the methods of immigrant screening became ever more difficult for those seeking refuge or asylum to navigate, in 1942 this difficulty found itself justified in the eyes of many Australian citizens when the government lead by John Curtain’s Labour party found itself at war with the Japanese and the Germans. The post war development period would find Australia heavily reliant on Asian and Mediterranean migration to facilitate the fast paced development strategy dictated by the British (Castles, De Haas & Miller 2014). Ironically over the coming decades it would continue in this fashion, with China becoming Australia’s largest trading partner and second largest migrant populist with 12% (asiancenturyinstitute). Asian migration has voided any notion of the inevitability or justifiability of the securitization of immigration because not one act of terrorism since World War II has been perpetrated by political affiliates of the Chinese or from any part of Asia for that matter.  



Australia’s Incidents of Terrorism.


In this segment the main focus will be the instances from which international terrorism have taken place and as such, shaped the Australian immigration security response. Mimicking the “Yellow Peril” fervour of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, I will use this segment to address Australia’s decent into the global war on terror as inevitable yet unjustifiable when contextualised with the evidence contrary to popular belief. Beginning this segment it should be noted that Australia has one of the lowest instances of terrorism in the world. Prior to the first instance of Islamist terrorism which took place in 2009 in a planned attack on the Holsworthy Military base, 5 more instances of violence or planned violence against Australian citizens have resulted in the deaths of 3 extremists, 3 civilians and physical injury to 6 others in total. Prior to the rise of Islamist terrorism post 9/11, the carnage caused by terrorism had been directed at foreign consulates, abortion clinics and Asian business from various extremist groups, resulting in injury to more then 35 people and the deaths of 15 more (Lopez 2003, p. 14). Of the 15 acts of terrorism which have taken place on Australian soil, 13 have allegedly been carried out by migrants with links to terrorist networks, the remainder have been carried out by far right wing nationalists, gangland figures and anti-abortion activists, whom have been categorised as home grown (Lopez 2003, p. 20). The securitisation of the political sphere began in 1979 by the Fraser government with the creation of the Australian Federal Police, instigated by the 1978 Sydney Hilton Hotel bombings. All attacks pre 2009 were politically motivated and targeted at specific individuals or institutions. It is only from 2009 that the indiscriminate murder of civilians begun to take place as a result of the rise of Islamist groups such as Daesh, Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram. The creation of the AFP as a means of monitoring, intercepting, negotiating and nullifying acts of terrorism is the first step towards the securitisation of the wider political sphere. It can be said that these instances lead to the conception and prioritisation of the modern Australian intelligence communities. With a total population of around 24 and a half million people, the number of incidents of migrants committing terrorist atrocities is minuscule to say the least, however the legitimate threat in the modern context is very real. One need only observe the incidents taking place globally with indiscriminate murder in London, Brussels, Dortmund, Paris, Nice, Sydney, New York, Boston, Cairo, Kabul, Bagdad, Mosul, Niger, the DRC, Xinjiang and St. Petersburg to see the threat. The rise of radical Islamism has laid the foundations for the increased securitisation of immigration and in the Australian context it provides the perfect grounding for intelligence and military departments to initiate and purse the even realer objective of containment in the South China Sea.   



No Need to Annexe, Just Enterprise.


It is my opinion that the war on terror and the interception of unauthorised maritime arrivals initiated by the Howard government during his tenure from 1996 – 2007, unceremoniously overshadowed the containment objectives of the Australian military and intelligence services in Asian. Henry Kissinger (2010 p. 206) stated in an article called “Power Shifts” that “military objectives are being inflated into universal enterprises”, this enterprise extends to the processing of refugees and asylum seekers. The enterprising of Australia’s migration policies have produced initiatives such as private offshore detention facilities; the Malaysia solution, operation sovereign borders and the border force response team. This securitisation can be surmised best in John F. Kennan’s (Harper  2012, p. 160) work on the Soviet Union in which he states, “unlike that of Hitlerite Germany, is nether schematic nor adventuristic … it does not take unnecessary risks”. Reflecting Australia’s role in placing an offshore detention facility on nearby Manus Island, which falls under the sovereign territorial integrity of the Papua New Gunea government. Rather then over extending the governments military capacity by attempting to annexe the Island or draw the ire of the international community, the Howard government chose instead to broker a deal with Papua New Gunea to house illegal maritime arrivals offshore. Under the guise of fighting the global war on terror, the securitization of immigration looks remarkably similar to China’s advances in constructing islands in the South China Sea, containing its neighbours whilst furthering its imperial growth. When one considers this situation in the context of the war on terror it seems to be a means of generating nationalist sentiments, whilst masking the militaries true intentions of protecting and furthering the nation states territorial influence without having to annexe land. Robert Manne of La Trobe University (Lopez 2003, p. 11) summarised the securitisation of immigration by stating, “the elaborate anti-asylum-seeker fortress patiently constructed by the Howard government over the past two years is almost complete … its basic architecture can now be seen.” Iterating the three key areas which reflect the securitization of immigration “(a) all unauthorised arrivals were imprisoned, (b) asylum seekers arriving by boat were repelled by the military or transferred to other islands for processing and (c) the granting of temporary protection visa to ensure people returned home within three years or when the situation improved” (Lopez 2003, p. 11). In this context immigration and asylum seeking are merely a political and military ploy for the long-term containment strategy of China in the region.     



