Refugee Protection in the United Kingdom Beyond Brexit: The Perils of Australian Exceptionalism

Refugee Protection in the United Kingdom Beyond Brexit: The Perils of Australian Exceptionalism
25 October 2017, 6.00pm - 7.30pm
IALS Council Chamber, Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, 17 Russell Square, London WC1B 5DR

The International Refugee Law Seminar Series, sponsored by the Refugee Law Initiative at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, provides a public space for discussion, promotion and dissemination of research between academics, practitioners, students and others with an interest in the refugee and forced migration field.

8th International Refugee Law Seminar Series: ‘Refugee Law in the New World Disorder’

Following the 9/11 attacks on the USA, James Hathaway and Colin Harvey questioned ‘Refugee Protection in the New World Disorder’. Some 15 years later we return to this topic in light of new threats to global order through a series of lectures that investigate key challenges for refugee law today.

Refugee Protection in the United Kingdom Beyond Brexit: The Perils of Australian Exceptionalism


To date the focus of the negotiations for relations between a post-Brexit Britain and the European Union has been on the size of the ‘divorce bill’ and to a lesser extent the rights of migrants, rather than the impact of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU on asylum-seeker policy. However, Brexit presents what may be described as some ‘unintended consequences’ for Britain’s ability to exclude from its territory asylum-seekers seeking international protection. For those who voted ‘Leave’ it will be no doubt be distressing to learn that Brexit may result in Britain becoming a ‘beacon of hope’ for those who are seeking asylum. Post-Brexit, Britain will no longer be a participant in the Dublin system which gives EU states the right to return people to the EU state they first entered. Unless some kind of bilateral agreement or informal arrangement to send asylum-seekers back to EU countries is negotiated for a post-Brexit Britain, then its former EU counterparts will not be obliged to accept returns from the UK.

If such an agreement or arrangement is unable to be negotiated then should Britain look to Australia for guidance in relation to the development of its post-Brexit asylum seeker policy? The ‘Australian model’ for preventing the arrival of asylum-seekers has frequently be cited approvingly over the years by both UK and EU political leaders as a ‘solution’ for the European ‘refugee crisis’. Indeed, in 2015 former Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott urged the adoption of Australia’s successful border policies to defeat people smugglers. These policies include turning around boats carrying migrants, denying entry to the border for illegal immigrants, and establishing offshore processing centres. Abbott claimed that this ‘is the only way to prevent a tide of humanity surging through Europe and quite possibly changing it forever.’ What would it mean if the Australian model were adopted? What have been the ‘costs’ of Australia’s ‘successful’ asylum-seeker policies, and what are the ‘perils’ of this Australian exceptionalism?


Linda Kirk is a Senior Lecturer at the ANU College of Law, Australian National University.  She has been an affiliate with the Refugee Law Initiative since November 2011 and is currently based at the RLI as an Australian Endeavour Research Fellow.  Linda holds a Master of Laws degree from the University of Cambridge and a First Class Honours degree in Law and an Economics degree from the University of Adelaide. She is currently enrolled in a Doctor of Judicial Studies (SJD) at Monash University. Linda is a Senior Member of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in Sydney and a former Chair of the Australasian Chapter of the International Association of Refugee Law Judges.


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