7 Individuals and Groups Outside of the State System

Anna Hayes

Learning Outcomes & Big Ideas

  • Explore and define the term ‘stateless’ and what factors can cause ‘statelessness.’
  • Analyse and discuss the refugee crisis noting the key international conventions related to refugees and state obligations to refugees, including environmental refugees.
  • Compare and contrast statist vs. human security approaches to refugees and asylum seekers.
  • Discuss what is meant by ‘alienated citizenship’ and how it can lead to sub-state terrorism.
  • Compare and contrast statist vs. human security approaches to countering terrorism.


In this chapter the security status of individuals and groups outside of the state system is examined. The chapter begins with an examination of statelessness and its drivers. It then examines the extent and causes of the global refugee crisis, illustrated by case examples from the global north and the global south. Within this discussion, the chapter also explores the relatively new phenomenon of environmental refugees, and how climate change could cause an increase in forced migration as vulnerable populations are compelled to leave their home locales due to climatic changes. In doing so it discusses the precarious situation of environmental refugees, who are still not recognised under the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) definition of a refugee. The chapter then considers vastly different individuals and groups outside of the state system to those mentioned above, namely alienated citizens and terrorists. Avenues leading to the alienation of the citizen from the state are described, including roads towards terrorism and the possible effects of anti-terrorism legislation and strategies on the status of individuals. Case examples from current issues are discussed throughout the chapter.

Chapter Overview

7.1 Introduction

7.2 Individuals and Groups Outside of the State

7.2.1 Refugees and Asylum Seekers

7.2.2 Alienated Citizens and Terrorists

7.3 Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism

7.3.1 Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik

7.3.2 Statelessness and Terrorism: Wafa Idris

7.4 Counter Terrorism, Human Rights and Human Security

7.5 Conclusion

Resources and References

Key Points

Extension Activities & Further Research

List of Terms

Suggested Reading


7.1 Introduction

In 2004, Tom Hanks starred in a movie called The Terminal. Hanks played Viktor Navorski, a character that ends up becoming stateless due to civil war in his home country. This causes him to be denied entry to or exit from the United States (US). Viktor is forced to take up residence in JFK International Airport and the comedy-drama depicts his experiences as a person living outside of the state system. The importance of The Terminal, and its depiction of statelessness however, is that Viktor’s story is based on the real-life story of Mehran Karimi Nasseri, who spent 18 years living in the departure lounge of France’s Terminal One, Charles De Gaulle Airport. Nasseri’s case is an interesting example of statelessness, but it also demonstrates the vulnerability of refugees. After being granted refugee status by Belgium, Iranian-born Nasseri tried to settle in the United Kingdom (UK), which he claimed was his mother’s country of origin. En route to the UK, his documents were stolen in Paris and upon his arrival in Britain he was turned back to France. Thus began his life in the terminal and provided the story upon which the movie was based.

This chapter explores the experiences of individuals and groups outside of the state system. It firstly provides a general overview of the phenomenon of statelessness before focusing its attention on refugees and asylum seekers. In doing so it examines the refugee crisis, current trends in refugee flows worldwide and state responses to refugee movements. It examines the link between refugee outflows and breakdowns in human security, using the Rohingya crisis as a case study. It then critiques Australia’s tough stance against asylum seekers, using the experiences of an asylum seeker (named Michael), who was deported from Australia to dangerous circumstances in his homeland Angola, as a case study. That section also examines the impact of 9/11 on state responses to refugees and asylum seekers, and how states can best address the needs of refugees so they can contribute to their new country of citizenship. It then identifies what is meant by environmental refugees, and how climate change will lead to the rise of environmental refugees if appropriate climate action is not taken.

The chapter then examines other individuals and groups outside of the state system. It focuses on alienated citizens who committed acts of sub-state terrorism, using Timothy McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik as case studies. The two case studies have many similarities, and reflect both McVeigh’s and Breivik’s experiences of alienation and subsequent acts of sub-state terrorism. It then examines statelessness as a motivation for terrorism. In this examination, Wafa Idris, the first female suicide terrorist of the Second Intifada, provides our case study. Idris’ act of terrorism brought attention to Palestinian statelessness, and it also provides a useful basis for gendered analysis of terrorism and responses to terrorism. The chapter ends with a broad overview of counter terrorism in the 21st century, and the changes to human rights and human insecurities that have resulted. This discussion also highlights what constitutes a human security based approach to countering terrorism.

7.2 Individuals and Groups Outside of the State

An individual or group of individuals who are stateless are not recognised as a national (or a citizen) of any state in the world. As a result, they lack legal recognition. Therefore, they may experience difficulty travelling as they do not have citizenship documents such as a current passport, and they may not be eligible to access education or healthcare services. They may also be prevented from marrying, and they do not have voting rights. Their cumulative experience is one of marginalisation and exclusion. According to Manly and Persaud (2009):

Stateless people are in many ways the ultimate ‘forgotten people’ and identification of statelessness remains a major challenge. Frequently, stateless persons live on the margins of society and are, almost by definition, ‘uncounted.’ (p. 7)

Statelessness can result from war, conflict, persecution and natural disasters (see Case Study 7.1). For some individuals and groups, statelessness is temporary, and they are able to return to their former residence, resuming their citizenship and nationality once the situation that caused them to flee has been resolved or its effects muted. Others however, may never be able to return to their home country. At the close of 2017, the UNHCR reported there were 3.9 million identified stateless individuals worldwide (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 51) (See Table 7.1). However, if we take into consideration unreported or unidentified stateless individuals, the UNHCR believes that the total number of stateless individuals worldwide is much higher, possibly in the vicinity of 10 million people (UNHCR, 2018a).

Table 7.1 Identified stateless persons, 2005–2017[1]
2005 2.3 million
2006 5.8 million
2007 2.9 million
2008 6.5 million
2009 6.5 million
2010 3.4 million
2011 3.4 million
2012 3.3 million
2013 3.4 million
2014 3.4 million
2015 3.6 million
2016 3.2 million
2017 3.9 million

Stateless individuals experience heightened human insecurity. In addition to impinging on the above mentioned rights and facilities, statelessness increases an individual’s vulnerability to violence, rape, disease, starvation, gross human rights violations, and human trafficking for labour and sexual servitude. There have been attempts to provide legal frameworks around the protection of stateless peoples, beginning with the Nansen passport, issued by the League of Nations during the 1920s and 1930s to protect stateless refugees displaced by World War I. The UN followed up with the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Stateless individuals are also covered by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and there are specific statements related to statelessness in both the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1979). However, if we consider the large number of stateless individuals worldwide, and the persistently inadequate state responses to stateless persons, there currently does not appear to be an effective model for adequately responding to the human rights and human security needs of individuals outside of the state system (van Waas, 2009). Also, not all states worldwide are party to these conventions, so they do not uphold them or fulfil their responsibilities to stateless individuals who enter their state. Therefore, more work will need to be done in order to compel states to respond to issues of statelessness into the 21st century.


The Rohingya Refugee Crisis: Statelessness and Human Insecurity

The Rohingya people have lived in the Rakhine State in Myanmar (Burma) for centuries. However, as a predominantly Muslim population, their position within the modern state of Myanmar has been marred by anti-Muslim prejudice, discrimination, marginalisation, human rights violations, and statelessness (Ahsan Ullah, 2016).

Following changes to its citizenship laws in 1982, ethnicity in Myanmar became increasingly politicised (Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017). The changes were introduced under the military dictator General Ne Win, who came to power in 1962 in a coup d’état. General Ne Win’s changes meant that citizenship became based on ethnicity, with categories of citizenship including citizens (predominantly Buddhist Burmans); associate citizens and naturalised citizens. Under Section 6 of the Act, Rohingyas should have been able to acquire citizenship under the categories of either associate or naturalised citizens (having previously held citizenship in Burma post 1948). However, lack of official documentation to prove their ancestry in Burma, meant they were denied citizenship and many Rohingyas became stateless peoples (Ahsan Ullah 2016). The resultant statelessness has meant that the Rohingyas have been denied civil and political rights for decades (Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017).

