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Title: From phosphate to refugees : the offshore refugee boom in the Republic of Nauru
Author: Morris, Julia
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2019
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This dissertation draws on fifteen months of fieldwork between Geneva, Australia, Fiji, and the Republic of Nauru, focusing on the explosive growth of the refugee as a global commodity. I do so by examining the outsourcing of refugee processing to a new industrial site, where migrant meets mineral in the manufacturing of new commodities. Nauru, the world's smallest island state, was almost entirely economically dependent on the phosphate industry in the twentieth century. After the wealth it derived from phosphate extraction was depleted in the 1990s, the country resurged on the back of the refugee industry by importing Australia's prospective maritime refugee populations. In the first part of the dissertation, I put together my theoretical framework, detailing the global industrial assemblage that has led the refugee to become so heavily saturated within daily life. Nauru's supply chain is entangled in the political potency of Australian consumer scares. In the golden age of raw material, but amid political populist appeal, anyone who makes their way by boat and claims to be a refugee in Australian territorial now excised waters is offshored to Nauru or Manus Island for refugee processing and resettlement. Throughout, I promote a critical approach to the study of the refugee economy, integrating refugee claimants as labour industrialists working to insert themselves into state economies within a landscape of structural imbalance. After outlining my theoretical framing, I explore the many procedures and techniques that modulate to Nauru's state-building effort as a phosphate turned refugee company town. Nauru has occupied a prominent place in the international news, but the landscape of refugee market production that takes place there is represented by legal critics and global media as an exception. There remains a tendency to suggest through anti-civilisational discourses that Nauru is rife with abuse. My research makes a rather different finding. By contrast, I argue that not only do Nauru's refugee operations operate to the peak of industrial best practice, but that Nauru's offshore refugees actually enhance the moral and financial economies of industry trading and manufacturing operations in other regions. I find that the key motivation for promoting this assumption is the biophysical properties of a mortal and highly moralised commodity. Resource entanglements form a narrative thread throughout the dissertation as I examine the specificities of Nauru's refugee industrial operations. I look at how mineral and migrant raw materials merge in the remaking of Nauru's social economy. Each chapter goes deeper into detailing the extractive consequences that have developed in Nauru from both industrial sectors, but particularly the country's latest manufacturing operations. I find that Nauru's latest resource curse is entangled in the consumptive habits of mainland social movements. I explore how Australian refugee activism plays a powerful role in stirring Nauruans' quotidian lives, and those of the country's human resource, as they vie collaboratively to export the refugee to the mainland. I conclude that the resource wars that develop around Nauru's latest manufacturing operations strengthen the offshore supply chain. Instead, activist campaigns reinforce the mainland consumer disinterest that leads to the extension of human trading economies into new consumption spheres. Based on the propensity for governments to outsource industrial operations, I suggest that alternative framings are necessary to combat the ease with which industrial processing modulates to new extraction sites.
Supervisor: Anderson, Bridget Sponsor: Social Science Research Council ; University of Oxford Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available