Authored by: Clare Holdsworth

The Routledge Handbook of Mobilities

Print publication date:  December  2013
Online publication date:  January  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415667715
eBook ISBN: 9781315857572
Adobe ISBN: 9781317934134


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In June 2011 the Australian government announced a softening of its much-criticised attempts to send un-accompanied child asylum seekers to Malaysia, as part of its programme to deter migrants from travelling to Australia. The government had been criticised by both the UN and Human Rights agencies for its attempts to send children to Malaysia. As the Chief Executive of UNESCO in Australia commented, it made the administration look ‘callous and lacking in all forms of compassion’ (The Guardian, 2011). Earlier in the same year the UK coalition government was accused of failing to deliver on its promise to end the detention of child asylum seekers when it announced plans for new centres to detain families refusing to leave the UK (Brown, 2011). These two policy announcements, and the criticisms levelled at governments in how they treat child asylum seekers, reveal underlying tensions about children’s mobility. On the one hand a child embarking on a dangerous and risk-taking journey across international borders unaccompanied is at odds with an ideal of childhood as a time of stability and rootedness. Thus from this perspective children’s mobility would appear to concur with Cresswell’s (2006) notion of a ‘sedentary metaphysics’ of mobility, in which movement is opposed to the need for stability and belonging. The Australian government’s attempt to deport children to Malaysia is deemed callous as children are assumed to be too vulnerable to embark on this kind of journey and it is appropriate to show more compassion towards child asylum seekers. Yet, locking up children is equally abhorrent. Childhood might conjure up ideals of stability, but it is also associated with freedom – that is, freedom to move around and play away from the surveillance of adults and freedom to develop one’s own sense of self-hood in preparation for adulthood.

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