Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Refugees, Limbo and the Australian Media

  • 2328 Accesses

  • 7 Citations

Abstract

It seems that more often than not, refugees and asylum seekers are associated with the notion of ‘limbo’. This terminology is used to illustrate situations in which people are unable to access systems that would alleviate their ‘standstill’ lives. In other words, when it is said that people are in limbo, it is understood they have a sense of hopelessness. Specifically, in the media, at least three examples of ‘limbo’ are often used: limbo as a physical space, limbo as a type of legal conflict or legal irreconcilability and metaphysical limbo or the type of limbo that exists in one’s mind. Unfortunately, the refugee experience is so commonly associated with the idea of limbo that it appears to be the central space that refugees ‘belong’—presumably, due to the inaccessible or unpreventable nature of their predicament, they are unable to escape their life in limbo. However, it is important to understand that limbo does not simply ‘exist’. It is something that is created. In the case of Australia, refugee limbos appear as certain types due to the restrictive nature of the Government’s laws and policies. This article explores the usage of the term ‘limbo’ in the media in order to draw attention to its overwhelming presence and map specific types of discourse and ideologies. Further, it is shown that limbo should not be considered something which is out of our control or something inherent in the refugee experience but instead, is a tool used by governments to restrict refugee access to the border and systems of protection.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    For example, see John Howard’s rejection of multiculturalism and the introduction of ‘Australian Values’. According to Howard, “the truth is that people come to this country because they want to be Australians. The irony is that no institution or code lays down a test of Australianness. Such is the nature of our free society.” However, despite this suggestion, the Howard Government introduced an Australian Values Test as part of its immigration procedures. See John Howard [7]. One might also note the change of name of the Department; from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs changed its name to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and then, in late 2013, to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

  2. 2.

    See also Markus [10].

  3. 3.

    “Sending a clear message” to people smugglers (read ‘boat people’) was a theme repeated often during the Rudd Government. Subsequent Australian Governments employed similar rhetorical statements. See also Richardson [13].

  4. 4.

    These Standards of Practice most definitely applied to the periods that are considered in this analysis. In fact, they remain the most current Standards of Practice used by the Australian press. However, it should be noted as a point of clarity that recent developments in Australia, led by the Abbott Government, have made arrival by boat an illegitimate means through which to seek asylum. Instead, all boat arrivals are intercepted and sent to Nauru and Manus Islands for processing.

  5. 5.

    See Fiona McKay, Samantha Thomas and R Warwick Blood [16]. The Australian Press Council has also recently warned that terms such as “illegal immigrants” or “illegals” may constitute a breach of the Council’s Standards of Practice. The council stated: “The legal status of people who have entered Australia by boat without a visa is complex and potentially confusing. Their entry is not legally authorised but is not a criminal offence”. See Australian Press Council [15].

  6. 6.

    Fairclough in Gale [8].

  7. 7.

    Using Factiva, I identified 649 articles between the years 2001 and 2002 that contained the words ‘limbo’ and ‘refugee’; many of them containing both the words in the headline. Of these, 150 related to Australia. It is interesting to note that of these, 91 contained the word ‘boat’ and 67 contained a reference to ‘Tampa’. Limbo has been used to describe the refugee experience before this period but there seems to be a sharp increase of ‘limbo’ in Australian media specifically after the Tampa issue.

  8. 8.

    At this point in the article the author references: Amy Slaughter and Jeff Crisp [25].

  9. 9.

    However, this claim is only qualified through statistics regarding the ratio of settled refugees to the host country’s population.

  10. 10.

    Further, media representations of Australia’s own attempts to warehouse refugees are discussed later in this article.

  11. 11.

    In Dante’s Divine Comedy there are two limbos; one that lies just inside the gate of Hell and another that forms the first ‘ring’ of Hell ‘proper’. As such, limbo can be a place outside of both Heaven and Hell, but in some instances it may still have qualities which are ‘hell-like’.

  12. 12.

    To review UNHCR’s statistical data mentioned here, see UNHCR [42].

  13. 13.

    Guideline 2.

  14. 14.

    Guideline 3.

  15. 15.

    Article 9.

  16. 16.

    However, to date, no person has been processed at these detention centres.

References

  1. 1.

    Hanson, P. 1996. Pauline Hanson’s Maiden speech in the house of representatives. Parliament of Australia, House of Representatives, 10 September 1996. Accessed through http://www.australian-news.com.au/maiden_speech.htm.

  2. 2.

