“I See Nothing but a Fence of Tears”: The Impact of Australia’s Immigration Detention and Border Protection Policies on the Asylum Seeker Child’s Geographies of Hope and Hopelessness

  • Dani McAlister
  • Harriot Beazley
  • Wynonna Raha
Keywords: unaccompanied, asylum seeker, child, Australia, Nauru, borders, emotion


As a signatory to both the United Nation Refugee Convention and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia’s border protection policy to detain offshore asylum seekers who reach Australian borders by boat, including accompanied and unaccompanied minors, is under intense international scrutiny. In the context of Australia’s “Operation Sovereign Borders,” however, the asylum seeker child’s perspectives and their geographies of hope and hopelessness have not yet been fully explored. Drawing on recent literature within children’s geographies, which emphasizes the “emotional” matters within policy development and professional practice, and how they affect children, this paper seeks to contribute to emerging debates exploring borders, asylum seeker children, and children’s emotional geographies. Utilizing drawings, letters, and poems produced by children for an Australian Human Rights Commission’s National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention on Nauru, a child-centred approach was applied to privilege children’s own perspective of their indefinite internment. The primary focus of the paper is to emphasize the ways in which “the asylum seeker child” constructs their own emotional geographies within the inherently complex and restrictive context of Australia’s border protection policy.


DOI: 10.1353/jeu.2019.0018

Author Biographies

Dani McAlister

Dani McAlister is a refugee resettlement practitioner and human geographer, currently undertaking postgraduate studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, exploring displaced Syrian refugee children’s experiences of vernacular trauma while living in Lebanon’s refugee camps. Working over the past four years at Multicultural Australia, an organization which provides welcome and support for refugees, people seeking asylum, and other migrants, has expanded Dani’s research interests within refugee and migration studies, children’s emotional geographies, and visual methods.

Harriot Beazley

Dr. Harriot Beazley is a human geographer and community development practitioner, and a Senior Lecturer in Human Geography at the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia). Harriot’s research interests are located within social and development geography and children’s geographies, with extensive experience in rights-based research with children and young people, and in community based, gender-focused research in South East Asia and the Pacific. Over the past twenty years, Harriot has worked as a technical advisor in numerous child protection programs and evaluations, for UNICEF, Save the Children, AusAID, and DFAT. She is the Commissioning Editor for the Routledge journal Children's Geographies.

Wynonna Raha

Wynonna Raha was held in Australian detention on the island nation of Nauru for six years, from the age of fifteen. She is now living in community detention in Australia. To protect her identity, Wynonna Raha is a pseudonym.

How to Cite
McAlister, D., Beazley, H., & Raha, W. (2020). “I See Nothing but a Fence of Tears”: The Impact of Australia’s Immigration Detention and Border Protection Policies on the Asylum Seeker Child’s Geographies of Hope and Hopelessness. Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Cultures, 11(2), 74-103. Retrieved from http://jeunessejournal.ca/index.php/yptc/article/view/492
Articles for Special Issue on Borders