What’s in a name? The Postmodern Immigration Portfolio.



Starting from the 9/11 era to the immigration department’s current manifestation as the Department of Immigration and Border Security, the changing façade and inner workings of the departments directly involved in immigration will be assessed in this segment. The gradual manifestation of a securitized immigration department can be seen in its various reincarnations under changing governments. Initially known as the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs from 2001 – 2006, the role of the department has incrementally evolved from that of focusing on visa, migration, refugee and asylum seeker processing and indigenous affairs into the militarised intelligence apparatus it is today. The main issue here is not the how but the why? Why has the immigration department dissolved its modern multicultural underpinnings as a portfolio for the protection and care of vulnerable people, into a security portfolio for the detainment and deterrence of “illegal” migrants? The amalgamation of the immigration portfolio with the newly created border protection portfolio acts to dehumanise the human beings seeking asylum, whilst monitoring the cargo and maritime freight channels previously under the watch of the Military, Navy, Asio and Federal police (Lopez 2003, p. 11). The merging of the two provides a clear-cut response to those international governments, syndicates, corporations and individuals that the water, air and land into Australia are under the protection of the government. Immigration whist always a contentious issue has never been a legitimate high-risk security priority, however the roll of the South China Sea dispute is the pivotal factor in the securitization of immigration. Ironically this securitisation is neither inevitable nor justifiable in response to international terrorism as in previous sections there are no justifiable links or evidence between unlawful immigration and terrorism.


The dominance of Australian defence forces in comparison with China and the rest of Asian is the key determinant in the change of strategy for the portfolio. Winning over the anti-immigration constituency is a bonus in this perceived win-win for the government of the day. Increasing hard line sentiments from both camps leading up to the 2018 – 2019 election period look to exploit the racially charged underpinnings of the xenophobic tensions prevalent in modern Australia. These tensions are merely a reflection of the underlying racial discrimination engrained in Australian society. Reflected in the support garnered by both parties for the current immigration strategy, the likely hood of the portfolio being dissolved into something for the respectable treatment of refugees and asylum seekers seems highly unlikely. Separating the portfolio into two would neither do harm to Australia’s defence image in Asia, nor would it result in the countries security apparatuses losing ground gained over the last decade. The result would mean the humanisation of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrant communities once again. In turn softening anti-immigration sentiment, which one suspects will reach fever pitch in the lead up to the next federal election.    




In conclusion the securitisation of immigration is inevitable when placed in the Australian context. Australia’s torrid history of racial discrimination and xenophobia is the cornerstone from which this great country has been built. From the first white settlement, the first Asian migration to the current fervour surrounding Islamic extremism, the anti-immigration sentiment is engrained in the Australian political psyche. Thus it is from this philosophy of marginalisation and systemic fear mongering that the true intentions of the Australian government is masked from the very people whom elect politicians to represent them. We are in the midst of the global enterprise of militarisation from which government is not longer concerned with the well being of its people and the vulnerable seeking refugee, but of cold war notions of containment and deterrence without resorting to violence. The amalgamation of portfolios once concerned with the well being of individuals and communities is now a force for oppression and stigmatisation. This is unjustifiable as a response to the growing threat of international terrorism. The statistics, data and historical context provided in this article will hopefully lift the thin veil of clever misdirection to unmask the military industrial complex operating at the heart of our fair democracy. A burgeoning democracy once teetering on the brink of multiculturalist ideals and inclusive rhetoric, is now at the mercy of xenophobic political pandering and military dictation.   


(Lucerne, Switzerland - Photographer: Mikael Hassan) 




Castles, S, De Haas, H & Miller, M.J, 2014, The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World, Palgrave Macmillan, London.  


Harper, J.L 2012, ‘The Kennan Century’, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 54, no. 2, pp. 157 – 166.


Hogan, T 2012, ‘Australian Cities’, in P Beilharz & T Hogan, Sociology: Antipodean Perspectives, Oxford University Press, Victoria.


Hollingworth, J 2002, ‘The yellow peril: race, national identity and the Chinese in Australia’, Agora, vol. 37, No. 3, pp. 64-68.


Kirby, D 2012, ‘The Forties, in P Beilharz & T Hogan, Sociology: Antipodean Perspectives, Oxford University Press, Victoria.


Kissinger, H 2010, ‘Power Shifts’, Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, vol. 52, no. 6, pp. 205 – 212.


Lopez, C.S 2003, ‘Australian Immigration Policy at the Centenary: The Quest for Control’, Georgetown Immigration Law Journal, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 1 – 69.


Petrow, S 2012, ‘Wilderness’, in P Beilharz & T Hogan, Sociology: Antipodean Perspectives, Oxford University Press, Victoria.


Rowse, T 2012, ‘Aboriginal Australians’, in P Beilharz & T Hogan, Sociology: Antipodean Perspectives, Oxford University Press, Victoria.


Rupert, M 1993, ‘Alienation, Capitalism and the Inter-State System: Towards A Marxian/Gramscian Critique’, in Stephen Gill (ed.), Gramsci, Historical Materialism and International Relations, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 67 – 92.


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