With the political potency of migrant and refugee demonisation, governments have brokered trade deals to extend the geographies of asylum into new sites far beyond their borders. This talk draws on fieldwork conducted in the Republic of Nauru to explore the Australian government’s practice of outsourcing asylum to Pacific island nations. I look at the overlaps between Nauru’s enterprises around phosphate and now refugees in order to understand the deep environmental and human consequences of mineral and migrant resource sectors. My work shifts the analysis away from a socio-legal or humanitarian frame towards a political economic approach centred on resource extraction, bringing to the fore questions about patterns of accumulation and imperial dependency that induce some countries to take on outsourced border enforcement operations over others. Ultimately, I argue that refugees are an industry that has had a hugely negative impact on local and migrant populations in Nauru. I also show how Australian-led activist campaigns exasperate these frictions by reinforcing colonial characterisations of savage Nauruans versus vulnerable refugees.


Julia is Assistant Professor of International Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Her research focuses on the commodification of human mobility from fieldwork in the Republic of Nauru, Australia, Fiji, and Geneva. Her book, From Phosphate to Refugees: The Offshore Refugee Industry in the Republic of Nauru, is forthcoming with Cornell University Press. Her next research project looks at the overlapping plantation logics and resource entanglements that nonhumans play in boundary making and enforcement in the Guatemalan ecological development sector.