‘I Am Responsible’: Histories of the Intersection of the Guardianship of Unaccompanied Child Refugees and the Australian Border

Main Article Content

Jordana Silverstein


In Australia in 1946, the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act was passed. This Act was intended to support the postwar migration to Australia of British children, unaccompanied by their parents, and to provide them with a guardian in Australia—the Immigration Minister. Despite subsequent amendments, this key provision continues. Children who attempt to migrate to Australia unaccompanied by adult family members are subject to the minister’s guardianship. In 1948 Arthur Calwell, the then Minister for Immigration, described himself in parliament as the ‘father’ of these such children. This article focuses on the period from the 1970s to explore what this notion of fatherhood entails. What can it tell us about how children, families and the role of the minister in child refugee policies, have been imagined? I examine how the Act functions as a form of biopolitics, to discipline and regulate intimate relations for child refugees. The article asks how the Act produces a set of historically specific interdependent relationships and highlights the ways successive governments have subordinated concerns for the ‘best interests of the child’ to concerns of the policing of the Australian border.

Article Details

Articles (Peer Reviewed)
Author Biography

Jordana Silverstein, University of Melbourne

Jordana Silverstein is a Postdoctoral Research Associate working as part of the ARC Laureate Research Project ‘Child Refugees and Australian Internationalism from 1920 to the Present’, in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne.