From phosphate to refugees

My doctoral research at the University of Oxford drew on extensive ethnographic fieldwork in Geneva, Australia, Fiji, and the Republic of Nauru to examine the outsourcing of asylum processes to new localities. This research generated questions on the commodification of human mobility and the challenges of social movements, specifically how oppositional strategies converge in the construction of inequality and solidification of human economies. 

I currently have a book manuscript under edit with Cornell University Press on the consequential damages of phosphate and refugee processing in Nauru, with a focus on the relations between high-risk mineral and migrant offshore industries.


forthcoming    From Phosphate to Refugees: The Offshore Refugee Boom in the Republic of Nauru. Book manuscript under edit with Cornell University Press.

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

forthcoming Colonial Afterlives of Infrastructure: From Phosphate to Refugee Processing in the Republic of Nauru. For Mobilities Special Issue: Infrastructures of Injustice: Migration & Border Mobilities.

forthcoming Refugee Extractivism: Law and Mining a Human Commodity in the Republic of Nauru. For Saint Louis University Law Journal Special Issue.

2019 Violence and Extraction of a Human Commodity: From Phosphate to Refugees in the Republic of Nauru. The Extractive Industries and Society.

2018       Refugee Economies: Violence and Extraction of a Human Commodity. Society & Space: Special Issue ‘Destitution Economies.’

2017 Outsourcing the Refugee ‘Crisis.’ Social Justice Journal Online.


extractive Landscapes

The creation of special economic zones (SEZs) – in which refugees are provided with the right to work, while trade partners such as the European Union give trading concessions on manufactured products – has been globally championed as an innovative alternative to refugee camps, as well as to protracted refugee situations. This project uses ethnographic field methods and global production theory, to examine if SEZs represent progress towards realizing mobility rights for displaced persons, or another move towards capturing the market and labour power ideals. I organized and lead graduate field intensive courses in Jordan during the spring and summer breaks in 2018, in which I led two groups of students to examine the work of nongovernmental organisations focused on Syrian resettlement. Students designed a research project as a group and learned to conduct meaningful ethnographic research in sensitive contexts while obtaining an overview of the central debates in refugees and humanitarian politics. Both field courses were fully funded by the International Rescue Committee. I presented the research at an alternative solutions workshop on refugee protection in Toronto, devised for the Fall 2018 Global Compact on Refugees, and again though Columbia University’s Global Center in Amman in 2019.

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Morris, Julia. Forthcoming 2020. Extractive Landscapes: The Case of the Jordan Refugee Compact. Refuge 37 (2).

2019. The Politics of Return from Jordan to Syria. Forced Migration Review Special Issue, October 62: 31-34.


reforming immigration detention: humanitarian expertise, conflicted knowledge and the neoliberal governance of migration

In the drive to improve the expanding practice of immigration detention, state and non-state actors have begun to elicit and implement immigration detention reforms worldwide, developing an elaborate multilateral framework around improvement. This project focused on these policies and practices of migration governance, looking at the work of the human rights and development experts and agencies that respond to increased practices of state migration securitization. 

Peer Reviewed Journal Articles

Morris, Julia. 2017. Power, Capital and Immigration Detention Rights: Making Networked Markets in Global Detention Governance at UNHCR. Global Networks 17: 400–422. 

Book Chapters

--- 2016. In the Market of Morality: International Human Rights Standards and the Immigration Detention Improvement Complex. In Intimate Economies: Critical Perspectives on Immigration Detention. Hiemstra, N. and Conlon, D., eds. London: Routledge.

Banana border republics: outsourcing border enforcement in guatemala

Under pressure and financing from the United States government, the implementation of the Programa Frontera Sur has been broadcast as bringing order to migration into Mexico’s southern region while protecting the human rights of Central American migrants who enter and travel through the country. The plan was announced in 2014 by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, with then Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, to address the arrival of thousands of unaccompanied minors to the United States border. Alan Bersin, President Obama’s “Border Czar,” declared back in 2012 that “the Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border.” This has resulted in the strengthening of the border between Guatemala and Mexico in addition to the training of border enforcement throughout the region. Since the plan’s establishment, and now under the Trump administration, the number of migrants captured and deported from Mexico to Central America has steadily increased.  This research project will use ethnographic field methods including interviews and time spent along the border to examine the impact of frontiering projects in the northern Guatemalan region.