It was a Thursday morning and from the Little Theatre there was a heartbeat. Breasted drums filled the air as the people in attendance made their way to their seats with an orange hue from the stage lights highlighting their faces. The chatter in the theater was its own song competing with the rhythm of […]
Cities of Refuge
For every 122 people in the world, one person is either internally displaced, a refugee, or seeking asylum. This amounts to 18 million people, which is a quarter of the refugee population that are in Africa. The minority within a minority, 5.1 million are multi-generational stateless refugees. This increase has been met with a steady rise of significant hostilities towards refugees, from outright deportation, closures of refugee camps in Sudan and Kenya, to restrictive Danish laws or outright exclusion in America.
From the above trend, the following represents a meta–commentary (in more palpable terms; a commentary on the commentary) on the “current” refugee issue. This means that rather than producing new narratives, this discussion emphasizes preexisting written or spoken communication and action around the debate. The final results address what can be called working assumptions. These are explicit and implicit presuppositions that grant specific ways of communication and action.The reason for this approach is heavily derived from Edward Said’s Orientalism. As he noted, “no production of knowledge can ever ignore or disclaim its author’s involvement as a human subject in his own circumstances.” The example given by Said is quite fitting, “as a European or American studying the Orient [so called middle east and Asia] there can be no disclaiming [of ] the main circumstances of his actuality: that he comes up against the Orient as a European or American first, as an individual second.”
This means that any form of relation presupposes a mediated dichotomy between the subject and the object. In short, the “westerner” understands themselves first in opposition to the “orient” that they are to study, then go ahead and study them. This hints at a problematic assumption of narratives. Said noted it, “depends for its strategy on this flexible positional superiority, which puts the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand.”
As it will become clear, the “other” is, in a sense, undressed unto their full nakedness, be it through retelling and reliving horrid encounters of rape or torture in front of the “westerner,” who, in their deified static-Abrahamic position, decides on what to name and do to the other. Quoting Said, if “human societies, at least the more advanced cultures, have rarely offered the individual anything but imperialism, racism, and ethnocentrism for dealing with “other” cultures,” why should the narratives derived from this conditions be taken at face value? It is only through a keen look at their implicit and explicit assumptions that they may be understood.
As a point of inception, Golden Dawn’s Alexandros Plomeratis comments from the 2012 documentary The Cleaners seems relevant. He notes that “We will turn [immigrants] into soap but we may get a rash…so we will only use it to wash cars and pavements . . . we will make lamps out of their skin . . . we will make beads from their teeth.”
From this, a key distinction should be made. The overt xenophobia that runs through the English Defense Leagues, Pegidas and SIOAs, should, from the outset, be relegated to the relevant hate speech authorities, since it is rather crime than relevant social-economic and political discourse on the issue. The second and main reason is that their arguments are based on pure arational feelings rather than rationality.
As Hegel, in his Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit, noted, “Rational men constitute something rationally through reasons, i.e., through something that is present also for another in his understanding. In feeling [Gefühl] I take refuge in my particularity that excludes others.” He further notes that if, “anyone who, when confronted with different opinions, appeals to his own feeling [Gefühl], [they] must be left alone since that’s the end of the discussion, because he has fled the common world that others share and which constitutes the human sphere.”
The xenophobe is thus doubly marooned in their arational subjectivity. It’s not sure how many drownings or tales of French soldiers sodomizing Central African Republic boys, or of Kenya and African Union Soldiers rapping Somalian women and girls, or rather raping Latin American migrants, will change their feelings.
Arguments around the issue can be placed into two groups. Adopting BBC terminology that it “uses the term migrant to refer to all people on the move who have yet to complete the legal process of claiming asylum,” is relevant. On further clarification it notes that “This group includes people fleeing war-torn countries such as Syria, who are likely to be granted refugee status, as well as people who are seeking jobs and better lives, who governments are likely to rule are economic migrants.”
The anti-immigration group includes claims of failure of migrants to “integrate” results in, rise in crime, blaming Arabization and islamization. The second group has the Levinasian philanthropist who urges that one ought to look into the face of the children and women, and feel their suffering and help them, the condition being that they should not help men, and only if they are not Arabs and many. The historical minded, quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal that “to initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole,” notes that the “west” is indebted to the refugees, since their latest Messianic humanitarian ventures as a constabulary force for goods or oil seeking resulted in their displacement.
