This article sets out two case studies to examine the evolving reality of ‘boat migration’ and the intersecting legal frameworks at play. Our analysis takes a systemic integration approach to reflect on the complex dynamics underpinning responses to the phenomenon in Australia and the Central Mediterranean. The regime that governments purport to act under in any given instance reflects the way they choose to frame incidents and possibly exploit legal gaps in, or contested interpretations of, the relevant rules. The ‘closed ports’ strategy adopted by Italy and Malta against the MV Lifeline and the detention-at-sea policy pursued by Australia are investigated from the competing perspectives of what we call the ‘security lens’ and the ‘humanitarian lens’ to demonstrate how a good faith interpretation of the applicable (if apparently conflicting and overlapping) norms can (and should) be mobilized to save lives, and how that goal is unduly undercut when security concerns trump humanitarian interests.
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