“Between a Rock and a Hard Place”: Australia’s Mandatory Detention of Asylum Seekers

Francesco P. Motta

Abstract


For fourteen years Australia has detained asylum seekers arriving unlawfully in its territory. It also intercepts asylum seekers arriving in the territorial waters, detaining them in third countries and preventing them from seeking refugee status in Australia (the “Pacific Solution”). This paper traces the development of the policy, its current implementation, the justification employed by the government for maintaining it, and its legality under international law. On examination of these issues, it is evident that the justification for the mandatory policy is flawed; that the costs of the policy – in terms of the physical and mental well-being of asylum seekers themselves, and the social and financial impact on the Australian community – are too great, and it puts Australia in breach of its obligations under international law. However, the government has not canvassed alternatives to the mandatory detention policy and has no intention of changing it. This leaves asylum seekers who enter Australian territory unlawfully literally and figuratively between a “rock and hard place.”

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