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Press Release

Press Release

Doctoral thesis on deterrence and access to asylum through law, rhetoric and experience

M.Soc.Sc. Stephen Phillips’ doctoral thesis in Law will be put forth for public defence at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Business and Economics, and Law at Åbo Akademi University.

The thesis is entitled An examination of deterrence and access to asylum through law, rhetoric and experience.

The public defence of the doctoral thesis takes place on 23 April 2024 at 10.00 AM in Stora Auditoriet, the ASA building, Vänrikinkatu 3, Turku. Professor Witold Klaus, Institute of Law Studies, Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland will serve as opponent and Professor Magdalena Kmak, Åbo Akademi University, as custos. You can also follow the defence online.


Deterrence regimes that aim to deny access to asylum present a fundamental challenge for international human rights law through their embedded and normalised role in state responses to unwanted migration. While states retain the sovereign right to control entry to their territories, they simultaneously maintain obligations under international law as regards those persons who seek to enter. Nevertheless, international human rights norms often fail to constrain or in some cases even enable state actions.

There is considerable legal scholarship on the use of deterrence by states, much of which concentrates its analysis on legal questions and sources. This thesis builds on the existing work on deterrence through an interdisciplinary approach that uses political rhetoric and literature to enhance present understandings of the function and impact of deterrence policies. Political rhetoric is used to show how the law is shaped by those who create it, and the experiences of those who are subject to the law’s impact show the effect of the law in practice. In particular, the thesis highlights the lived experiences of those subjected to deterrence policies to address the present absence of these perspectives in much of the existing legal literature on this topic.

The thesis begins by outlining the various international legal structures that enable and constrain the functioning of deterrence regimes, before looking at examples of how law and political rhetoric on deterrence have developed alongside one another in three regions: the United States, Australia, and Europe. Using a historical approach, I show how deterrence policies evolve across time and place, and that similar legal and political responses can be traced from one region and series of events to the next. Building on the legal and rhetorical analyses, I then connect these elements to the impact of deterrence. Through engaging with the words of those who have experienced deterrence in the Caribbean, the Pacific, and at Europe’s borders, I contextualise the legal and policy elements of the preceding chapters in terms of their most real element, their impact, and show how and with what effect international law has failed in its protective role.

Stephen Lloyd Phillips was born in 1982 in Sydney, Australia. He can be reached by email stephen.phillips@abo.fi.

The doctoral thesis can be read online through the Doria publication archive. 

Instructions for following the doctoral defence remotely:

To follow the defence, you need the Zoom software or the Google Chrome browser. You do not need to create a Zoom account to follow the defence. If you install the application, you participate by clicking on the meeting link, after which you should allow the link to open in the Zoom app.