The Political: A Look at Language in the Refugee Crisis

So, there is a lot going on in the world right now. Lots of awful stuff. Like, I don’t need to explain to you what I’m going to talk about because it’s in the title and you already know about it if you don’t live under a rock. I want to focus on something that’s often overlooked – I want to look at the language used to discuss the refugee crisis, exposing internalised and heavily problematic ideas in common discourse when addressing this issue. I didn’t want to go ham on it because I want it to be accessible for both my academic and non-academic readers so I decided to use one online article to analyse, which you can find here:

Securitisation of Refugees

“Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban argues that by welcoming asylum-seekers, Europe acts as a magnet for them, and the continent risks being swamped and its security compromised.” 

As a person who takes most interest in security, I found this ridiculous. In International Security, this is nothing more than a speech act, aiming to securitise and stigmatise refugee tolerance. He’s almost describing refugees as ants running towards a sugar cube. It’s really easy for people to brush over such a comment, but there is so much wrong with this, other than his assumption that they’ll just run to Europe just because they can.

Let’s talk about his claim that the influx of refugees compromises security. In international security, there is an ongoing debate of how we should define security: the two conflicting definitions are a) security is synonymous with survival, and b) security as emancipation. For Mr. Orban to make the bold claim that refugees compromise our security would be to make the serious claim that a) our lives are at stake, or b) our freedoms are at stake. But who’s lives and freedoms are at stake here? Let’s define a refugee, shall we?

Well would you look at those examples?

By definition, aren’t refugees in a security dilemma? Aren’t they the one’s facing the threat of oppression and violence? Aren’t their conflicts a risk to their survival?

And if they are facing political, religious and economic oppression, is it not their freedoms that are being compromised?

So the biggest question is: is Europe throwing a hissy-fit and making it about themselves when there are bigger fish to fry?

Refugees seek asylum. They just want to be sheltered from danger. Even if Mr. Orban was correct, how can danger seek shelter from itself? How can the oppressed gain the power to oppress? There is something fundamentally wrong about the way we see refugees and it is deeply rooted in our understanding of self and other on the international stage.

Wait, “Detention Camps” and “Burden-sharing”?

So, yeah. Refugees are commonly understood as a threat to security. But who’s security? The European as an individual or the security of a European state? What are we protecting, state sovereignty? Are we afraid that we’ll lose a complete free reign over what we do with our country and people because we’re being encouraged to host some people who aren’t obliged to the state? These are the questions that raced through my mind when I thought about detention camps.

Detention camps are institutions used to accommodate for refugees at the borders so that they don’t integrate into society. They have been specifically built for such purpose. Basically, they are part of an arms-length solution and deeply internalised attitude towards asylum-seekers. The Geneva Forum encouraged inclusion and social cohesion, but the these camps propagate xenophobia and nationalism. But other than that, it’s degrading – it criminalises the refugee and makes it almost seem wrong for them to want to seek safety and preserve their own lives.

I think the most troubling is how refugees are conceptualised as parasites. A lot of the language suggests absolute dependency rather than conditional or relative dependency. The article talked about “burden-sharing” approaches to try and evenly balance the task of accommodating refugees. But the language Filippo Grandi uses rubs me the wrong way. Burden-sharing? It’s a testament to the western perception of refugees – we see them as costly, lacking value, and therefore burdensome. It almost erases the burden of the conflict they’ve fled from. (Y’know, the conflict that destroyed their homes, split up their families, gave small children trauma, increased trafficking – Should I continue?) Making the refugee synonymous with burden overlooks their qualities and says that they bring nothing to the table but stress, hence why we have arms-length initiatives like detention camps to deal with it without actually having to deal with it.

The issue as a whole is that political actors and institutions are unable to conceptualise these people as human like themselves and it’s ever-so evident in their dealings with the problem. They are attacking it to seem morally okay, but they aren’t willing to take on any detriment to themselves. Yes, political actors are human, but they answer to and represent political institutions that aren’t. So maybe the lack of humanity in these institutions is where the cookie crumbles.


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