Closure: Manus Island, tragedy and responsibility

Ms Claire Loughnan1
1Refugee Studies Steering Group, Melbourne Social Equity Institute. Member, ,

Oceans and islands continue to be the sites of refugee tragedies. Deaths at sea and in offshore prisons have tragically become commonplace, especially on the islands of Manus and Nauru.

Yet these deaths have been framed as the unfolding of an inevitable tragedy while being paradoxically attributed to the choices refugees make, and the actions of people smugglers. The trope of tragedy frames these events as both unavoidable and as someone else’s ‘fault’: this facilitates the disavowal of responsibility for the suffering of refugees and the ‘closure’ of Manus, by the Australian government.  Our work here is to think through the trope of tragedy in order to make sense of the tragic closure of Manus Island. The point is not only to track what the tragedies might be but to interrogate the work the tragedy narrative does in the refugee realm.  In the aftermath of the ‘closure’ of Manus camp we  also want to ask what possible meaning and effects the closure has. Does it represent progress for asylum seekers or is it emblematic of the continued retreat from responsibility that has characterised the response of the Australian state to asylum seekers for nearly the last two decades?


Claire teaches in criminology and socio-legal studies. Her research interests are in border protection, immigration detention and forced migration. Her doctoral thesis argues that contemporary border protection policies in Australia amount to a failure of responsibility, in ethical terms. Australia’s system of mandatory immigration detention is thus examined through the lens of ‘office holding’ as a site for rethinking the ethical relations of those who work within the institutional life of migration, whether politicians, judges, guards or health care professionals, in order to argue for an ethics of office which might contribute towards a deeper understanding of responsibility beyond mere accountability to a role. She is extending her work to an analysis of institutional conduct in diverse sites such as youth detention, prisons, aged and disability care.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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