Moreover, ethnicised politics has heightened insecurity for Rohingyas. There have been deliberately exclusive nationalist slogans such as ‘Burma for the Burmans,’ ‘to be Burman is to be Buddhist,’ and anti-Muslim riots targeting Rohingyas. In addition, in 1978 the Burmese military launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya (and other ethnic minority groups), resulting in torture, murder and rape being carried out against Myanmar’s Muslim population (Ahsan Ullah, 2016, p. 289). This was not the first time such violence against Rohingyas has occurred. There have been a number of expulsions of Rohingya from Burma to neighbouring countries, including in the late 1700s, early 1800s, the 1940s, 1978, 2012 and in 2015. Regional history and colonial experiences coalesce into a potent mix when it comes to Myanmar and this has contributed to significant difficulties in Myanmar’s sense of national unity as a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. Put simply, to be Burmese and to be Buddhist simply does not reflect the ethnic and religious make-up of the state, despite strong desires from the state’s pro-Buddhist agitators.

The most recent outbreak of violence and expulsion of the Rohingyas began in late 2016, continuing into 2017. Following attacks on police stations and an army base in October 2016 by the armed ethno-nationalist insurgent group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, Myanmar’s armed forces launched a brutal retaliatory campaign against not only the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army but the Rohingya civilian population of Myanmar. Satellite imagery and first-hand accounts by those fleeing signal there has been widespread burning of Rohingya homes and communities, threats of violence to those who have not immediately fled to Bangladesh, torture, extrajudicial killings, and systematic rape of Rohingya girls and women by security forces (UNHCR, 2018a; Beyrer & Kamarulzaman, 2017).

Known worldwide as the ‘Rohingya Refugee Crisis’, by the end of 2017 the number of Rohingya forced to flee the Rakhine State numbered 655,500 (UNHCR 2018a). This expulsion constitutes ethnic cleansing. It has been estimated that of those who have fled, 25% are women, 20% are men, and 55% are children (UNHCR, 2018a). In his assessment of the situation, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi (cited in UNHCR, 2018a, p. 25) concluded:

Nowhere is the link between statelessness and displacement more evident than for the Rohingya community of Myanmar, for whom denial of citizenship is a key aspect of the entrenched discrimination and exclusion that have shaped their plight for decades.

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has been strongly criticised for her ongoing silence on the persecution of the Rohingyas and the resultant refugee crisis. There have also been strong calls for her to be stripped of her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded for her “non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights” (Nobel Foundation 2018). According to Olav Njoelstad, the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, Aung San Suu Kyi will not be stripped of her prize as each award is for the achievements of the recipient up until it is awarded (cited in Reuters, 2018). Furthermore, the rules regulating the Nobel prizes do not contain avenues for the withdrawal of previously awarded prizes. In the meantime, the State Counsellor’s silence on the Rohingya refugee crisis continues and there are now more than 930,000 Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 24).

Currently, responses to statelessness often lack political will and effective state-based solutions. This has resulted in increased human insecurity and prolonged suffering for those affected. According to Manly and Persaud (2009, p. 7) the UNHCR cannot replace the state, largely because of the continuing dominance of the state in an international structure that is predominantly shaped by realism. Therefore, durable state-based solutions are necessary in dealing with this humanitarian crisis, ones that focus on human rights and human security. States are the first stage in the prevention of statelessness. This requires them to respect and uphold the human rights and security of their citizens. In areas where stateless citizens make up much of the social fabric of a state, citizenship campaigns that provide citizenship to such peoples should be undertaken.

In 2003, 190,000 Indian Tamils were finally provided citizenship in Sri Lanka (Manly & Persaud, 2009). The Indian Tamils are also known as ‘Estate Tamils’ or ‘plantation Tamils’ because they were brought to Sri Lanka from India by the British as bonded labour in the 19th century to work on tea and coffee plantations (Manly & Persaud, 2009). Accounting for approximately five percent of the overall population, Indian Tamils have long been stateless peoples in Sri Lanka. While there had been an earlier granting of citizenship to some, it took until 2003 for all remaining Indian Tamils to gain citizenship, thereby removing their statelessness. The role of colonialism in the region, and forced labour migration as part of colonial control, is important here as it left the Indian Tamils in a situation of statelessness, and significant human insecurity, for generations. Therefore, it is important for us to consider how historical events continue to impact the human security of populations globally, particularly those in the global south.

Following formal recognition of their citizenship within Sri Lanka, Indian Tamils now have access to services and support provided by the state, and they now have political and voting rights, which were previously denied to them. For the Sri Lankan state, it can now refocus its efforts on the inclusion of the Indian Tamils as citizens of their state, not excluding/ overlooking them on the basis of their lack of citizenship or perceived illegality. It has also eased some of the ethnic tensions that existed among the wider Sri Lankan community, which had seen strong cleavages based on ethnicity, caste and citizenship status (or lack thereof) between the Sinhalese majority, the Sri Lankan Tamils (who were already recognised citizens of Sri Lanka), and the Indian Tamils (Shastri, 1999; Hollup, 1992). This example demonstrates an effective state-based response to statelessness within host state borders.

Scholars such as Steiner (2009) see amnesties, that is, the granting of citizenship to stateless persons within a host state, as a tangible solution to state concerns over illegal immigrants. Steiner posits quite succinctly “[a] final way to get rid of illegal immigrants is to make them legal” (2009, p. 39). In fact, the US has used amnesty programmes in the past to legalise illegal immigrants to the extent that by 2000, 5.7 million illegal immigrants had been legalised via such amnesties (Steiner, 2009). However, more recent efforts to provide similar amnesty programmes have not been supported.[2] The US and Sri Lanka are not alone in passing such amnesty programmes in the past. According to Steiner, since the 1990s Greece, Spain and Italy have all passed amnesty programmes to help solve the problems associated with the marginalisation and illegality of immigrants within their borders, many of whom are contributors to the state’s labour market. Furthermore, by granting such stateless persons citizenship rights through amnesties, their labour can be unionised (as they are no longer illegal workers in a black market trade). This is beneficial not only to the formerly stateless workers, who are often victims of exploitative work conditions, but it also ensures more fair and equitable working conditions for all workers as it removes the threat of labour displacement and wage depression, which can result in areas of a large black market labour force.

We now turn our examination to refugees and asylum seekers. These groups constitute a significant proportion of the world’s stateless people. They often face insurmountable obstacles in their quest for human security, and we will consider a range of factors relevant to them as individuals or groups outside of the state system.

7.2.1 Refugees and Asylum Seekers

It was the League of Nations that first articulated (albeit limited) protection rights for refugees. Conflicts in the early part of the 20th century saw many people in need of sanctuary as they fled violence and persecution. When the League was dissolved in 1946, it was replaced by the newly established UN. In an attempt to respond to the huge numbers of people displaced by the Second World War, the UN appointed the UNHCR in 1950, replacing the League’s International Refugee Organisation. Also at that time, the UN set about to codify what constituted a refugee and what the international society’s obligations to refugees should be. In 1951, the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees was finalised and approved by the United Nations. It came into force in 1954. According to the original Convention, a refugee is any person who:

owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (UNHCR, 2010, Article 1 (A) (2) 1951 Convention, p. 14)

The 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees made slight, but important, amendments to the original convention. The ultimate goal of the Protocol was to widen the scope of the convention to make it a more objective definition representing the range of threats that had emerged since the refugee convention was first envisioned. The Convention also inspired the codification of other regional conventions including the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention in Africa and the 1984 Latin American Cartagena Declaration. However, these conventions have been criticised for not adequately including gender-based vulnerabilities such as female genital mutilation, laws that prohibit or punish gay and lesbian sexual orientations, women and girls being denied education or the ability to work outside of the home, for example, all of which may cause people subjected to such persecutions to flee their country, seeking asylum elsewhere. Currently, these types of issues are examined on a case-by-case basis, which does not inspire confidence that people in these groups will be protected.

The 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol, known collectively as the Refugees Convention, are important as they identified that foreign nationals seeking asylum must be granted the same types of human rights as those normally experienced by citizens of a state. Therefore, the statelessness of refugees does not abolish their human rights. In addition, the international society of states must uphold those rights and protect refugees, regardless of their statelessness. The Convention recognises that this can only be achieved through international burden sharing, one that signatories of the Convention have committed to uphold.

There are currently 147 signatories to the Convention and/or Protocol, including both developed and developing states in the global north and the global south. By ratifying the Convention and/or Protocol, these governments have indicated their willingness to provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and to honour and uphold their human rights. If we consider the obligations of states to asylum seekers and refugees, and we contrast this with current state responses to asylum seekers and refugees, the following questions should be asked. Why are refugees and asylum seekers increasingly being viewed through the lens of illegality? What rights do they have to seek asylum? How do state responses to asylum seekers uphold or contravene their human rights and human security?

