Its definition in legal terms is “one to whom a conveyance of title or property is made”. You wouldn’t hear that word too often, unless you were in the business. A search of the google book corpus suggests this is its most frequent context.
Refugee advocates say up to 300 of the 377 transferees on the Pacific Island are still refusing food.
In this context, “transferee” means someone who is transferred. The ABC and other journalists describing these people as “transferees” didn’t just suddenly decide to use this word. They got it from the Australian government, who, in its MOU with the Nauru government, explicitly defines the term as “a person transferred to Nauru under this MOU”.
“Transferee” is one of those nice, apparently neutral, inoffensive terms. There is nothing sinister about it. This is because of the highly generalised meaning in the verb “transfer” from which it comes. “Transfer” is a process that can be done as much to animate as inanimate objects – you can transfer people or stuff.
This distinguishes it from a word like “detainee”, because the verbal form applies only to people. You can’t detain chairs or tables, because “to detain” means to hold against one’s will.
The use of the word “transferee” is just one more instance of the kind of convoluted talk you have to do if you are defending a process that is on the margins of either domestic or international law - like “Pacific Solution”, “Malaysian Solution”, and, my favourite so far, the “people-smugglers business model”.
You may think I’m over-reacting. But if you let people put words in your mouth, you can’t know where it will end.
[i] On the usage of “asylum seeker”, see this blog post I wrote back in June last year.
This article was first published by the NTEU here.