Anarchic visions fill our TV Screens. Humans, dark-skinned and scared shock us out of our comfort. Refugee’s, the antithesis of the European civilian, clamour for entry into the European political community whilst Europe attempts to secure itself against the potential corruption of the European state by the Muslim other.
The bodies of the refugee are no longer removed from the gaze of Europe. They have drifted ashore in their droves to define their existence. Yet, rather than reaching peaceful shores, refugees continue to be subjected to violent domination and othering.
European leaders and civilians have heralded the refugee crisis as requiring a state of emergency to address it. Fences are being constructed and national militaries are being mobilised to contain the threat. Interestingly, it is only a crisis when the Refugees start washing up on European shores.
Coercive measures may stem the flow of refugees briefly. However, you can build a dam until all of a sudden the river overflows or diverts its course.
The value laden calls to action by Viktor Orban frame the refugee crises as a battle to preserve Europe’s prosperity and Christian identity. Shoring up European borders from the barbarians at the gate. By constructing the refugee as a lesser we ignore their existence and deny any legitimacy to their motivations of their actions. However, what Viktor Orban fails to recognise is the very existence of European prosperity is reliant on the violence, which the refugee is a symptom of. European colonial histories are very much the antecedent for the instability in the Middle East from which the refugees are fleeing.
Both sides of the refugee debate in Europe are guilty of parochial assumption, which lead to the construction of the refugee crisis of white versus coloured peoples. Proponents who welcome the refugees can be guilty of a contemporary white man’s burden to help the refugees.
Responding to the refugee crisis in a narrow state based manner is ill equipped as a strategy of humanitarian action on behalf of refugees. The paradigm of international relations that equates interest with power seems ill suited as a source of inspiration for strategies of humanitarian action on behalf of refugees. This soft power of humanitarian aid is pushed to the side in place of the coercive violence of dog’s, fences and the military. Refugees hold a different relationship to space than citizens. They are defined by their transversal capabilities problematizing the territorial sanctity of the sovereign state.
Realists not only doubt the likelihood of costly altruism in international relations, but they are also wary of what they see as its dangerous pretensions of acting self-interestedly in the interest of others. The institutional gap in the ill treatment of refugees is a by-product of the self-interested world system.
Thus in order to address anarchy when it washes up on your shores the current system has an ingrained presupposition towards sovereign action. And the action that tends to take shape is that of coercive control to the detriment of the rights of the refugee. In the face of unclear guidelines upon the European community the process of refugee governance often takes a pernicious form. Governmentality and the practice of domination exemplify western approaches to refugee management. Refugees are governed not under the protection of the law but in a space of exception outside the traditional legal framework. In camps refugees are reduced to a bare life where they are excluded from legal protection.
The institutions and laws that currently manage refugees enable disciplinary coercion. The sovereign is able to decide a space of exception under emergency measures. The invocation of a European state of emergency leads to a states ability to suspend the law as it applies to refugees. This allows the sovereign to decide who is in and who is out of the political community or who lives and who dies.
Many argue that existing institutions require reform to be more malleable to the pressures imposed by refugees. However, what is ignored in this analysis is the fact that state-centric thinking is still likely to be mobilised to address the transnational refugee crisis. Refugees due to their transversal capabilities exemplify what might be the future world citizen.
The necessity for an approach based on the individual has never been more pressing. Understanding the gendered and colonial roots of the refugee crisis is a fundamental necessity if European leaders are to truly engage with the issue. Refugees must be humanised and treated like people. In a globalised world, borders are becoming ever more porous. In light of significant transnational climate, economic or military threats, the refugee may become the norm.
The refugee crisis is not new, and cannot be solved by some small gesture from the European union. The refugees coming upon Europe’s shores represent only a small proportion of the global situation. Yet, it is constructed as a crisis when the Refugees start washing up on European shores. This belies the Eurocentric assumptions, which restricts any meaningful individual based approach to the refugee crisis.
Europe has the opportunity to redefine the way in which refugee’s are created. The importance of doing this in an individualised light has never been more pressing if we are to secure a future for ourselves to manage future flows of people.