In recent years, refugee flows have attracted heightened attention from governments and citizens of many states around the world. Asylum seekers however, have also attracted significant attention. Asylum seekers are those fleeing persecution who have not yet been formally declared refugees by the UNHCR or other governing body. This is usually because they are unable to access a UNHCR camp near where they live and are therefore forced to flee persecution by crossing state borders, often without travel documents or travel permits. While this is also a right enshrined by the Refugees Convention, asylum seekers have increasingly been associated with ‘illegality’ and they are often wrongly viewed as being economic migrants, not refugees.

In 1995, the world refugee population peaked at more than 27 million. This is an unsurprising figure if we consider the events that were occurring around that time. The Cold War had recently ended, the USSR had broken up, and there was a revival in some areas of ethnic tensions, rivalry, nationalism and ultra-nationalism. The Persian Gulf War (1990-1991) had driven five million people to flee persecution. Throughout the 1990s, almost three million people fled persecution in the former Yugoslavia, and the Rwandan Genocide (1994) sent over two million refugees into neighbouring countries. In addition to these specific events, civil wars and instability throughout many areas of the world were also causing people to flee persecution in droves. Complicating the situation further was that the end of the Cold War meant that capitalist states no longer regarded there to be an ideological need to accept refugees, many of whom were from developing countries. This contrasted from previous policy positions, which on occasions had seen Cold War politics influence state acceptance of refugee flows, particularly if the refugees were from communist states (Human Security Centre, 2005).

Table 7.2 Hosting countries of refugees, 2017[3]
Turkey 3.5 million
Pakistan 1.4 million
Uganda 1.4 million
Lebanon 989,900
Islamic Republic of Iran 979,400
Germany 970,400
Bangladesh 932,200
Sudan 906,600
Ethiopia 889,400
Jordan 691,000

Following the 1995 peak, the numbers of refugees decreased to 15.4 million by the close of 2010 (UNHCR, 2011, p. 5). However, recent conflicts have increased numbers and at the close of 2017 the UNHCR (2018a, p. 13) estimated there were 25.4 million refugees worldwide (including 5.4 million Palestinian refugees who are under the care of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East). In addition, there were 3.1 million applications for asylum still under consideration and 40 million internally displaced people (IDP) (UNHCR, 2018a, pp. 3 & 33). The major refugee hosting countries at the close of 2017 were Turkey, followed by Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Germany, Bangladesh, Sudan, Ethiopia and Jordan (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 18) (see Table 7.2). The Syrian Arab Republic is the largest country of origin for current refugees (6.3 million people, almost one-third of all refugees), followed by Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar (see Case Study 7.1), Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, Eritrea and Burundi (UNHCR, 2018a, p. 14) (see Table 7.3). What is important to note about these countries is that they are all areas of conflict, including sites in the ongoing War on Terror, or states that do not uphold human rights for their citizens. Human insecurity is rife in these states. Therefore, it is not surprising that their citizens have been forced to flee persecution.

Table 7.3 Major origin countries of refugees, 2017[4]
Syrian Arab Republic 6.3 million
Afghanistan 2.6 million
South Sudan 2.4 million
Myanmar 1.2 million
Somalia 986,400
Sudan 694,600
Democratic Republic of Congo 620,800
Central African Republic 545,500
Eritrea 486,200
Burundi 439,300

Asylum seekers are regularly incorrectly labelled in both political discourse and media reports as ‘illegal aliens/immigrant’ and ‘queue jumpers,’ and states such as the US, the UK and Australia have introduced mandatory detention as part of their processing procedures. Increasingly, refugees and asylum seekers are being viewed as security threats to both the state and its citizens. Post 9/11, tightened immigration controls and increasing xenophobia have led traditional safe havens to close their doors to refugees and asylum seekers. The human security and the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers are increasingly being challenged and overturned, and many asylum seekers and refugees face years in camps and detention centres before being granted sanctuary and citizenship rights (if these rights are in fact granted at all) by receiving states.

In Australia, the US and the UK, there has also been a tendency to view the current ‘refugee crisis’ and numbers of asylum seekers as rapidly increasing to widespread proportions, and that they are seeking to migrate to countries in the global north for purely economic reasons. The above statistics demonstrate that while numbers of refugees are increasing, they are increasing in places experiencing conflict, war and violence, and with the exception of Germany, they are mainly being hosted by other states in the global south. In addition, over the past few decades the US, the UK and Australia have all become increasingly focused on tightening border security, even when it comes to asylum seekers. These states hold the misperception that they are being ‘swamped’ by ‘waves’ of asylum seekers and refugees. However, this is simply not the case, and closer examination of refugee statistics above attest it is neighbouring states to the conflict or crisis that are shouldering the largest hosting responsibility (see Table 7.2 and Table 7.3).

Table 7.4 Number of refugees and peoples of concern, 2000–2017[5]
2000 12.1 million 21.8 million
2001 12.1 million 19.9 million
2002 10.5 million 20.8 million
2003 9.5 million 17 million
2004 9.5 million 19.5 million
2005 8.6 million 21 million
2006 9.8 million 32.8 million
2007 11.3 million 31.6 million
2008 10.4 million 34.4 million
2009 10.3 million 36.4 million
2010 10.5 million 33.9 million
2011 10.4 million 35.4 million
2012 10.4 million 35.8 million
2013 11.6 million 42.8 million
2014 14.3 million 54.9 million
2015 16.1 million 63.9 million
2016 17.1 million 67.7 million
2017 25.4 million 68.5 million

Closer examination of refugee numbers demonstrates they have waxed and waned over the past seventeen years in direct correlation to global insecurity and areas of conflict (see Table 7.4). This is also evident when examining the number of ‘persons of concern,’ mainly comprising of internally displaced persons, stateless persons or people seeking asylum, over the same period. Overall, these figures demonstrate the correlation between human insecurity and population outflows, either inside the state (internal displacement) or across state borders as refugees and asylum seekers. If we reconsider the previously mentioned major hosting states we see further evidence that a large flow of refugees from the global south to the global north is simply not reflected in current statistics on refugee flows. Instead, it is typically neighbouring states to the conflict that shoulder the heaviest population outflows.

Furthermore, if we compare states such as the US[6], the UK [7], and Australia [8] to Turkey, Pakistan and Uganda, the above figures demonstrate that the former states are receiving far fewer asylum seekers and refugees than the latter states. Also worrisome is that in Australia, failed attempts at asylum have seen asylum seekers facing deportation back to their former homes (see Case Study 7.2). Some failed asylum seekers have even committed suicide in detention, rather than be expelled from Australia and forced to return home. Non-refoulement, which is the principle that people should not be sent back to countries where they face persecution, has become binding international law.


The Long Journey to Freedom

Michael, a Bakango man from Angola, was interviewed by researchers investigating examples of the Australian government deporting asylum seekers on the grounds that they did not qualify as refugees. He told them he had fled Angola as he was well-known for having opposed the Angolan government during the civil war and for refusing to act as a government spy. With the help of a friend, Michael fled Angola by plane, claiming asylum upon arrival.

He was interviewed by a representative from the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), and then placed in mandatory detention for the next three and a half years. During his detention, Michael took part in a protest at the detention centre, and was then sent to a prison for a period of time. While in prison he was raped twice, before being sent back to the detention centre.

The Federal Court ruled twice in favour of Michael fulfilling the categorisation of being a refugee in need of protection. However, on both occasions the Refugee Review Tribunal rejected these decisions. With only one day’s notice, Michael was deported from Australia in 2000. DIMIA sent Michael to South Africa where they engaged the services of a private company, P&I (Protecting and Indemnity) to repatriate him. P&I first tried to send him to the Democratic Republic of Congo, but Michael refused to travel and he was then held in a cell at the airport. Michael demanded to see the Angolan Ambassador, who confirmed that he was in fact Angolan, but the Angolan officials who visited Michael told him he should return to Australia as his safety could not be guaranteed should he return to Angola. Although Amnesty International tried to help Michael, the Australian government refused his requests for assistance.

Michael was held in the cell for three days before being repatriated to Angola. Upon his return he was immediately incarcerated for being anti-government, and for fleeing Angola and claiming refugee status in a foreign country. Before leaving Australia, a friend had given Michael some money. After three months in jail he was able to bribe a prison guard to allow him to escape. He took refuge in a remote part of Angola, away from his hometown. The same friend then provided further assistance to Michael and he was able to go to another global north country. This country accepted his claim for refugee status after just six months and when interviewed, Michael was adjusting to life in a safe location, he was learning to become a brick layer, and he was hoping to be reunited with his wife and child who still lived in Angola, through a family reunification scheme.