    Howard, J. 2001. John Howard’s 2001 election policy speech. 28 October 2001. Accessed through http://australianpolitics.com/news/2001/01-10-28.shtml.

  3. 3.

    Kelly, P., and Dennis Shanahan. 2007. Rudd to turn back boatpeople. The Australian (All-round Country), 23 Nov 1.

  4. 4.

    Gillard, J. 2011. Transcript of joint press conference, Canberra. 7 May 2011. Accessed through http://www.pm.gov.au/press-office/transcript-joint-press-conference-canberra-4.

  5. 5.

    Abbott, T. 2013. Press conference. Parliament house. 16 Sept 2013. Accessed through http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2013-09-16/press-conference-parliament-house.

  6. 6.

    Rai, M. 2008. Navigating the national and global: Media representation of refugees. Communication, Politics and Culture 41(2): 119–139.

  7. 7.

    Howard, J. 2006. A sense of balance: The Australian achievement in 2006. National Press Club, 26 Jan 2006. Accessed through http://australianpolitics.com/2006/01/25/john-howard-australia-day-address.html.

  8. 8.

    Gale, P. 2004. The Refugee crisis and fear: Populist politics and media discourse. Journal of Sociology 40(4): 321–340.

  9. 9.

    Klocker, N., and Kevin, Dunn. 2003. Who’s driving the asylum debate?: Newspaper and government representations of asylum seekers’ media international Australia (8/1/07-current). 109(Nov 2003): 71–92.

  10. 10.

    Markus, A. 2011. Race: John Howard and the remaking of Australia. Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin.

  11. 11.

    Herman, E.S., and N. Chomsky. 1988. Manufacturing consent: The political economic of the mass media. New York: Pantheon Books.

  12. 12.

    Leach, M., and Fethi Mansouri. 2003. ‘Strange words’: Refugee perspectives on government and media stereotyping. Overland 72(Spring): 19–26.

  13. 13.

    Richardson, R. 2010. Sending a message? Refugees and Australia’s deterrence campaign. Media international Australia (8/1/07-current). 135 (May): 7–18.

  14. 14.

    Roland Barthes, B. 1972. Mythologies (trans: Annette Lavers), 2000. London: Vintage.

  15. 15.

    Australian Press Council, 2012. ‘Asylum seekers’, ‘illegal immigrants’ and entry without a visa. Standards of Practice. Accessed through http://www.presscouncil.org.au/document-search/asylum-seekers/?LocatorGroupID=662&LocatorFormID=0&FromSearch=1.

  16. 16.

    McKay, F., Samantha, Thomas, and Warwick Blood, R. 2011. ‘‘Any One of These Boat People Could Be a Terrorist for All We Know!’’ Media Representations and Public Perceptions of ‘Boat People’ Arrivals in Australia’’ Journalism. 12(5): 607–26.

  17. 17.

    Foucault, M. 1972. Surveiller et punir, (trans: Alan Sheridan) discipline and punish: The birth of the prison, 1977. London: Allen Lane.

  18. 18.

    Foucault, M. 1977. L’archéologie du savoir (trans: A.M. Sheridan Smith) the archaeology of knowledge. London and New York: Routledge. 1989.

  19. 19.

    O’Brien, N. 2011. Secrecy laws place refugees in limbo. Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney) 25 Sept 1.

  20. 20.

    Dodd, M., and Paige, Taylor. 2011. Asylum children arrive in legal limbo. The Australian (online) 13 Aug. Accessed through http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/asylum-children-arrive-in-legal-limbo/story-fn59niix-1226114111847.

  21. 21.

    Refugee Trends: Lost in Limbo (2009) The economist. 392(8646): 48.

  22. 22.

    Bagaric, M. 2011. Boat arrivals are condemning refugees in camps to lives in limbo. The courier—mail (Brisbane) 9 Feb 30.

  23. 23.

    UNHCR, 2006. Protracted refugee situations: Millions caught in limbo, with no solutions in sight. 10 stories the world should hear more about. Accessed through http://www.un.org/events/tenstories/06/story.asp?storyID=2600.

  24. 24.

    UNHCR, 2006. The state of the world’s refugees 2006: Human displacement in the new millennium. 20 Apr. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org/4a4dc1a89.html.

  25. 25.

    Slaughter A., and Jeff, Crisp. 2009. A surrogate state? The role of UNHCR in protracted refugee situations. Jan. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org/4981cb432.html.

  26. 26.

