Phosphate turned refugee destitution economies in the Republic of Nauru

Authors: Julia Morris*, New School University
Topics: Migration, Political Geography, Pacific Islands
Keywords: Migration, Refugees, Global Production, Commodities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Studio 8, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The increase in negative discourses centered on asylum seekers and refugees has become a noticeable trend worldwide. Alongside this, countries have expanded immigration and border controls, and outsourced asylum processes to economically struggling states. These large-scale infrastructural projects revolve around the bodily economies of migration control and management, premised on policies of control and human destitution. This paper focuses on the role of state and non-state actors in one outsourced migration management site in the Republic of Nauru. Under 2001 then 2012 agreements, Nauru, the world’s smallest island nation, bankrupt in the 1990s following phosphate destitution, resurged on the back of a human destitutional economy, importing Australia’s maritime asylum seeking populations. In this paper, I focus on the forms of institutionalism that enables Nauru’s operations, examining how commodification is embedded within the figure of the destitute asylum seeker and irregular migrant. I argue that anti-political strategies are also embedded in the same system, allowing for the emergence of new spaces of production (Brenner, 2004). The paper promotes a critical approach to the study of destitution economies, integrating migrants as labor industrialists working to insert themselves into exploitative state economies within a landscape of structural imbalance. It also brings global production theory into the discussion as a way of drawing an analytical focus on the practices of uneven development that make outsourced supply chains possible, wherein forms of commodification and destitution are reproduced.

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