This is the fifth installment of Border Criminologies’ themed series on our network members. The series aims to present our members’ ongoing research, recent publications, new course modules they might be developing, grants and awards, partnerships and collaborations, and questions they have been considering or struggling with.

Research update by Leanne Weber, Associate Professor at Monash University, Melbourne and a Director at The Border Crossing Observatory.

Sandro Mezzadra and Brett Neilson have coined the phrase ‘border as method’ to describe an epistemological approach that treats borders not just as objects of study, but as epistemic viewpoints from which to analyse practices of inclusion and exclusion. The four year research project I have been awarded by an Australian Research Council, explores the policing of internal borders in Australia using the metaphor and epistemology of borders to uncover links between what might otherwise be seen as a set of unrelated policies and practices. Using a series of discrete case studies, the research will critically analyse three types of internal borders: structurally embedded borders that enforce the boundary between legal and illegal immigration status; socially constructed borders produced by the policing of public places that reinforce notions of entitlement and belonging; and borders created by new forms of welfare policing which differentiate responsible from irresponsible citizens. The aim of the research is to reveal what Stan Cohen has referred to as the ‘deep structure’ connecting these exclusionary practices which operate in different arenas, but all seek to differentiate populations according to their effective citizenship status. You can find out more about this project here.

Research update by Rebecca Powell, Researcher, Border Crossing Observatory, Monash University. She is also the Managing Director of the Border Crossing Observatory.

Established in 2010 by Professor Sharon Pickering and Associate Professor Leanne Weber of Monash University, the Border Crossing Observatory is an innovative virtual research centre that connects Australian and international stakeholders to high quality, independent and cutting edge research on border crossings. The Observatory is built on a strong foundation of empirical research. Our researchers adopt inter-disciplinary social science approaches to research irregular migration and border control taking a different approach by endeavouring to put the experiences of human beings at the centre. Our research seeks to transform knowledge and develop new ways of thinking, bringing new insights into policy debates associated with irregular migration and border control. We use the research based evidence we produce to influence and drive responses to migration practice and policy from a humanitarian grounding.

The Observatory hosts a growing network of academic and postgraduate researchers from around the world who are researching border crossings and irregular migration from a criminological perspective. The Observatory connects researchers, providing our networks with a platform for the promotion and publicising of evidence based scholarly research on border crossings.  We are also a part of the Leverhulme network with our colleagues and friends from Border Criminologies, Oxford University and the Crime Control in the Borderlands of Europe research team at Oslo University.

The Border Crossing Observatory Research Agenda

The Border Crossing Observatory hosts a number of academic research projects led by eminent academics from Monash and our university partners. The Observatory has developed the following research agendas in order to neatly categorise the broad body of research work that we host (External Border Control, Internal Border Control, Trafficking and Labour Exploitation, Peacebuilding, Global Conflict, Gender and Security)

Transferring research into action

Research hosted by the Border Crossing Observatory seeks to transform knowledge and develop new ways of thinking, bringing new insights into policy debates associated with irregular migration and border control. We engage all audiences, connecting scholarly research to a wider audience through transferring our research into action. In doing so, our research has impact, becoming more accessible and available to the wider population interested in irregular migration and associated issues.

We have a number of academic research projects that have made use of our scholarly research to provide practical and user friendly evidence on pertinent border crossing issues. We influence and debate policy, raise awareness and provide accessible research-based evidence to our stakeholders to drive forward humanitarian based approaches and responses to irregular migration.

Below are two examples from our research project ‘Deaths at the Global Frontier’ to demonstrate how the Observatory has used critical criminology scholarship to successfully turn research into action.

The Australian Border Deaths Database

The Australian Government does not provide an official count of Australian border deaths to the public. In the absence of this information, the Border Crossing Observatory has made the Australian Border Deaths Database a permanent fixture on our website that is regularly updated as border deaths are reported. We rely on media reports, coroner reports and findings and information from the public, our media and our stakeholder contacts to report these deaths. To date, from January 2000 until April 2016, we have recorded a total of 1,977 border deaths which includes:

  • deaths in onshore and offshore immigration detention centres
  • drownings at sea en route to Australia
  • deaths during pursuit by immigration authorities
  • deaths of asylum seekers re-settled in the community
  • deaths on return to country of origin following deportation

The Australian Border Deaths Database was established based on a methodology developed by Leanne Weber and Sharon Pickering whilst researching for their book Globalization and Borders: Death at the Global Frontier published in 2011. The Australian Border Deaths database list is one of the only regularly updated and publically available lists counting border deaths in Australia. Similar lists have been developed for other regional contexts around the world by other NGO groups (The Migrants Files and United Against Racism (until 2012) for European border deaths, Missing Migrant Project deaths at the US-Mexico border).

It has received wide media attention in Australia and has been used by the Border Crossing Observatory to consult the Gillard Government’s Houston Asylum Seeker Expert Panel in 2012. (See our Border Deaths and Border Control Policies research brief). It has been archived at the National Library of Australia from 2015. Most recently, in collaboration with SBS (Special Broadcasting Service, Australia), the Border Crossing Observatory has developed the Australian Border Deaths Database as a dynamic and visual infographic now presented on the SBS website.

Count Border Deaths Campaign – Deaths in immigration custody

Stemming from the Australian Border Deaths Database, the Count Border Deaths Campaign was launched in response to the Australian Government’s failure to officially count and account for deaths in Australian immigration custody. The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is the Government’s designated monitoring body of deaths in custody in Australia, however, it does not include deaths in immigration custody in its annual reporting.

Given this stark gap in reporting, the Border Crossing Observatory records all deaths in immigration custody that come to our attention, identifying each death by their custodial setting within our Australian Border Deaths Database. We have recorded 83 deaths in immigration custody since January 2000.

  • Onshore Immigration Detention (32 deaths since 2000)
  • Offshore Immigration Detention  (9 deaths since 2000)
  • Interdiction at sea by Australian Border Control (40 deaths since 2000) and
  • Death from pursuit by Australian immigration authorities (2 deaths since 2000).

The Border Crossing Observatory launched the campaign in 2012 to lobby the Australian government and the AIC to count and account for deaths in immigration custody. Using evidence from the Deaths at the Global Frontier project and associated research we conducted on deaths in immigration custody in Australia, we used our scholarly academic research as a foundation from which to provide evidence to the Australian government about the gap in deaths in custody reporting and that deaths in immigration custody in Australia is indeed a serious and under reported issue. We also ran a parallel letter writing and social media campaign to lobby the Government to count and account for deaths in immigration custody.

In February 2015 we received an email from the AIC that a proposal for a pilot study was currently being discussed with the Department of Immigration and Border Protection to start counting the deaths of people who die in Australian immigration detention centres in official deaths in custody statistics.

We’re still waiting to see that proposal come into effect and we’re continuing to run our campaign lobbying the AIC to include these deaths in their monitoring and reporting of deaths in custody.

For more information on the Border Crossing Observatory visit our website and to stay updated on our research developments follow us on Twitter @BObservatory

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.

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How to cite this blog post (Harvard style)

Weber, L. and Powell, R. (2016) Researcher Update: Network Members from Monash University. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2016/06/research-update-1 (Accessed [date]).