    Crock, M., Saul Ben, and Dastyarni Azadeh. 2006. Future seekers II. Sydney: Sydney Federation Press.

  27. 27.

    Bagaric, M. 2011. Boat arrivals are condemning refugees in camps to lives in limbo. The courier—mail (Brisbane). 9 Feb 30.

  28. 28.

    Burnside, J. 2009. Australia’s ugly secret: We still warehouse asylum seekers. The age (online). 16 Sept. Accessed through http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/australias-ugly-secret-we-still-warehouse-asylum-seekers-20090916-fqqe.html.

  29. 29.

    Brown, B. 2011. Horn of Africa drought: A vision of hell at Dadaab refugee camp. The telegraph (online). 6 Oct. Accessed through http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/africaandindianocean/kenya/8627548/Horn-of-Africa-drought-A-vision-of-hell-at-the-Dabaab-refugee-camp.html.

  30. 30.

    Picardi, M. 2011. Dadaab: The need for a new refugee camp strategy. Think Africa Press (online) 30 Nov. Accessed through http://thinkafricapress.com/kenya/dadaab-need-new-refugee-camp-strategy.

  31. 31.

    Abdi, A. 2005. In limbo: Dependency, insecurity, and identity amongst somali refugees in Dadaab camps. Bildhaan: An International Journal of Somali Studies. 5(7): 17.

  32. 32.

    Bauman, Z. 2002. In the lowly Nowherevilles of liquid modernity. Ethnography 3(3): 343–349.

  33. 33.

    Gilbertson, A. 2001. Refugees wait in limbo while in Indonesia. Far Eastern Economic Review 164(50): 56–59.

  34. 34.

    UNHCR. 2013. Regional operations profile—South-East Asia. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e488116.html.

  35. 35.

    Levett, C. 2004. Lifeline for families in limbo. The Age (online). 21 Aug. Accessed through http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2004/08/20/1092972744028.html?from=storyrhs.

  36. 36.

    Taylor, S. 2009. Seeking an alternative to a life in limbo. Inside story (online). 22 Apr. Accessed through http://inside.org.au/seeking-an-alternative/.

  37. 37.

    Pagliaro, A. 2009. Debunking the myth of the refugee queue. 18 Sept. Amnesty International. Accessed through http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/comments/21710.

  38. 38.

    Rodger, E. 2010. Send asylum seekers to the back of the queue: Fielding. ABC News (online). 11 Mar. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2010-03-11/send-asylum-seekers-to-the-back-of-the-queue/359550.

  39. 39.

    Packham, B. 2011. The gillard government’s move to amend migration laws is in limbo. The Australian (online). 22 Sept. Accessed through http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/the-gillard-governments-move-to-amend-migration-laws-is-in-limbo/story-fn9hm1gu-1226143818724.

  40. 40.

    Kelly, P. 2012. I’ll turn back every boat, says Tony Abbott. The Australian (online). 21 Jan. http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/ill-turn-back-every-boat-says-tony-abbott/story-fn59niix-1226249863706.

  41. 41.

    Power, P. 2011. Taking refugees from camps a good idea except most live on the run. The Courier-Mail (Brisbane). 16 Feb 24.

  42. 42.

    UNHCR. 2009. Statistical yearbook 2009. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org/4ce532ff9.html.

  43. 43.

    UNHCR. 1999. UNHCR’s revised guidelines on applicable criteria and standards relating to the detention of asylum-seekers, 26 Feb. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org.au/pdfs/detentionguidelines.pdf .

  44. 44.

    Universal Declaration of Human Rights. 1948.

  45. 45.

    Thompson, J. 2011. Refugees caught in a detention centre limbo. ABC News (online). 7 Oct. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-10-07/asylum-seekers-left-in-limbo/3341820.

  46. 46.

    Vasek, L. 2011. Detention system bulging at the seams. The Australian (online). 1 Sept. Accessed through http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/detention-system-bulging-at-the-seams/story-fn9hm1gu-1226127057696.

  47. 47.

    Boat People to be Held in Limbo: Gillard. 2011. The mercury. 16 May 7.

  48. 48.

    McAdam J., and Kerry, Murphy. 2010. Refugee processing breeches international law. The Australian (online), 14 Apr. Accessed through http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/refugee-processing-freeze-breaches-international-law/story-e6frg6zo-1225853374644.

  49. 49.

    Skelton, R. 2002. The bread and butter of life in limbo. The age (Melbourne). 3 July 9.

  50. 50.