Some note that it is “important to stress that most refugees had only been allowed to stay for a limited period. It is also said that no one is “shy about turning people back and creating ‘border protection installations’ – and that border guards should, if necessary, shoot at migrants trying to enter illegally.” The economist notes that immigration into the “west” does in fact lead to an economic boost.17
All the above arguments stem from what can be termed as a categorical mistake. It’s like asking for a fruit when given a mango. A refugee is a migrant but not all migrants are refugees; this is fair use of terminology if and only if it is reported at the beginning and not at the end each case would be justified, a thing that is always forgotten even in BBC’s own stories. In reality, it cannot be allowed by the legal and statistical facts around the issue.
The ultimate arbitrator should be legally binding conventions rather than arbitrary self-serving determinations. The United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees notes, “the convention is both a status and rights-based instrument and is underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non- discrimination, non-penalization and non- refoulement.”
Non-penalization, it is noted, means “that refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay [since] seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules.” You can shoot migrants but not refugees. Non-refoulement, which is probably why refugees are turned into migrants notes that, “no one shall expel or return (refouler) a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom.”
Contrary to the above BBC’s division, one is not a refugee after being “granted refugee status.” Article 1, paragraph 2 of definition of the term “refugee” notes that one is a refugee when one “is outside the country of his nationality or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable, is unwilling to return to it.” So closing the border does not deny person their status but rather proves that the state is afraid to acknowledge it.
One has to take Jacques Derrida seriously when he notes that “refugee status ought not to be conflated with the status of an immigrant, not even of a political immigrant.” These two are qualitatively different, and any attempt at effacement should not be taken lightly. If not, a right and status both legally and historically enshrined is entirely reduced to considerations that are, as Derrida noted, “occasionally electoral and political, which becomes a matter for the police, of real or imaginary security issues, of demography, and of the market [to wit] nothing but pure rhetorical alibis.”
As it turns out, the above arguments conveniently avoids mentioning rights that are granted to the refugees due to their status, regardless of other considerations so as to have a semblance of autonomy outside the legal constraints. They all ignore existing international conventions on the issue and prefer self-serving xenophobic, philanthropic and socio-economic calculations. As Immanuel Kant once noted “hospitality is concerned not with philanthropy, but rather with right.”
Articles with headings like “EU statisticians claim only 1 in 5 migrants are from Syria” perfectly capture the crux of the foregoing analysis. Like the BBC article, there is no denial of the existence of refugees, rather, their number is downplayed or used to support a denial of their rights. Its explicit assumption is that only Syrians can be refugees, and the remaining non-Syrians are automatically opportunistic economics migrants. One should also keep in mind that the number of economics migrants does not prejudice refugee status, since it is case based. With this, the whole argument is already facile, consideration of the numbers would still be illuminating on the issue in general.
A look at the original statistics clearly hints towards the above mentioned intent. Eurostat notes that “Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis were the top three citizenships of asylum seekers, lodging around 145,100, 79,300 and 53,600 applications respectively.” The remaining are a composite from Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Eritrea, Mali, The Gambia, Nigeria, Somalia, Russia, Albania and Kosovo. The last two are more controversial since they make up 8 and 5 percent of the “asylum seeking migrant” population respectively.
Albania, like all Western Balkan countries with the exception of Kosovo, enjoy visa-free travel status since December 2010. The EU report, Fifth Report on the Post-Visa Liberalisation Monitoring for the Western Balkan Countries in accordance with the Commission Statement of 8 November 2010, should be quite relevant.
Prior to the refugee crisis, as of 2013, “all illegal stays by Western Balkan citizens included Albanian, Serbian and Kosovo citizens made up 42%, 25%, and 16% respectively. More than half of all detections were reported by Greece, Germany, France and Hungary.” Albanians still made up the largest group of third-country nationals trying to enter the EU with false documents. They made up 85% of Western Balkan nationals using fraudulent documents, followed by Serbian citizens (8%) and Kosovo citizens (4%).”
The Eurostat report notes that “of the 15,500 first instance decisions issued to Albanians, only 300 were positive (or 2% rate of recognition), while of the 4,800 issued to Kosovans only 200 were positive (or 4% respectively)”. This comes from the fact that “several member states, including the main EU destination states with the exception of Sweden, have adopted national legislation defining certain visa-free Western Balkan countries as safe countries of origin, in line with the Asylum Procedures Directive.” It is now clear that the inclusion of any Western Balkan country ignores that these countries have an emigration history that predates the “European migration crisis” and it’s just a mendacious attempt at pettifoggery. The statistics proves that, devoid of polarization, the current systems can effectively grant status and rights accordingly.