Published December 22, 2017 | Version v1
Report Open

Unless the Water is Safer than the Land


This report is the outcome of the Masters Studio in Forensic Architecture, Centre for Research Architecture, Goldsmiths University of London. It was generated by students working collaboratively on a “Live Project”; an intensive hands-on pedagogical experiment that launched this academic year’s studio activities. Over the course of four weeks, twenty MA students conducted in-depth research into Australia’s immigration policies and practices at sea, producing spatial and visual analysis that reveals a striking pattern of human rights violations taking place off the coasts of Australia.

The Live Project was conducted in partnership with the Global Legal Action Network (GLAN), whose February 2017 communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) called for the launch of an official investigation into the abuse of asylum seekers in offshore detention facilities in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The aim of this collaboration is to provide GLAN with further elements of evidence that would allow it to continue addressing the legality of Australia’s immigration policy before and beyond the camps, and to push the Court into shifting its focus from ‘spectacular’ violence to ‘banal’ or ‘normalised’ violence that appears as an inevitable by-product of global social and economic structures.

After conducting initial broad-based research focused on understanding Australian immigration policies at sea since 2001 in combination with the introduction of violent practices of containment without protection, the students narrowed their focus to a series of cases that took place under the ongoing military-led border security initiative “Operation Sovereign Borders” (2013-present). These cases represented episodes of maritime interception, on-sea detention, and pushback operations, each of which manifested convincing indications of human rights abuses: from the violation of the rule of non- refoulément to the crime of deportation under international criminal law.

In investigating and reconstructing these events, students developed creative forensic methodologies to cross-reference already available research when available and in particular to overcome the overall lack of information, which is a consequence of the Australian government’s policy of “on-sea” secrecy. Their work also involved tracking and exploring the development of particular patterns of practice at sea and situating these patterns in relation to the shifting political context in which they occurred, as well as inserting them within the longer histories of settler colonial violence.

As a preliminary investigation conducted within the limitations imposed by the time-frame of a pedagogical project (and with every effort having been made to verify the accuracy of the information presented here), the materials developed by the graduate students, nonetheless, offer a strong indictment of the policies and practices put in place to deter people from arriving in Australia by boat. In this sense, this report establishes the basis for further collaboration with GLAN to address the current lack of accountability for these violations.

Video to the Riski02 case can be watched on YouTube via this link:



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