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Immigration Detention at Sea: The carceral mobility that defines maritime migration governance in Australia

by Dr Andonea Jon Dickson

Submission summary

Authors (as registered SciPost users): Andonea Jon Dickson
Submission information
Preprint Link: scipost_202203_00021v2  (pdf)
Date submitted: 2024-01-23 17:39
Submitted by: Dickson, Andonea Jon
Submitted to: Migration Politics
Ontological classification
Academic field: Political Science
  • Migration Politics


Over the past four decades, maritime geographies have become prominent sites of policing and containing human migration. While there is important scholarly work on these contested liquid geographies charting the changing techniques of migration control, what continues to demand attention is the containment that is achieved through systematically keeping migrants mobile at sea. This paper explores maritime migration governance in Australia, examining the coerced mobilities that follow interdictions at sea and their carceral nature. I interrogate the High Court case, CPCF v Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, which addresses the extended detention of 157 Tamil asylum seekers at sea in June 2014. Through analysing the language used in this case, such as the conclusion by the majority that “to detain” a migrant at sea mandates a concomitant duty “to take” that migrants somewhere else, I highlight how coerced mobility has become central to Australia’s strategy of migration governance how this has come to legitimate a detention at sea that exists without any clear time constraint. This will reveal the extent to which carcerality informs migration governance in Australia’s maritime geographies.

Author comments upon resubmission

I greatly appreciate the detailed notes from the anonymous reviewers and the opportunity to improve upon my article. I have taken onboard the comments and edited the article appropriately. Most notably, this has including re-structuring aspects of the paper and re-writing section 1. My intervention and theoretical contribution are now foregrounded at the start of the article, while my argument is now more clearly signposted throughout, making the piece more engaging.

Below, I respond in detail to the suggestions by the reviewers. I hope my comments are easy to follow and that my amendments meet the editors’ expectations.

Thank you very much.
Kind regards,
Andonea J Dickson

List of changes

Thank you to the anonymous reviewers for their helpful and constructive feedback. I have revised the article pertaining to the comments. Overall, the article has been re-written and re-structured as well as given a new and clearer title. I have created a stronger line of argumentation throughout with additional signposting which, in addition to edits to my writing, addresses concerns relating to the lack of engaging nature of the piece (reviewer 3). Information and data have also been updated, specifically in relation to the number of asylum seekers who have been subject to at sea mobilities as a result of Australian migration governance (page 10-11 and page 21). Below are more specific details of the re-writing, structured by the sections of the article and pertaining to requested changes from reviewers.

Section one:
In addressing suggestion 1 by reviewer 2, I have re-written and re-structured the first section of this article. This section now provides a clearer theoretical outline, demonstrating my focus on coerced mobility at sea and how this practice expands the carceral landscape of Australian migration control. This is now also more clearly signposted throughout the article, creating a clearer structure throughout.

The re-writing of this section means it reads less like a literature review with serial citations, and rather emphasizes my analysis upfront and the significance of mobility to carcerality (addressing a weakness identified by reviewer 2 as well as suggestion 2 by reviewer 2).

I have diminished reference to the phrasing “to detain is to take”, a weakness identified by reviewer 3 as disrupting the flow of the section.

In response to suggestion 2 by reviewer 1, I have ensured there is not a repetition of my argument at the end of sentences.

In response to a weakness identified by reviewer 2, that the opening of the paper is overly long, the re-writing of this section has not only created greater clarity in argument but has also reduced the word count of this section by approx. 400 words.

Correlating to a weakness identified by reviewer 1, my use of terminology is now clearer. However, it felt tangential in this particular article to provide further detail on the carceral wet or liquid geographies, as this is the topic of a former article (Dickson 2021).

Section two:
Addressing suggestion 2 by reviewer 3, on the space between detention and mobility, I have included a paragraph on page 12 detailing the experience of Tamil asylum seekers upon the vessel, as well as evidence from the judges demonstrating that this confinement was an explicit case of a detention. This provides a clearer connection between mobility and detention (which I also outlined more clearly in section 1).

This change also responds to suggestion 2 by reviewer 1, adding detail to the experience of the Tamil asylum seekers. I wholeheartedly agree that the inclusion of further testimonies would be interesting and advantageous. Yet, this would require further fieldwork and is beyond the scope of these revisions.

In response to reviewer 1’s comments, I have included reference to the agenda of “deterrence” in migration governance on page 9, with reference to De Leon (2015) Pickering and Weber (2014) and Matera et al (2023).

Pertaining to suggestion 3 by reviewer 3, I have drawn reference to the interesting articulation of mobilities within Paola Cuttitta’s article on page 4. However, as the case I am examining relies exclusively upon state-based actors operating within and just beyond Australian territories, I don’t draw on Cuttitta’s reference to externalization.

Section three:
Pertaining to suggestion 3 by reviewer 1, I have added subsections to the third section of the article. These subtitles are ‘To Detain is to Take’ (the original title of the article) and ‘A Geography that Demands Carceral Mobility?’, and I believe they make this section more readable as well as more clearer signpost my argument.

Pertaining to suggestion 1 by reviewer 3, I have diminished reference to the inside/outside discussion, with reference to it only on page 3 and not in the third section.

There were some longer paragraphs across the article that have been edited to read more succinctly (this applies especially to the re-writing of the 1st section of the paper). I have also edited or deleted phrases that weaken the writing, such as “this statement is significant for a number of reasons”, suggestion 3 by reviewer 2.

Reference to the indefinite nature of detention at sea has also been refined, adding more detail and clarity to this ruling and when and how time limitations apply.

I have reviewed the references – suggestion 3 by reviewer 1.

Current status:
In refereeing

Reports on this Submission

Anonymous Report 2 on 2024-4-9 (Invited Report)


This is an interesting and important article that examines 'coerced mobility' and detention at sea within Australia's migration deterrence policies. The author has addressed key aspects of the reviewers' comments, addressing both the introduction and conclusion to make it clearer and tighter; addressed concerns over repetition; the theoretical contributions are clear; sufficient empirical and background information has been provided for context.


Weaknesses have been addressed.


I recommend publication.

  • validity: -
  • significance: -
  • originality: -
  • clarity: -
  • formatting: -
  • grammar: -

Anonymous Report 1 on 2024-4-4 (Invited Report)


In the opinion of this reviewer, the author has successfully responded to the comments and improved the quality and structure of the paper.

The introduction reads much better; it is tight, concise, and it goes straight to the core of the argument of this paper significantly. Not only the line of argumentation and title but also the engagement with data have been modified and integrated nicely.

Context is clearly introduced both in terms of the specific and broader maritime.

Scope, aim and approach are succinctly and appropriately outlined.

Pages 7 and 8 now provide a historical analysis of coerced migration policies in Australia within the larger context of maritima migration which help identifying how migration governance is similar and/or where it differs from a context to another.

The question of maritime migration and ambiguities/contradictions that characterise border regimes is more comprehensive and builds on the wider debates in the Mediterranean context and elsewhere.

Conclusion is sharp and it provides a nice closure to the discussion.

I would recommend publication for this article soon.


I don't see any particular weakness that shall be highlighted.


I would highly recommend this article for publication.

  • validity: high
  • significance: high
  • originality: high
  • clarity: high
  • formatting: excellent
  • grammar: perfect

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