Racialization of Refugees

October 23, 2020

12:00pm-1:30pm (US Eastern Time)

This Year’s Average Swede: ‘No Go Zones’ in ‘Europe’s Most Refugee-Friendly Country’”

Nathan Swanson

Purdue University

In this paper, I contextualize and analyze the short film Årets Svennebanan (This Year’s Average Swede), released in 2018 by Omar Al-Zankah, a Syrian refugee in his 20s who arrived in Sweden at the peak of the refugee crisis in 2015. That year, Sweden accepted more refugees per capita than any other EU member state, widely earning it the reputation of “Europe’s most refugee-friendly country” (before the government tightened its asylum policy later that year). These arriving refugees, predominantly Muslim, arrived in an era of growing support for nationalist parties in Sweden and throughout Europe, parties that have been characterized predominantly by anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Muslim communities in Europe have been targeted, in particular, by far-right populist movements as representing a whole range of “problems” and “harms” associated with migration, and in their most extreme forms, attacks have positioned Muslims as “invaders” creating “no go zones” for police and state officials throughout Europe. In Årets Svennebanan, Al-Zankah counters the claims of Islamophobic political figures with his own experiences as a migrant in Sweden discovering his “no go zones” in housing, employment, and entertainment. Drawing on feminist geopolitics, I argue that Al-Zankah’s engagement with “no go zones” reveals a dissonance between territorial projects of the state and the lived, everyday experiences of marginalized subjects. I further argue Al-Zankah’s film be understood as a broader challenge to Orientalist representations of Arabs and Muslims in Europe and to Sweden’s stated identity as a post-racist and feminist society.

DR. NATHAN SWANSON is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Honors College and International Programs at Purdue University. A political and cultural geographer by training, his research and teaching are focused in three areas: (1) geopolitics of everyday life, (2) public space and power, and (3) critical cartography and counter-mapping (as a member of the Counter-Cartographies Collective, or 3Cs). He also leads domestic and international Study Away programs for students and offers courses and programming in intercultural development. Dr. Swanson completed his Ph.D. in the Department of Geography at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has previously conducted research in the Middle East toward his doctoral dissertation, and his current research focuses on the geographies of Middle Eastern migrant communities in Sweden.

Dilemmas of Representation: Portrayals of Syrian Refugees in Swedish Mainstream Newspapers 2011-2015

Dalia Abdelhady

Lund University

In this presentation, Abdelhady investigates Swedish mainstream newspapers’ coverage of the 2015 refugee crisis with particular emphasis on the connections made to Islam. Sharing research results on the frames used in newspaper coverage of Syrian refugees in Sweden, Abdelhady highlights the general emphasis on humanization, responsibility, benevolence and solidarity to meet the needs of increasing numbers of protection-seeking people. The positive framing, however, almost entirely disappears and is replaced with a predominantly negative one when the focus is brought to the discussion of Islam in the same context. Abdelhady shows that when focusing on the discussion of Islam in relation to the representation of refugees, the coverage shifts to emphasize security threats, cultural difference and othering. Thus, the dualism observed in portrayals of Syrian refugees is understood as a result of a desire to balance a humanitarian discourse with an exclusionary attitude towards Islam. This leads to the conclusion that, in mainstream newspaper discourses, hospitality and Islam are mutually exclusive frames marking the conditions of refugee reception.

  • DALIA ABDELHADY is an Associate Professor of Sociology and a Senior Researcher at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden. Following a comparative perspective, her work focuses on the meeting point between individual immigrants (and their communities) and institutions in receiving countries (such as schools, labor markets, media and political discourse). Focusing on different groups of immigrants, she studies diasporic forms of identification, communal attachments and cultural expressions. Currently, her work focuses on the children of immigrants within a comparative perspective and looks at their perceptions of personal well-being and belonging. She is also studying media representations of migration, integration and belonging, with particular focus on the social construction of a refugee crisis in 2015.