Michael’s story demonstrates a failure by the Australian government to not only uphold its obligations as a signatory of the Refugees Convention, but also to recognise decisions made in courts of law that rule in favour of an asylum seeker proving they are a legitimate refugee. It also demonstrates that Australia has contravened the non-refoulement principles of the Convention. The report that contains Michael’s account found that of the 40 rejected and deported asylum seekers that the researchers spoke to, only five were found to be living in safe circumstances. This does not represent a commitment to human rights or an honouring of Australia’s commitment to stateless peoples (Glendenning et al., 2004).

Over the past decade, Australia has faced increasing scrutiny due to the high rates of self-harm and suicide by asylum seekers in detention. After years of advocacy by human rights and refugee groups, and some prominent Australian politicians, in July 2011, the Commonwealth Ombudsman announced that an inquiry into the high rates of self-harm and suicide in detention would be undertaken. Despite the findings of inquiry, which recommended the maximum period of detention for asylum seekers should be 90 days and that “prolonged detention exacts a heavy toll on people, most particularly on their mental health and wellbeing” (Commonwealth of Australia, 2012, p. X), Australia maintains its tough stance towards asylum seekers, particularly irregular maritime arrivals. Excessive time spent in detention, numbering in the years rather than months or days, offshore processing, and documented sexual and physical abuse of detainees, as well as serious mental health issues resulting from detention including self-harm and suicide are features of Australia’s continuing treatment of asylum seekers. These practices reflect the enmeshment of Australia’s approach to asylum seekers with domestic politics, to successive governments wanting to prove their tough security credentials to domestic electorates by honing in on vulnerable asylum seekers (Archbold, 2015; Tazreiter, 2017). These practices also demonstrate that Australia is not upholding its responsibilities under the Refugees Convention.

The Commission on Human Security (2003) believes that solutions to refugee crises need to firstly consider if their former homeland has transitioned to peace and security. If this has occurred, refugees should be offered the option of voluntary repatriation and resettlement. In areas where this cannot be achieved, perhaps because conflict is ongoing or refugees feel unable to return to their former home, resettlement in a new state should be pursued. This requires cooperation from states to accept refugees into their overall immigration programme. All too often, the focus on refugees settles on their vulnerability and their perceived ‘burden’ to the state. While refugees face increased human insecurity before and during their escape from persecution, once they are provided sanctuary and citizenship in their new locale they should be considered a valuable and contributing member of that state and society. According to the Human Security Now report (Commission on Human Security, 2003), some of the areas that require attention by receiving states include:

establishing secure livelihoods [for refugees], protecting people against downside risks, reducing inequalities among communities, strengthening governance and respecting human rights. (p. 48)

If we consider Michael’s story from Case Study 7.2, after settling in a safe location, one that honoured his human rights and human security, Michael undertook employment training so he could become a settled member of his new state. Increasingly however, states are closing their doors to refugees. As previously mentioned, the post-9/11 political and security climate has seen states like the US, Canada and Australia restrict their intakes of refugees. In fact, the Commission on Human Security (2003, p. 48; Refugee Processing Centre, 2019) reported that the US refugee resettlement figures dropped from 69,886 in 2001 to just 27,131 in 2002 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the more rigorous security checks that resulted.

However, in addition to the above mentioned human insecurities and persecutions, which force people to flee their homes, the link between environmental insecurity and forced migration also warrants consideration. Myers and Kent (1995, p. 18) defined environmental refugees as “persons who no longer gain a secure livelihood in their traditional homelands because of what are primarily environmental factors of unusual scope.” They argued that should scientific predictions on the effects of a climate out of equilibrium come to pass, climate change could cause substantial increases in refugee, asylum seeker, and IDP numbers in affected areas.

People in low-lying atoll/island states throughout the Pacific have been identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels. Similarly, people in other low-lying areas such as Haiti, Bangladesh, Vietnam and India (to name a few) are also expected to be affected by rising sea levels. However, climate change will also cause more lengthy and recurrent droughts (as has been witnessed in countries in the Sahel and Horn of Africa), desertification, more damaging and intensive cyclones/typhoons/hurricanes, and other climatic changes. Therefore, it is increasingly likely that environmental/climate change-induced migration will grow into the future, should environmental insecurity grow as anticipated. In spite of this, the UNHCR does not currently include environmental refugees into its mandate or definition of refugees, and there is ongoing debate over their status, or not, as refugees.

On the other hand, scholars such as Mortreux and Barnett (2009, p. 111) argue the impacts of climate change on populations may be less severe than expected. Their research has demonstrated that people “respond to events (such as climate change)” and that adaptation (adapting to rising sea levels for example) could mean that population flows may not be as numerous as currently predicted. While this is a fairly optimistic viewpoint of future scenarios for vulnerable populations, other scholars such as Urosevic (2009) believe that there must be more focused analysis of the plight, and inclusion, of environmental refugees in the existing UNHCR refugee mandate. According to Urosevic, the UNHCR is the logical organisation to respond to environmental refugees, and that a protocol, like the 1967 Protocol, should be passed so as to expand the Convention to specifically include environmental refugees. Such a protocol would be most pertinent in assuring the human security of affected and vulnerable populations, particularly those forced to flee as environmental refugees. This has not yet been achieved however, and the UNHCR acknowledges that environmental refugees are not covered by the existing Refugees Convention. This acknowledgement occurs alongside statements that the UNHCR expects both displacement and human insecurity to grow alongside increasing environmental insecurity worldwide.

At present, the UNHCR promotes planned environmental migration to be mainstreamed within climate change mitigation and adaptation policies (UNHCR, 2015, p. 12). This type of migration refers to vulnerable populations being relocated under planned migration strategies by the state in which they live, resulting in a forced internal displacement, but one that is planned, staged and carefully managed rather than an abrupt forced migration like what occurs during periods of conflict or sudden catastrophe. However, this is not an easy undertaking, especially for states within the global south. Furthermore, even with such a planned approach to migration, forced migration of any kind can lead to increased human insecurity and tensions between the migrating and receiving populations if resources are scarce or if numbers are significant, even if they reside within the same state.

In their examination of environmental migration in Papua New Guinea, Connell and Lutkehaus (2017) explored the forced migration of Manam Islanders within Papua New Guinea. Manam Island is located about 12 kilometres from the New Guinea mainland and it is an inhabited volcanic island. There have been many eruptions in the past, whereby Manam Islanders have temporarily evacuated to the mainland by canoe and as a result they had forged good relations with the coastal communities on the mainland. Such evacuations usually involved just a couple of affected villages (perhaps two or three out of the fifteen villages) to one occasion in 1957-1958 whereby the whole island had to evacuate. Furthermore, these evacuations were only temporary and the Manam Islanders returned to their island once the volcanic activity had subsided.

In 2004/2005, all 10,000 Manam Islanders were forced to suddenly evacuate the island following a major volcanic eruption. The length of time of their stay and their numbers overwhelmed the host population, leading to a significant drain on available resources, which strained relations. Within six months of their resettlement on the mainland, social tensions between the two groups began to increase, as did human insecurity, and violent conflicts led to some deaths. Even though volcanologists have identified the volcano to be an ongoing environmental hazard, by 2015 several thousand Manam Islanders had returned to Manam Island, despite it no longer receiving government support or facilities. They have been motivated to return, despite the dangers, due to a range of factors including kinship and traditional connections to their traditional land, the experiences of dislocation from their land and the inability to acclimate to mainland life which is very different to island life, right through to the ongoing tensions in the host communities on the mainland.

Further volcanic activity and eruptions could see more dislocation for returned Manam Islanders into the future. Together with supporting Manam Islanders who have stayed on the mainland, the plight of the returned Manam Islanders requires careful management by Papuan authorities. For our purposes, the Manam Island experience is useful in demonstrating that migrations like these, even when occurring within state borders, have the potential to exacerbate human insecurity among both evacuated and receiving populations. Therefore, prevention of the need for such relocation in the first place makes more sense than accepting such an outcome as a fait accompli. While this example was a sudden migration due to volcanic activity, the experiences of both populations are likely to be similar for low-lying populations who, due to rising sea levels, face forced resettlement from islands or low-lying coastal regions, to the mainland or higher ground. Even staged environmental migration, like that proposed by the UNHCR, is likely to cause adjustment problems, especially if it is not well managed or supported. This will be a significance governance issue for many states in the global south into the coming decades as the predicted sea level rises begin to alter where habitation of such low-lying areas is able to occur.

