If international debate over ‘irregular migration’ is to move beyond entrenched human rights and national security positions, government policies need to be better informed about the complex causes of human displacement and the impact of border control.In October 2001, 146 children, 142 women and 65 men – mostly Iraqi and Afghan asylum seekers – drowned when a decrepit Indonesian fishing boat, known as SIEV X, sank while motoring to perceived sanctuary in Australia.Mystery and suspicion still cloaks that fatal journey: from the rumoured activities of Australian agents operating among people smugglers, to the alleged presence, in the dark, of unresponsive Australian naval craft.The truth remains buried by the same political machinations that have successfully hardened Australian and international responses to ‘irregular migrants’ – of whom an increasing number, as the SIEV X tragedy highlighted, are women. (SIEV is an acronym, standing for Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel.)According to one leading international researcher probing this complex issue, the gender element is critical to understanding what is driving the massive global rise in irregular migration. Professor Sharon Pickering, a criminologist with Monash University’s Department of Political and Social Inquiry, says that understanding the factors behind the increasing number of women moving ‘illegally’ is central to any sustainable future policy responses.
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