The Federation Press

Refugees and State Crime


In the aftermath of World War II, in the shadow of the Holocaust, the countries of the world signed on for a Convention giving rights and safeguards to refugees. Forced migration was a humanitarian not a criminal concern. Being a refugee involved discussion of human rights and protection rather than developing processes of criminalization and law enforcement.

Sharon Pickering documents how this has changed. Refugees and asylum seekers are dressed in the clothes of criminals, and national sovereignty has become the focus of the response of the Global North to forced migration.

Pickering adopts a State Crime framework, emerging out of a critique of law and order refugee politics, to explain policy responses. The roles of the administration, the justice system and the media are analysed to highlight the discourses of criminality which have come to dominate discussion of refugee and asylum issues.

She shows how the spectacle of the refugee as criminal allied to the rise of transnational policing, has led to the opening up of extra-territorial, extra-legal spaces, how contradictions have emerged as to national “borders” and how the rule of law has been debased.


A central argument of the book is that concerns for humanitarianism that were evident at the time of the signing of the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees in the aftermath of World War II have been replaced with concerns for the integrity of national sovereignty. Pickering compellingly argues that the asylum seeker has been criminalised – portrayed as a threat to national security and embodying deviance.
The book is well-researched, drawing on a number of disciplines as well as on an extensive range of primary and secondary sources ... [I]rrespective of which side of the policy debate the reader empathises with, this book is a valuable and well-researched contribution to the debate about Australia’s treatment of a vulnerable group of people. - Reform, Issue 87, Summer 2005/06

This ground-breaking book is a powerful and timely critique of the law and order politics which have come to define western approaches to refugees. In an elegant and scholarly account, Pickering locates refugee policy within a state crime framework and forces the re-examination of fundamental questions about the nature of sovereignty, political legitimacy and criminal justice. Forced migration is an appalling fact for millions of the world’s population, a fact which states in the developed world have strenuously attempted to redefine for domestic and global political purposes. The importance of Refugees and State Crime lies in its authoritative and compelling portrayal of refugees as political victims of western state crime. - Professor Penny Green, University of Westminster

Table of Contents

Refugee law and order: Sovereign crime
A mundane process of criminalisation
The spectacle of refugee deviancy
Deterring refugees
Policing the border
Refugees and the renegade judiciary
Refugees, sovereignty and state crime
Select Bibliography

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