One such state that has begun its preparedness for such an eventuation is the small atoll state of Kiribati in the Pacific. In 2014, the Kiribati government bought land on one of Fiji’s islands as a protective measure for their population should rising sea levels make their own atolls uninhabitable (Caramel, 2014; Connell & Lutkehaus, 2017). While this transaction provides some refuge for the peoples of Kiribati should they have to leave their atoll homeland, the act itself will render them stateless as sovereignty does not transfer to the land thereby making them stateless peoples living in Fiji. When interviewed about the purchase and the anticipated environmental migration that drove such a decision, the President of Kiribati Anote Tong stated “We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it” (cited in Caramel, 2014). Forced migration due to environmental insecurity is an issue that could increase both human and state insecurity into the future, and if whole populations from low-lying states like Kiribati have to relocate, statelessness will also result.

In addition to those individuals or groups outside of the state system discussed above, some individuals and groups within a state system may feel that they are politically, socially, culturally or morally excluded from that system. This can lead to increased human insecurity in states, particularly if such individuals or groups resort to violent means to enhance their perceived security. We now turn our attention to such individuals or groups who perceive themselves to be outside of the state system, although, sometimes they are physically located inside the state from which they feel removed.

7.2.2 Alienated Citizens and Terrorists

This section examines a very different category of individuals and groups outside of the state system – alienated citizens and terrorists. We include these groups in our analysis because they too occupy a position of statelessness, although this sometimes is a self-imposed statelessness. A citizen of a state can become alienated for a number of reasons. Taxation, domestic and foreign policies passed by the government, or building regulations are but a few examples of the types of things that can annoy the everyday citizens of a state from time to time. For most citizens, these types of issues will not cause them to turn to extreme measures. Instead, they will simply accept them as day-to-day matters, annoying but not threatening. Other citizens however, may see issues such as these to be a full frontal attack on their freedom, religion, culture, or their perceived national identity. Their concerns may lead them to a more extreme response as they become more marginalised from mainstream or centrist views on issues. They may become alienated from their family, friends and wider society, instead seeking out like-minded others. This can cause them to desire social and/or political change, even through the use of force or terrorist acts. These alienated citizens-turned-terrorists can then pose direct threats to their own state and its citizens, as well as to other states and citizens whom they regard as threats to their own interests and/or home state interests.

7.3 Alienated Citizenship and Sub-state Terrorism

7.3.1 Timothy McVeigh and Anders Breivik

If we consider Timothy McVeigh, and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, we can see the extreme lengths some alienated citizens can go to in trying to get their message across. McVeigh was motivated and called to action by his involvement in the American militia movement, a movement which claims to be legitimate, constitutionally-backed, and acting in the best interests of the US and its citizens (Crothers, 2002). Militias have significant historical roots in the US, dating back to the American War of Independence (1775-1783). According to Crothers (2002), apart from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and the John Birch Society, both of which have a long and continuous history in the US, America’s modern-day militia movement began around 1994, and was spearheaded by citizens who were concerned by the Ruby Ridge incident (1992) [9] and the Waco incident (1993) [10] For the modern day militias, these two incidents were seen as evidence of the corruption of the US government, and they, the ‘sovereign citizens’ Sovereign citizens are defined by Crothers (2002, p. 229) as “those whose forebears entered into the social contract that created the US Constitution.” This classification excludes any Americans whose forbears were not present at the time of the American War of Independence, most Native Americans and African Americans, as well as those who have migrated to the US since that time, regardless of the length of time their families have lived in the US, which could be generations. According to the militias, only sovereign citizens have the right to evaluate, sanction or abolish actions/decisions made by the government. Therefore, there are many US citizens, who have long lived in the US and participated in its nation building process, who are excluded by this limited definition. [/footnote] of America, had a duty to all Americans to challenge the illegal actions of the government. Timothy McVeigh, a former US soldier and militia sympathiser, heeded this call to arms and on 19 April 1995, with earlier assistance from his accomplices Terry Nichols and Michael and Lori Fortier, McVeigh bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building, a Federal government complex. The bombing killed 168 people, including 19 babies and children in attendance at the childcare centre housed within the building. In 2001, McVeigh was executed by lethal injection for his crime.

Until 9/11, the Oklahoma City bombing was the worst terrorist attack on US soil. McVeigh’s attack represented sub-state terrorism or terrorism from below (Haynes et al., 2011). It was not an act of political violence committed by an ‘outsider’. Instead, Americans were challenged when they learned that US citizens had planned and committed the bombing. The ultimate goal of sub-state terrorism is the formation of a new society and system of governance. It is believed this can be achieved by directly attacking the state, thereby bringing down existing governance systems. However, it can also be used to garner attention and sympathy to a particular cause. While McVeigh’s act of terror was a direct attack on the US government for perceived suppression of far-right groups, it is unlikely that he believed his actions would bring about change. Rather, the act of terrorism would attract national and global attention to McVeigh’s cause (D’Anieri, 2011). However, was McVeigh motivated purely by his involvement in the militia movement?

McVeigh has been characterised as an “angry young man…from a broken family” who found camaraderie in his membership of the fringe culture of “American Patriots” (Whittaker, 2004, p. 63). Prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh had already started to self-isolate by buying land and building a bunker-style complex on it when he was just 20 years old. According to Whittaker (2004), prior to Ruby Ridge and Waco, McVeigh’s anger was already directed toward “the White House, Communist fellow-travellers, Jews and blacks” (p. 64) and after active service in the first Gulf War, his fellow soldiers became a target, with McVeigh labelling them “sickos” (p. 64) for their violence on the front line and at base. In a local paper, McVeigh vented his anti-government rage stating: “America is in serious decline and I am too. Do we have to shed blood to reform the present system? I hope not—but it might be so” (cited in Whittaker, 2004, p. 65).

Clearly, McVeigh was troubled by both his early home-life, his experiences in the military, and by what he felt America had become—a departure from his patriotic notions of the ‘real America’ he belonged to. If we compare McVeigh and Anders Behring Breivik, another sub-state terrorist, who confessed to committing the 22 July 2011 Oslo bombing and the massacre on the island of Utøya (Hewitt, 2011) we see striking similarities in their roads from alienation to sub-state terrorism.

Like McVeigh, Breivik’s bombing target was a government building, driven by his anger towards government policies on multiculturalism, which he felt made him ‘alienated’ from Norway and threatened his identity. He also had connections to far-right extremist groups, who shared similar views as his own. Under the pen name of Andrew Berwick, Breivik compiled a 1,518 page manifesto detailing his alienation and path to terrorism. He mentions McVeigh in two separate entries, demonstrating his understanding of McVeigh’s motives, how he carried out the attack, and the cost of the attack in a dollar sum (Berwick, 2011, pp. 950, 967). His ideas on immigration and his lack of compassion for asylum seekers are clearly communicated when Breivik praises Australia’s tough stance against asylum seekers, concluding that former Australian Prime Minister John Howard ‘has repeatedly proven to be one of the most sensible leaders in the western world’ for his border control policies (Berwick, 2011, p. 680).

Another commonality with McVeigh is that Breivik could also be described as an ‘angry young man’. His father divorced his mother when Breivik was one year of age, and moved to Paris where he remarried. His father sought custody of Breivik, but he lost the case and Breivik was raised by his mother. Breivik became estranged from his father when he was a teenager and their estrangement continued throughout his adult life (Allen, 2011; BBC, 2012). Breivik’s personal life then, is significant when we examine much of what he included in his manifesto. In it Breivik includes his own, and others’ thoughts, on a range of issues including abortion, custody rights, divorce, eugenics, “servant classes,” feminism, traditional sexual morality, patriarchal societal structures, marriage, and sexually transmitted diseases being endemic across Europe due to “cultural Marxism” (Berwick, 2011). When discussing custody rights, Breivik’s past torment becomes clear. He stated:

Fathers should be favoured (prerogative rights) when child custody cases are decided in courts… The goal is to re-introduce the father as the authority figure and family head and will therefore strengthen the nuclear family. It is estimated that these changes will result in a decline of the divorce rate/broken families by approximately 50%. Furthermore, the father can without fear of being punished by the law, reassert an authority role in the family. Physical disciplinary methods will once again be a factor in the upbringing of children. (Berwick, 2011, p. 1145)

However, these writings provide only part of the story behind Breivik’s alienation. He was also strongly alienated by multiculturalism. In his manifesto, Breivik strongly criticised Europe’s multicultural policies, which he believed had led to “Islamisation” of Europe. He further believed that this would ultimately lead to “Islamic colonisation of Europe” (Berwick, 2011, pp. 5, 8-9). This was a significant motivator for Breivik to commit acts of sub-state terrorism. According to Breivik:

