Self-agency and asylum: Who, how and why people undertake long and dangerous migration journeys. An examination of the migration patterns and processes of Hazara irregular maritime asylum seekers to Australia

In recent years, large numbers of people have embarked on high-risk sea journeys to reach specific destinations, including Australia, Greece, Italy, Spain, Malaysia, Thailand and the United States. In 2015, for example, over 850,000 people crossed the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, with many continuing their journeys to eventually reach other parts of Europe (mostly Germany, Sweden and Austria). Just over half were Syrian refugees who had been living in Turkey, with Afghans, Iraqis, Pakistanis, Iranians and a multitude of others making up the remainder. Thousands of people perish en route every year while undertaking irregular maritime migration, and many more are exploited and abused during their perilous journeys. Added to this are the long-distances some must cover, particularly those from West Asia travelling to Australia.

This dissertation examines the nature and extent of self-agency of maritime asylum seekers. In doing so, it focuses on a population of maritime asylum seekers who, at face value, were able to exercise agency and realise the goal of seeking asylum in Australia. Using survey and statistical data on irregular maritime asylum seekers who arrived in Australia over five years (June 2008 to July 2013), the analysis finds complementarities among migration patterns of asylum seekers from different countries and ethnic backgrounds. The migration patterns and processes of a subset are examined more deeply in a case study on Hazara asylum seekers who travelled to Australia from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.

Through the application of a multi-faceted model of asylum seeker agency, the study finds that a small but significant group of Hazara ‘proactive asylum seekers’ were far from passive, exercising considerable agency in determining when, how, where and with whom they migrated. However, considerable limitations on agency were evident—particularly for females and young Hazaras—resulting in highly skewed migration patterns and very specific and sometimes singular migration processes being manifested. The study also found indications that Hazaras had applied similar migration strategies that had been developed within the West Asia region during previous decades of displacement and migration.


Marie McAuliffe is a Ph.D. candidate in Demography.

Date & time

Fri 26 May 2017, 3:00pm to 4:00pm


Seminar Room A ANU


Marie McAuliffe


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