Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The 'People in Between': Indonesia and the Failed Asylum Seekers to Australia

Cynthia L Hunter.

In this paper I describe a unique situation in the Asia – Pacific region. Indonesia, the neighbouring nation to the north of Australia has been playing host to hundreds of failed asylum seekers, for some, two years or more. Their chosen country for migration is Australia. These people have been caught between people smugglers, transient countries, the Australian government and its agencies, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). As failed asylum seekers they have no rights. They do not speak the language, they cannot work, they have no home, the young are not being educated, and they are not considered citizens and therefore, have difficulty with any form of integration with host cultures. The International Organization for Migration supervises their “stay”, funded by Australia and other countries.

The ‘people in between’ are stranded outside their country of desire and marginalized/peripheralized and alienated from the various agencies, governments and international bodies who they address. Using ethnographic material I focus on their agency, on their “making something as a group”, and a struggle for recognition incorporated in their stories of “persecution”, of “life on the move”, of “existing without a future” and “people without much hope”. In the process I propose a humanitarian dimension to what is considered economic and political in the arena of international relations between nation-states.


Cynthia L Hunter  (Australia)
Lecturer in Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
The University of Sydney

Cynthia L Hunter is an anthropologist interested in social, cultural, health and medical issues. Her main fieldwork area has been Lombok island, Eastern Indonesia, where she worked for two years in the early 1990s and to where she recently returned for more research. She has worked in various positions in several regions of Indonesia – as an academic, a researcher and as an applied anthropologist and consultant in health. She currently lectures in the Masters of International Public Health Programme, and is a Research Associate in Anthropology at the University of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

  • Failed Asylum Seekers
  • Australia-Indonesia
  • International institutions
  • Agency and Recognition
  • Humanitarian dimension

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)