Nettime mailing list archives

<nettime> R is for Refuge...
McKenzie Wark on Thu, 30 Aug 2001 22:08:00 +0200 (CEST)

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> R is for Refuge...

Index to an Unreal World 30th August 2001

R is for Refuge...
McKenzie Wark

Crack troops from the Australian SAS boarded the Norwegian ship the Tampa as 
it approached Christmas island, a tiny speck in the ocean between Australia 
and Indonesia. The Tampa rescued 438 people from the waters, asylum seekers 
from Afghanistan on their way from Indonesia to Australia.

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, argues that the Tampa's new 
passengers are Indonesia's problem, as an Indonesian port was closest. Or 
maybe Norway's problem, as the Tampa is a Norwegian vessel. Anything but 
Australia's problem.

The Indonesian government refuses to accept them. The Australian government 
has offered 'humanitarian aid' but not the most vital of human comfort -- a 
place to land. The owners of the Tampa dispute the Australian government's 
version of international law. The Taliban claim that the asylum seekers are 
motivated by poverty, not by their repressive policies in Afghanistan. 
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, it seems, except the hapless passengers 
themselves. Some are on hunger strike. Those others who would speak for them 
can eat for them, too.

Migration is globalisation from below. If the overdeveloped world refuses to 
trade with the underdeveloped world on fair terms, to forgive debt, to 
extend loans on fair terms, to lift trade barriers against food and basic 
manufactured goods, then there can only be an increase in the flow of people 
seeking to get inside the barriers the overdeveloped world erects to protect 
its interests.

While the Australian, Indonesian, Norwegian and Afghani states argue over 
who is responsible for these 438 people, their very presence in this 
stateless state is testament to the absence of effective international 
justice. Trade between states, taking place as it is in the absence of 
justice, can only produce injustice, which in turn produces flows of people 
who come to exist outside the space of effective justice at all.

And yet putting up more barriers to trade, as some in the 
'anti-globalisation' camp demand, will only lead to more asylum seekers. The 
most telling human critique of globalisation is not the black-clad 
protesters in Seattle or Genoa, it is the still, silent bodies of the 
illegals, in ships, trucks or car boots, passing through the borders. The 
placeless proletariat.

These 438 people, as yet nameless, faceless, unable to tell their stories, 
are in their very existence a critique of both the unequal relations of 
trade within the world, but also of that aspect of the anti-global crusade 
which only strengthens the claims of national sovereignty.

What is absent in this new world disorder is a way to make a claim, a claim 
to right, outside of the space of the nation state. A right to the means of 
existence, and a right to seek leave to travel in search of a means of 
existence. Those who seek refuge are a critique of the limits of 

Asylum seekers who do manage to land in Australia are commonly held in 
detention centres, often Spartan facilities such as former army barracks. 
Most wait with extraordinary patience. There have been some incidents: 
riots, hunger strikes and break-outs. These asylum seekers are in the 
paradoxical position of being a standing critique of the failings of a 
regime of international statehood, and at the same time totally dependent on 
finding a state that will accept their claims to refugee status.

In the past, some asylum seekers have demanded access to CNN and the 
internet. It is the flow of information around the world, along ever 
proliferating vectors, that creates the possibility of seeking this leave of 
absence from the space of the nation and the state. As the Tampa waits off 
Christmas island, there are is news of other boats, waiting, waiting to see 
what happens.

The Australian and Indonesian states take a hard line so as not to encourage 
others to test their borders. But it is the rule of the border in general 
that the refugee challenges. Every state seeks to secure itself at the 
expense of other states. While the Australian government deserves special 
condemnation for its callous disregard for suffering, it is not the only 
state that stands accused by refugees of a foreclosure of justice. It is the 
justice of national sovereignty itself that the body of the asylum seeker 

News reports sometimes play up the manipulation of the hopes of asylum 
seekers by their smugglers. But this hardly jibes with the clearly well 
calculated risk asylum seekers take. It is not they who are misinformed, it 
is the overdeveloped world. Asylum seekers are not all dupes of greedy 
smugglers. The smugglers may be greedy and their trade a pernicious one, but 
the asylum seekers themselves take their chances. The misinformed are those 
in the overdeveloped world, who fail to see in the asylum seeker a force in 
revolt against the privileges of state sovereignty.


Andrew Clennell and Tom Allard, 'The Loneliest Ship in the World', Sydney 
Morning Herald, 30th August, 2001, www.smh.com.au

McKenzie Wark, Brooklyn, NY


mckenziewark {AT} hotmail.com is a temporary address. Please reply to
mw35 {AT} nyu.edu ... we no longer have roots, we have aerials ...

Get your FREE download of MSN Explorer at http://explorer.msn.com/intl.asp

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo {AT} bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime {AT} bbs.thing.net