Corlett, David

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Corlett, David






Writer; also worked as a case worker and researcher.


Human Rights Award shortlist, 2004, for Sending Them Home, and 2005, for Following Them Home.


(With Robert Manne) Sending Them Home: Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference ("Quarterly Essay 13"), Black (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers, Black (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2005.

Also author, Contributor to journals, including University of New South Wales Law Journal, Dissent, Australian Quarterly, Age, Monthly, and Canberra Times.


Case worker and researcher David Corlett's works Sending Them Home: Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference (written with Robert Manne) and Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers both deal with the problems associated with political refugees seeking sanctuary in Australia. Although the South Pacific nation has a long tradition of accepting migrants from all over the world, its attitude toward asylum seekers has been condemned as particularly strict. Illegal migrants are held in containment camps, sometimes for years, while their cases are being reviewed. There are six of these camps scattered throughout the nation. Between October 1999 and January 2008, many individuals who arrived in Australia without visas from countries like Iraq and Afghanistan were sent to an offshore processing camp on the island nation of Nauru, hundreds of miles away. In 2001, Prime Minister John Howard ordered the Australian navy to turn refugees away, sending them back to their homelands. "The Government's argument can be summarized this way: people brought to Australia by people smugglers are not the neediest of the needy and we should reserve our compassion and our resources for the much larger numbers of people stuck in refugee camps around the world," explained Peter Mares in a review of Sending Them Home published in the Age. "This masquerades as an argument about equity—a notion notably absent from government approaches to other issues of global justice—when it is really just a lame excuse for sidestepping responsibility."

Sending Them Home (originally published in the periodical Quarterly Essay) and Following Them Home document the issues these refugees face while trying to enter Australia, and after they have been refused asylum. Some were parents with children, like Sondos Ismael, whose three daughters died when the vessel carrying them to Australia sank. She spent months in exile in Jakarta, Indonesia, unable to join her husband, who had already received refugee status in Sydney. Others were like the Iranian refugees who suffered detention and torture after their repatriation to their homeland. "Many asylum-seeker claims do not fit neatly into the international refugee convention definition," explained Russell Skelton in the Age, reviewing Following Them Home. "They are nuanced in such complex ways that, regardless of circumstances, returnees still face problems when returned to totalitarian states such as Iran or war-disrupted and ethnically divided nations such as Afghanistan, where blood debts and family feuds are an intrinsic part of the social fabric." According to Corlett, the Australian government's position that the refugees were somehow violating the rights of those who came to Australia legitimately is untenable. "The challenge arose precisely because the overwhelming majority of them were refugees," Mares wrote. "As such, they had a legitimate right to our assistance and compassion."

One major problem with returning refugees to their homelands is that they can face persecution and even death there. "Many who tell their stories have been returned ‘home,’" stated Lanie Stockton in the New Internationalist, "or, in some cases, offloaded to any other country that will take them." "Nearly all of the returnees interviewed [in Following Them Home] have been unable to return and settle in their hometowns," declared Annie Davis, writing in Arena Magazine. "Most now instead live a precarious existence as ‘illegal’ immigrants in neighbouring countries, subject to continuing discrimination, police harassment and poverty. Some have again embarked on the treacherous journey to seek asylum in other Western countries. Others, like the Kadem family Corlett telephoned in Iraq, are now struggling to survive in countries still gripped by instability and violent insurgencies. Others, even less fortunate, were killed or disappeared soon after arriving in the countries from which they had fled." "These are memorable stories written with sensitivity and without the need to prove any point," Skelton concluded. "They are worth a read."



Age (Melbourne, Australia), April 10, 2004, Peter Mares, review of Sending Them Home: Refugees and the New Politics of Indifference; July 24, 2005, Russell Skelton, review of Following Them Home: The Fate of the Returned Asylum Seekers.

Arena Magazine, February 1, 2006, Annie Davis, "On a Government Policy of Social Exclusion," p. 53.

New Internationalist, July, 2006, Lanie Stockman, review of Following Them Home, p. 27.

Overland, summer, 2004, Jess Whyte, review of Sending Them Home; summer, 2005, Fiona Capp, review of Following Them Home.


Australian Policy Online, (March 25, 2008), Peter Mares, review of Following Them Home.