Asylum and Extraction: St Cross Alumna Publishes a Book on Nauru’s Complex History

Dr Julia Morris (DPhil Anthropology, 2013) has published a book titled Asylum and Extraction in the Republic of Nauru, detailing the Oceanian microstate’s complex history, centring on its involvement in Australia’s offshore asylum system as well as its phosphate mining industry.

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Dr Morris was inspired to begin the project because she wanted to localise the industry dynamics that she observed operating globally around refugees. In particular, she aimed to draw attention to the growth in non-state actors profiting from human mobility. 

Her research initially focused on Australia, and then it shifted by extension to the microcosmic context of Nauru, which was the major seat of the Australian government’s outsourced asylum policy. Its regional processing centre reached a peak of more than 1,200 asylum seekers in 2014. 

Once in Nauru for fieldwork, Dr Morris found it stark how closely the refugee industry was entangled with its history of phosphate mining, which has had a devastating impact on the island, severely limiting its potential for agriculture. That finding pushed her towards a theoretical framing of extractivism in her book that brings those two industries into conversation.

I see writing as a form of activism. Writing this book was driven by the desire to make visible what I observed locally in Nauru.

There has been minimal research conducted in Nauru and no academic work on the island’s outsourced asylum arrangement. Even when I hit a writing slump, I was reignited by the need to publish my findings.

Dr Morris began the process of researching and writing the book while she was studying at the University of Oxford as a St Cross College student.

“I have such fond memories of my time at St Cross and my Anthropology DPhil. I work well under my own steam, which the Anthropology programme enabled me to do, and it opened so many doors during my fieldwork,” Dr Morris says.

“Oxford is an idyllic place to be, while St Cross provided a warm basecamp within the spires. Much of my early writing took place tucked away in the library and common spaces in College.” 

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Now, Dr Morris takes her students to St Cross, offering them the chance to reap the benefits of the surroundings that she enjoyed so much as a graduate student. For the last two years, she has led a ‘migration study abroad’ programme for her undergraduate students from the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she teaches International Studies, and her study abroad alumni often excitedly talk about their days of “Harry Potter living” in Oxford. 

Meanwhile, Dr Morris has received a very positive response to her book; she has given a series of very well received talks in Australia and New Zealand, and several members of the Australian government have asked her to recommend development strategies with Nauru. Looking ahead, she aims to present the book in Nauru in 2024.

Dr Morris is now focusing her attention on her next book project, which addresses asylum outsourcing globally, bringing together her fieldwork in locations such as Guatemala and Jordan.