It is not only our right but also our duty to contribute to preserve our identity, our culture and our national sovereignty by preventing the ongoing Islamisation. There is no Resistance Movement if individuals like us refuse to contribute… Multiculturalism (cultural Marxism/political correctness), as you might know, is the root cause of the ongoing Islamisation of Europe which has resulted in the ongoing Islamic colonisation of Europe through demographic warfare (facilitated by our own leaders). (Berwick, 2011, pp. 8-9)

This extract identifies the motives behind Breiviks’s twin attack in Norway. The Oslo bombing killed eight people. The massacre on Utøya killed 69 people, 33 of whom were children below the age of 18, 29 of whom were young people aged between 18 to 25 years of age. The twin attacks by Breivik were aimed at attacking the Norwegian government. Both attacks attest to his alienation, not only personal, but also his strong responses to government policies on multiculturalism and social policy, even referring to the European Union (EU) as the “Eurabian Empire” (Berwick, 2011, p. 311), signalling his belief that the EU was a bedfellow to the Arabian states in the process of ‘Islamisation’. The massacre at Utøya however, demonstrated the lengths to which Breivik’s alienation extended. His intentions on Utøya were to kill the next generation of left-leaning leaders, due to his strong beliefs and convictions about ending multiculturalism and Norway’s social policies. The Utøya camp was hosting the Worker’s Youth League (AUF) of the Labour Party, and Breivik regarded these youth as a political threat to Norway due to their party’s support for multiculturalism and the social policies that Breivik opposed.

Like McVeigh’s attack in Oklahoma City, there have been no noticeable changes to Norway’s immigration or social policies in response to Breivik’s attacks. However, the attacks have seen significant media and political attention on multiculturalism and questions have been raised as to the long term effects and sustainability of multiculturalism. However, rather than leading to Breivik’s goal of ending and even reversing multiculturalism, greater attention has been paid to the intensification of the social inclusion dimensions of multicultural policies, to avoid this kind of racially-motivated attack from re-occurring.

7.3.2 Statelessness and Terrorism: Wafa Idris

As with McVeigh and Breivik, Wafa Idris, an ambulance volunteer and the first female suicide terrorist of the Second Intifada, probably also believed in the righteousness of her actions when she detonated a bomb outside of a shoe store in downtown Jerusalem on 27 January 2002 (Dunn, 2010; Hasso, 2005). In addition to killing herself, the bomb blast killed an Israeli man and injured over 100 people. Idris did not leave behind any writings or videos on her intentions to commit the attack, so we can only speculate on her motivations. She was an active member of Fatah-aligned nationalist Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, however, so her detonation of the bomb can reasonably be viewed as an act of Palestinian militancy, and her attack was followed by a series of female suicide attacks in Israel (Hasso, 2005; Bokhari, 2007). Unlike McVeigh and Breivik however, Wafa Idris was not a citizen of the state she sought to attack – Israel. Instead, she was a Palestinian living in the al-Amri refugee camp. Therefore, the alienation that drove her to commit a terrorist act was one of statelessness, which was compounded by the human rights violations and human insecurity that she and other Palestinians around her experienced.

For Idris, and the 5.4 million other Palestinian refugees registered with the UN at the close of 2017 (UNHCR, 2018a), citizenship remains the issue, along with dispossession and statelessness. The Arabic-speaking Palestinians, who were forced to flee or were expelled from their homes during the 1948 Palestine War, and those who have been expelled or forced to flee since then, have maintained their right of return to the traditional homelands from whence they came. The right of return for Palestinian refugees is articulated in the United Nations UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (11), passed on 11 December 1948. This resolution states:

[T]hat refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbours should be permitted to do so at the earliest predictable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.

Therefore, the terrorist act committed by Idris can also be conceived as an act committed by an individual outside of the state system. Idris was truly a stateless person, born a second generation refugee to refugee parents in the al-Amari refugee camp. Her brother, Khalil Idris, had the following to say about his sister and her actions in Jerusalem:

Wafa was my sister. We were close friends. What she did was a real surprise to us. She’d tell us that someone had been killed and she’d seen his brains splattered all over the place or the inside of someone’s stomach shot out or someone else who’d lost his leg. She was also upset by pregnant women forced to give birth at the checkpoints and then see their babies die there. She was also injured by rubber bullets. These were powerful incentives for her to avenge her people. (cited in Pilger, 2002, n.p.)

It is very likely that Idris was motivated by her own, and ‘her people’s’, the Palestinians’, statelessness and constant human insecurity. She may also have been motivated by the violence and death she witnessed as an ambulance volunteer. Bokhari (2007) believes Idris’ act of terrorism “was arguably prompted by a sense of hopelessness under occupation and rage” (pp. 60-61). Whatever her motivation, Idris’ act of terrorism inspired other women to follow suit, and the ‘Wafa Idris Group’ a martyrdom cell for Palestinian women was formed after her death, and resulted in a wave of female suicide attacks throughout Israel (Hasso, 2005).

The suicide attack by Idris is also noteworthy because it challenged the gender narrative of women needing male protection in times of conflict, and represented a significant call to arms for both Palestinian men and women. As Hasso (2005) has argued, Idris’ act of terrorism also challenged gender assumptions held by Israeli forces that it was male bodies, not Palestinian female bodies, which threatened their security. Furthermore, there was fierce debate among fundamentalist Islamic organisations as to whether or not women could participate in the Palestinian struggle in such a militant way due to the religious principles and traditional Islamic social norms that prevented unmarried men and women from having such close contact with each other, as would be the case in planning and carrying out a suicide attack (Bokhari, 2007; Dunn, 2010). Therefore, the entry of women into what had largely been a male dominated arena, conflict and terrorism, was challenging and confronting to some political and religious leaders.

By targeting civilians who were going about their shopping, Idris’ actions also received a great deal of attention largely focused around the question ‘why.’ Why would a young female ambulance volunteer commit such a brutal act and deliberately try to kill innocent civilians? Separating the Utøya Massacre from the Oslo bombing, McVeigh’s and Breivik’s choices of bombing locations signalled attacks against the government, as they targeted government employees, [11] still innocent civilians, but people who represented the government they were attacking. Idris targeted regular citizens in an indiscriminate fashion (like Breivik did on Utøya), as well as taking her own life in the process. The act of killing people was the statement, albeit linked to Palestinian statehood and to ending the Israeli occupation. This reinforces the findings by Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) who argue that:

[w]hen looking at the genesis of terrorism around the world it always occurs in conjunction with the denial of basic human rights… the basis for terrorism is found in the deprivation of political, subsistence, and security rights, and therefore any policy designed to decrease terrorism necessarily implies addressing these rights.’ (p. 774)

The recruitment of women into suicide terrorism has proven to be an innovative, inexpensive and effective political tool. However, female suicide attacks remain a rare occurrence globally, with estimates suggesting that between 1982 and 2015, only nine percent of suicide attacks were carried out by female suicide terrorists, and they were mostly located in the Middle East (Thomas, 2018, p. 513). The recruitment of women is innovative and inexpensive in the sense that women are not generally viewed as threats due to the gender roles ascribed to women, which regard them as passive, weak and nurturers. Therefore, women can pass more easily through checkpoints than their male counterparts, allowing them to get closer to their intended targets and increasing the success of their suicide attack (Thomas, 2018, p. 514). Therefore, by simply recruiting women, terrorist groups can increase their chances of success and potentially, the lethality of their attacks without any significant outlay on equipment or deflection techniques.

Female suicide terrorists are an effective political tool in the sense that they draw greater attention to ‘the cause’ compared to their male counterparts. For example, because Idris was a woman, her act of terrorism drew more attention to the human insecurity and persecution of the Palestinians than may have resulted had the act of suicide terrorism been committed by a male suicide terrorist. Due to the identified gender stereotypes, when a woman commits a suicide terrorist act, attempts to rationalise the act sees much focus drawn to the social context – Why did she commit such an act? What drove her to such a decision? As part of this attempt at rationalising the act, death tolls become a secondary concern. Instead, the focus centres on an attempt to understand what could have caused, in Idris’ case, an attractive, educated, young woman to take her own life and the lives of others (Bokhari, 2007). If we consider Bueno de Mesquita’s (2000) definition that terrorism is aimed at the “spread of fear and anxiety (terror) through a population so that it will, in turn, put pressure on its leaders to change policies in a way favoured by terrorists” (p. 339), female terrorists are very effective in achieving these goals. By committing terrorist acts, they draw attention to the problems, human insecurities and prolonged conflict situations that lead to such extreme acts in the first instance. This point was reflected in media reports about Idris following the attack. They reported on her life under Israeli occupation and on the Palestinian struggle, drawing considerable attention and some sympathy to Idris’ cause.[12]

Although it is not a new phenomenon, terrorism has become a serious threat to human and state security in the 21st century. Increasingly, states are grappling with how best to respond to terrorists and how to prevent future attacks from occurring. We now turn our attention to counter terrorism, in particular, the impact of counter terrorism measures on individuals and groups.