    Grattan, M., and Maris, Beck. 2011. Court leaves Malaysia swap in legal limbo. The Age (Melbourne). 9 August 1.

  51. 51.

    Harvey, M. 2011. ‘Asylum seekers’ future in limbo as Malaysian deal nears, Herald Sun (online). 23 July. Accessed through http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/asylum-seekers-future-in-limbo-as-malaysian-deal-nears/story-e6frf7jo-1226100094297.

  52. 52.

    Maley, P. 2010. ASIO creates asylum limbo. The Australian (All-round Country). 2 July 1.

  53. 53.

    Wright, J., and Natalie, O’Brien. 2011. Boat people policy in limbo. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). 15 May. Accessed through http://www.smh.com.au/national/boat-people-policy-limbo-20110514-1ench.html.

  54. 54.

    Schmitt, C. 1985. Political theology: Four chapters on the concept of sovereignty (trans. George Schwab). Politische Theologie. Massachusetts: MIT Press.

  55. 55.

    Bowden defends Malaysia bill rights protections. 2011. ABC News (online). 25 Sept. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-25/bowen-rejects-human-rights-clause/2941198.

  56. 56.

    Bardon, J. 2012. Darwin refugees in limbo after failing ASIO tests. ABC News (online). 27 Jan. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-01-27/20120127-darwin-refugees-in-asio-limbo/3796566.

  57. 57.

    Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. 1951.

  58. 58.

    Newman, L., Dudley Michael, and Steel Zachary. 2008. Asylum, detention, and mental health in Australia. Refugee Survey Quarterly 27(3): 110.

  59. 59.

    Leach, M., and Fethi Mansouri. 2004. Lives in limbo: Voices of refugees under temporary protection. Kensington: UNSW Press.

  60. 60.

    Van Genderen Stort, A. 2004. Hundreds of lost souls still in no man’s land. UNHCR news stories. 25 Feb. Accessed through http://www.unhcr.org/403cac1d4.html.

  61. 61.

    Miller, Barbara (reporter). 2011. Refugees languish in legal limbo after asio ruling. ABC news-AM, transcript. Oct 6. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2011/s3333270.htm.

  62. 62.

    Kelly, J. 2011. Detention shock: Teens at risk, suicide bids daily, say staff. The Australian (online). 25 Oct. Accessed through http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/detention-shock-teens-at-risk-suicide-bids-daily-say-staff/story-fn9hm1gu-1226175633748.

  63. 63.

    Fang, Gavin (reporter). 2009. Asylum seekers threaten suicide. ABC Premium News. 2 Nov. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2009-11-02/asylum-seekers-threaten-suicide/1125558.

  64. 64.

    Needham, K. 2011. release sought for asylum boy who attempted suicide. The age (Melbourne). 15 Dec 5.

  65. 65.

    Williams, T. 2003. Refugees swim against the tide of suicide. The Australian (All-round Australia) 21 July 2.

  66. 66.

    Dyett, G. (reporter). Temporary protection visas flagged. World news Australia. 26 Apr. Accessed through http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1526616/temporary-protection-visas-flagged.

  67. 67.

    Wright, J. 2012. Abbott criticised over asylum seeker comment. The Sydney Morning Herald (online). 17 Feb. Accessed through http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/abbott-criticised-over-asylum-seeker-comments-20120217-1tcs7.html.

  68. 68.

    Horin, A. 2005. End the agony of languishing in limbo. The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney). 26 March 29.

  69. 69.

    Asylum seeker policy adviser quits. 2012. ABC News, 14 Dec. Accessed through http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-12-14/gillard-government-adviser-on-asylum-seekers-quits/4427816.

  70. 70.

    DIA. 2014. No Way. They will not make Australia home. Accessed through http://www.immi.gov.au/Live/Pages/refugees/no-way.aspx.

  71. 71.

    The asylum shame that is our stain 2014. The Age, Mar 2. Accessed through http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-age-editorial/the-asylum-shame-that-is-our-stain-20140301-33sxz.html.

  72. 72.

    Legal fight for Nauru asylum seekers 2014. 9 news national. 7 Feb. Accessed through http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/02/07/16/55/legal-fight-for-nauru-asylum-seekers.

Download references

Author information

Correspondence to Ben Hightower.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Hightower, B. Refugees, Limbo and the Australian Media. Int J Semiot Law 28, 335–358 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11196-014-9382-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Asylum seekers
  • Refugees
  • Australia
  • Limbo
  • Media
  • Detention
  • Refugee camp