The Refugee (Tale) Paradox: Narratives of Vulnerability and Aspirationality
Keywords:paradox, refugee regime, borders, worthiness
The global refugee regime can be characterized by central paradoxes, similarly to how our societal narratives around displacement and refuge are fundamentally contradictory, yet immanent to the system they help to maintain. Following Hannah Arendt’s notion of the ‘aporia of human rights’, I discuss one particular salient set of contradictions as the ‘refugee paradox’. It describes a set of policy expectations and narratives around the figure of the refugee as vulnerable and hence deserving of protection, yet self-sufficient and self-reliant; one who must be happy to have survived and not aspire to much more, but, once the asylum status is approved, must display agency and aspirations for upward mobility; a victim of their circumstances, yet a role model of integration and economic success in the host society. I analyse the discursive charging and real-life consequences of the refugee paradox with a particular view to discourses of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’, or ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ refugees in the present geopolitical landscape. Existing interventions, be they local aid, humanitarian intervention or political activism, necessarily move within the narrow confines of this paradox and therefore seldom accomplish more than symptom control. Thus, at its core, the refugee paradox is naturalized and serves to legitimate the status quo.
Copyright (c) 2023 Judith Kohlenberger
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