7.4 Counter Terrorism, Human Rights and Human Security

There is no single definition of terrorism in existence. It is a contentious term that has different meanings for different people. For the purposes of this chapter, terrorism can be defined as “a premeditated, politically [socially, ideologically or religiously] motivated use of violence or its threat to intimidate or coerce a government or the general public” (Whittaker, 2004, p. 1). If we compare this definition, to the above definition by de Mesquita, we see they both convey the same basic principles, they are just phrased differently. Therefore, these definitions are fairly representative of mainstream definitions on terrorism (in the absence of an official, universal definition of terrorism). Terrorists use force, or the threat of force, to push their particular agenda, targeting civilians and other non-combatants for maximum media, political and domestic attention and flow on results. Terrorism is also a means whereby a significantly weaker party can close the power gap with a stronger force, by virtue of surprise attacks that are unexpected and indefensible. Sovereign borders do not contain terrorism and over the past few decades, globalisation and its associated communications technologies have helped terrorists to recruit members, finance operations and carry out terrorist attacks. Terrorism experts are concerned that by ‘going global’, future incidents of terrorism will be more lethal, particularly if terrorist organisations are able to access and use nuclear, chemical and biological weapons (Crenshaw & Cusimano Love, 2011).

While terrorists and terrorism increasingly cross state borders, states still need to respect sovereign borders when countering terrorism. As terrorists constitute non-state actors, one of the difficulties faced by states in countering terrorism has been how they respond to an enemy that is not a state. Counter terrorism has been developed to aid national defence against terrorism, as governments have increasingly scrutinised who enters their borders as well as monitoring the activities of their citizens, or others, residing within their borders. However, this defence has sometimes incurred significant costs to human rights and human security, and some consider it aptly named.

Tsoukala (2006) warns that post 9/11, many EU countries have adopted counter terrorism policies that negatively impact on human rights, in the interests of state security and the war on terror. These changes have increased police powers, enabled trials on terrorism charges to take extraordinary forms, and there are pathways for unusual terms and conditions of detention for terror suspects and those convicted of terrorism (Tsoukala, 2006). Similar changes have occurred in the US and the UK, where human rights activists and lawyers have been increasingly concerned about the erosion of human rights in the face of counter terrorism measures. Gearty (2005) concluded that in the US, human rights appear to have “little or no place at all” (p. 31) in the fight against terror. If we re-visit the earlier quote from Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) that “the genesis of terrorism around the world…always occurs in conjunction with the denial of basic human rights” (p. 774), it would seem that counter terrorism measures that deny or infringe upon human rights are counter-productive and may actually result in a self-fulfilling prophecy.[13] Gearty (2005) concurred with these sentiments, believing that the war on terror and the curtailing of human rights that has been a part of the war, would likely lead to future attacks by virtue of people’s experiences of the war.

In their assessment of home grown terrorism in the US, Reveron and Mahoney-Norris (2019) examined the links between counter terrorism operations and the role it plays in indoctrinating US citizens to commit terrorist acts. They identified the 2009 Fort Hood shooting (which killed 13 people), the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (which killed three people), the 2015 Chattanooga shootings (which killed five people), and the 2015 San Bernardino attack (which killed 14 people) as examples that have led to debates over whether such acts have resulted, in part, from the US’s continued military involvement in predominantly Muslim countries as part of the ongoing war on terror. Their discussion identifies the role of cyberspace as a recruitment tool for extremism, meaning citizens no longer have to leave their home state but rather they can connect with other alienated peoples across the world within their own homes via the internet.

On the flipside, Reveron and Mahoney-Norris also identified how counter terrorism operations and exclusionary rhetoric have also led to the rise of anti-Islamic and white nationalist hate groups online and domestically within the US. Furthermore, they identified a 91% increase in the rise of hate crimes against Muslims in the US in just the first half of 2017 (Reveron & Mahoney-Norris, 2019, pp. 53-54). Examples of such hate crimes ranged from mosques being vandalised or bombed (numerous examples across the country), the 2017 stabbing deaths of two bystanders who intervened to assist a Muslim girl in Portland who was being harassed by a white nationalist, the shooting murders of nine African-American parishioners by a white nationalist at a church in Charleston in 2015, and the 2017 vehicular attack on peaceful protestors in Charlottesville, which lead to the death of one person and left 19 others injured (Reveron & Mahoney-Norris, 2019). Both forms of extremism are concerning and both threaten human and national security within the US.

The introduction of special powers or measures to counter terrorism is not a new occurrence, however. Tsoukala (2006) stated that these types of measures have been used by various states across Europe since World War Two when countering terrorism. Conversely, the post-9/11 counter terrorism measures and the intensity and applicability of these measures have had significant ramifications for human rights and human security worldwide because they are so all-encompassing and far reaching. As we discussed earlier, states like the US, the UK and Australia have been less open to receiving refugees and asylum seekers since 9/11 and the onset of the war on terror. Restricting entry to refugees and asylum seekers is but one example of a state trying to counter terrorism by controlling who enters their borders. However, the linking of refugees with terrorism, or militancy, represents seriously flawed logic and reflects an intersection of racism or other ideological bias with extreme security measures. Whittaker (2004) describes such an approach as being marked by “suspicion and over-zealous security measures [which] easily exploit[s] divisions between people of different origins and faiths and breed[s] xenophobia” (p. 140).

In his evaluation of US counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, including the 2007 troop surge, Gilmore (2011) concluded that the war on terror has continued to be a high-impact war, despite US claims of adopting a more restrained and empathic approach, one that incorporated principles of human security. In addition, Gilmore (2011) concluded that rather than pursuing a human security approach, “US counterinsurgency represents an oppressive instrument of the global War on Terror—one that is likely to result in the disempowerment of local populations” (p. 34). This is confirmed when we consider torture. Throughout the war on terror, torture has been used in efforts to extract information from suspected terrorists in military policing facilities such as Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. In fact, US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been cited as advising President George W. Bush on 25 January 2005 that “[t]his new paradigm [the war on terror] renders obsolete Geneva’s [the 1949 Geneva Protocol on the Treatment of Prisoners of War] strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners” (cited in Bellamy, 2006, p. 123). It would appear that in the war on terror, human rights and human security have been among the first casualties of war as states have been prepared to contravene basic principles of human rights that have been the foundation of modern democracies.

So how then can states counter terrorism while maintaining human rights and human security? Callaway and Harrelson-Stephens (2006) have demonstrated that when it comes to the root causes of terrorism, ‘the human condition’ (p. 776) is at the heart of the matter. They identified political, civil, security, and subsistence rights, international factors such as past experiences of colonisation and imperialism, as well as present day political and economic development, all to be fundamental elements in causing terrorism. These factors can alienate citizens against their own state, or states they see as being responsible for the lack of human, political or economic rights to be found in their own society or state. Therefore, in order to successfully counter terrorism, one needs to go to the source. This would require more active commitment by states to promote and uphold human rights and human security worldwide, not just in pockets that hold specific national interest to selected states. Whittaker (2004) confirmed this position when he stated:

Real security can only be achieved through full respect for human rights. Nobody should be able to pick and choose their obligations under international law. A combination of forces is seeking to roll back the human rights gains of the last five decades in the name of security and counter terrorism. These restrictions on liberty have not necessarily led to increased dividends on safety. (p. 141)

Obviously, states need to be able to defend themselves and their populace from acts of terror. However, the aforementioned counter terrorism measures are really only band-aid solutions, if they are in fact even that, and they are almost certain to contribute to more acts of terror in the future. The key to effective and long-term counter terrorism is to strike at the core of the issues and human insecurities that lead people to commit acts of terror in the first instance. If we reflect on Wafa Idris for a moment, if she had been born a citizen of Palestine, and not a stateless Palestinian in a refugee camp, do you think her life would have turned out differently? If she had not been witness to the daily violence and conflict resulting from ongoing occupation of Palestinian lands by Israeli authorities, do you think she still would have committed such a gross act of terror – the taking of life and the injuring of others? While we can never know the definite answer to these questions, after what we have examined in this chapter we can probably answer the first question with a confident ‘yes’ — her life could have been different, and ‘no’ to the second question — she would not have turned to terror to try to reclaim human rights and human security for ‘her people’. This demonstrates the links between human insecurity and disempowerment to terrorism. Therefore, by adopting human security approaches rather than current state-centric approaches to counter terrorism, states will be able to prevent lives being lost through acts of terror. This will require more long-term thinking and planning by states, involving state focus on the human condition, and ensuring human rights and human security are never compromised for state interest and state security, in both peace time and in times of conflict. In short, it will involve a marked difference to how states are currently attempting to tackle terrorism.

