Journal Article

Drowning not Waving: Boat People and Humanitarianism at Sea

Michael Pugh

in Journal of Refugee Studies

Volume 17, issue 1, pages 50-69
Published in print March 2004 | ISSN: 0951-6328
Published online March 2004 | e-ISSN: 1471-6925 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/jrs/17.1.50

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Boat people, whether refugees or migrants, are protected by special provisions in custom and law relating to safety and rescue at sea. At the same time, the governments of coastal states have expressed concern about the arrival of boat people and have been robust in depicting and treating them as a threat. The questions addressed in this article are: how and why have boat people been regarded as a threat, and what challenges does this treatment present for the humanitarian regime at sea? The article connects two dimensions of the issue. First it deconstructs the prevailing images and discourse surrounding boat people that contribute to securitizing them as a threat. Securitization is defined as the process by which issues are identified, labelled and reified as threats to a community, often by politicians for electoral gain. Second, the article argues that this securitization challenges the maritime regime, which is infused with humanitarian values based on solidarity among seafarers. Both short and long-term remedies might be considered. The immediate requirement is to ensure not only that asylum seekers at sea continue to be rescued and protected but also that the maritime regime is strengthened to facilitate their arrival at a place of safety. Over the longer term, de-securitizing the issue of asylum seekers and boat people requires action to address perceptions in destination states.

Journal Article.  0 words. 

Subjects: Human Rights and Immigration ; Human Geography ; International Relations ; Aid and Relief Programmes ; Refugee Studies