Perpetual Insecurity 13a - Burning


Burning their boats: no return

[imagecaption] ‘Where’s my Refuge?’, World Refugee Day, Nyoongar Country, 2017. Photo: Marziya Mohammedali. [/imagecaption]


Self-immolations by asylum seekers can be viewed as extensions to and material expressions of the harms inflicted by the state. Self-immolations have occurred in immigration detention, offshore on Nauru and among those held in the Australian community — demonstrating the interconnections in the forms of violence experienced by these asylum seeker and refugee bodies, whether they are officially confined or in live in unfreedom in the ‘community’.  Confronted with no prospect of escape or exit except through death, these public suicides, like self-immolations in other contexts, expose a biopolitical culture in which some are, simply, ‘not allowed to live’ (Pugliese, 2014).

Public self-immolations by asylum seekers chillingly recall Australian customs’ routine practice of burning asylum seeker boats at sea. The termination of  the possibility of their re-entry is a  visible act of violent ‘deterrence’ that has been described as a ritual of sovereignty (Perera 2009).

Whereas the state persistently attempts to expel refugees to their countries of origin and allow them to perish beyond our sight, the public act of burning oneself – ‘burning our boats’ – puts on show this hidden violence and stages before our eyes the fact of no-return.



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