7.5 Conclusion

Throughout this chapter we have explored the experiences of individuals and groups outside of the state system. Being outside of the state system has many forms. People can be ‘stateless’; they can be fleeing persecution as refugees, they can be escaping from an environmental calamity with no hope of help from their native government, or they can be so alienated by what they perceive to be an unjust and unfair society or political structure that they turn to acts of terror. In all instances, being outside of the state system often involves a real, or perceived (in the case of McVeigh and Breivik), lack of human rights and human security. The human condition is a precursor for people to find themselves outside of the state system. Therefore, when responding to refugee flows, or when implementing counter terrorism measures it is important that the human condition, human rights and human security are at the forefront of policy decisions and the implementation of such policies. Violations of human rights and continued human insecurity are not acceptable under international law, and they run counter to logical and long-term considerations on how to best address and resolve the issues we have examined in this chapter. Current responses fall far short of meeting appropriate human security responses to these issues. However, human security and thinking about its practical implementations in world politics and models of state security provides hope. Perhaps we will see more appropriate human security based measures in future responses to individuals and groups outside of the state system.

Resources and References


Key Points

  • Statelessness refers to an individual or group of individuals lacking official recognition as a national (or a citizen) of any state in the world.
  • Stateless individuals experience heightened human insecurity.
  • Refugees and asylum seekers are stateless peoples, often having fled persecution in their former homelands. However, their statelessness does not abolish their human rights and states must uphold those rights and protect refugees, regardless of their statelessness.
  • The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951) and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (1967) are important as they identified that foreign nationals seeking asylum must be granted the same types of human rights as those normally experienced by citizens of a state.
  • By ratifying the Convention and/or Protocol, signatory governments have indicated their willingness to provide sanctuary to those fleeing persecution and disaster to honour and uphold their human rights.
  • It is predicted that climate change could cause increasingly large numbers of environmental refugees to flee their homes.
  • The UNHCR does not currently include environmental refugees into its mandate or definition of refugees.
  • It is logical that environmental refugees should be included in the UNHCR mandate and a protocol should be passed to secure such an outcome.
  • If their former homeland has transitioned to peace and security, refugees should be offered the option of voluntary repatriation and resettlement. In areas where this cannot be achieved, resettlement in a new state should be pursued.
  • Alienated citizens can also occupy a position of statelessness, although this is usually a self-imposed statelessness. Some alienated citizens turn to sub-state terrorism to draw attention to their ‘cause’ or to force changes in governance and social policy.
  • While terrorism has become a serious threat to human and state security in the 21st century, many countries have adopted counter terrorism policies that negatively impact on human rights and human security, in the interests of state security and the so-called ‘war on terror.’
  • Perceived violations of political, civil, security, and subsistence rights, as well as international factors such as past experiences of colonisation and imperialism, and the undesirable outcomes of present day political and economic development, have all been identified as fundamental elements that contribute to displacement and can foster terrorism.
  • In order to successfully counter terrorism, there needs to be a stronger state commitment to promote and uphold human rights and human security worldwide, not just in pockets that hold specific national interest to selected states.
  • The key to effective and long-term counter terrorism is to strike at the core of the issues and human insecurities that lead people to commit acts of terror in the first instance.


Extension Activities & Further Research

  1. Explore the immigration statistics for your own country. How many refugees does your country accept? Compare your country’s statistics to a country you believe is comparable to your own. Do you think the figures reflect a reasonable intake of refugees? Why or why not?
  2. What is meant by the term ‘war on terror’? How does this conflict differ from previous wars or conflicts? Has the war increased or decreased the threats posed by global terror networks?
  3. Do a search for newspaper articles on the suicide attacks by Wafa Idris or another female suicide terrorist. Analyse the content of the news articles. Was the article focused on death toll, or did it focus on the reasons behind the attacks and the human condition of Palestinians? What do you conclude about the attack by Wafa Idris, or others, and how it was reported?
  4. Examine Case Study 7.1. What factors contributed to the statelessness of the Rohingya people? How significant might the link between the 1982 Burma Citizenship Law and the leader at the time being a military dictator who came to power through a coup d’état? How have these changes heightened the human insecurity of the Rohingya people? What could the international community have done to prevent the ongoing abuse of the Rohingyas and the 2017 ethnic cleansing?
  5. What have been the key areas of progress in addressing the needs of individuals and groups outside of the state system over the past decade? What areas can you identify that need further improvement?
  6. Examine Case Study 7.2. What motivations might have contributed to the Australian government’s actions? How might those actions have been different had the refugee hailed from drought and famine-stricken Somalia? Are you in favour of the non-refoulement policy being expanded to include environmental refugees? Explain.
  7. Consider additional areas in the world where environmental change may cause displacement and forced migration. How does planned migration mitigate some of the risks of unplanned statelessness due to environmental change? What risks still exist even when the migration is planned?

List of Terms

See Glossary for full list of terms and definitions.

  • asylum seeker
  • environmental refugee
  • internally displaced person (IDP)
  • realism
  • refugee
  • stateless

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  1. Data sources: UNHCR, 2018a; UNHCR, 2018b
  2. In June 2018 Paul Ryan introduced a bill to US Congress seeking an amnesty for an estimated 2.2 million people, the largest amnesty in the US for over three decades. However, the bill also contained problematic border security provisions, which made it unpopular to many Democrats and it was defeated by a 193 to 231 vote in the House (Centre for Immigration Studies, 2018).
  3. Data source: UNHCR, 2018a
  4. Data source: UNHCR, 2018a
  5. Data sources: UNHCR, 2018a; UNHCR, 2018b. Number of refugees in this table include Palestinian refugees who are cared for by United Nations Refugee and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East.
  6. In 2016, the US accepted 84,994 refugees, in 2017 the number of refugee admissions dropped to 53,716, and by 2018, it had dropped even further to 22,491. In 2018, the region most represented among admissions was Africa whereas in 2016 and 2017, the ‘Near East and South Asia’ region was the largest region for admissions (Refugee Processing Centre, 2019).
  7. In 2017, the United Kingdom accepted 34,435 refugees. In 2018, the number of refugees accepted was 37,453. Iran was the largest country of origin for asylum seeker applications in 2018 (Refugee Council, 2019).
  8. Australia granted 17,555 visas under the Humanitarian Programme in 2015-2016. This figure includes 8,284 visas granted to refugees, 7,268 offshore Special Humanitarian visas and 2,003 onshore visas (Commonwealth of Australia, 2018).
  9. In 1992, Randy Weaver and his family were involved in a standoff with FBI agents and US marshals on their property at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. A gun battle ensued and Weaver’s wife, son and a Marshal were killed. Weaver later surrendered to authorities. He went to trial for weapons charges but was acquitted by a jury (Crothers, 2002).
  10. The Waco incident occurred just six months after the Ruby Ridge incident in 1993. Federal agents amassed at the Branch Davidian compound to serve a warrant on the cult’s leader, David Koresh. The agents were fired upon, a gun battle broke out, and several agents and members of the Branch Davidians were killed. Fifty-one days later, agents stormed the compound using tear gas and tanks. The compound caught on fire, and almost all of the remaining members of the group were killed in the blaze. Questions have remained as to how the fire started and the government’s role in the incident (Crothers, 2002). Timothy McVeigh was a frequent observer of the standoff at Waco, even selling anti-government and pro-gun bumper stickers to those who joined the throng of observers at a hill, three miles away from the Mount Carmel compound, which allowed visualisation of the standoff as it unfolded (Goodman, 2017).
  11. Again, it is noted by the author that bystanders and other civilians, including children, were also killed in both attacks.
  12. For example see: (“Suicide girl shot 3 times,” 2002, January 31). The Sun. p. 2; Bennett, J. (2002, January 31). Arab Woman’s Path to Unlikely ‘Martyrdom’. The New York Times. p. 1; and Walker, C. (2002, February 1). Sight of her people’s blood fired bomber – War on Terror. The Australian. p. 7.
  13. This effect was actually an express goal of the terrorist organisations that operated in Europe during the 1970s, such as the Baader-Meinhof group in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy.


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