Xenophobia or Racism?: Who Does and Doesn’t Get to Belong in Germany

Priscilla Layne

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

From 1945 to roughly 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany viewed its relatively liberal refugee policy as part of its atonement for the crimes of the Holocaust. However, after German reunification, when the country accepted new East German citizens and East German debt, a xenophobic backlash ensued with Germans claiming the country was “too full” to accept refugees. There is a tendency in Germany to deny the presence of racism and instead insist there is only “xenophobia.” But those people in Germany affected by racism have never just been newly arrived immigrants; but rather also people who represent the second-, or third-generation of an immigrant family who has long settled in Germany. Thus, even after refugees have become integrated in society, this does not spare them from being targets of racism. Refugees often have an added layer of difficulty because if they manage to clear the hurdle of proving their need for refuge, afterwards they are seen as guests who must always be grateful for being “taken in.” The treatment of refugees in Germany also affects racialized German citizens, who find themselves the target of anti-refugee sentiment, based on their appearance. This paper will consider how both citizens and non-citizens affected by racism in Germany have used activism and art to push back against their marginalization and force Germans to accept their radically diverse reality.

  • PRISCILLA LAYNE Associate Professor of German and Adjunct Associate Professor of African, African American and Diaspora Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She received her PhD from the University of California at Berkeley. Her research and teaching draws on postcolonial studies, gender studies and critical race theory to address topics like representations of blackness in literature and film, rebellion, and the concept of the Other in science fiction/fantasy. She is the author of White Rebels in Black: German Appropriation of African American Culture and her current book project is on Afro-German Afrofuturism.

A Feminist Geopolitical Perspective on Racialization of Syrian Refugees in Turkey

Betül Aykaç

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

This study examines racialization discourse and practices against Syrian refugees in Turkey through an everyday geopolitical perspective. Since the outbreak of Syrian civil war in 2011, Turkey has become a primary destination of Syrian refugees for either seeking asylum or staying temporarily until the war is over. Turkey hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees (approximately 3.6 million as of 2020) in the world since 2014. However, almost a decade after the arrival of the first Syrian refugees, the Turkish government has not initiated any systemic program for the social integration and employment of refugees. While initially living in refugee camps, the majority of Syrians have gradually moved to cities across Turkey to take care of themselves amid the lack of refugee policies and the everlasting waiting in limbo. Along with the growing visibilities of Syrians across the country, they ​have become the targets of criticisms and attacks by Turkish people who accuse Syrians of causing disorder and threat within the country, exploiting state’s resources, and stealing jobs. However, this turmoil against refugees cannot be explained merely with the rapid increase of population and visibilities of Syrians. In this thesis, ​I argue for approaching the discourses and practices against Syrians through the lens of racialization that enables accounting for anti-Arab racism as systemic and historical. The national imaginary which constructed the Arabs as the source of backwardness and anti-modernism has been a perpetual discourse that has been reproduced throughout the Republic’s history and arrived today as a widespread anti-Arab sentiment across different segments of the Turkish society. Employing a feminist geopolitical perspective, I argue that this narrative, which portrays Arabs as uncivilized, untrustworthy, greedy, and lazy, is powerfully at work in the current reactions against Syrians. Focusing on the discourses around work ethics, civilization, sexuality, and hygiene, this thesis demonstrates how everyday discrimination and racialization practices against Syrians, re-enact the historical national imaginaries which build hierarchies among nations and construct the Turkish national identity through the othering of Arabs. As such, this puts the racialization literature into conversation with the scholarship of feminist geopolitics and reveals how racialization of bodies, behaviors and habits of Syrians is simultaneously a territorial practice of differentiating Turkishness from Arabness and reproducing national hierarchies.

  • BETÜL AYKAÇ is a PhD student at UNC-CH Geography. Her current project provides an analysis of racialization of Syrian refugees in Turkey through a historical and feminist geopolitical framework. She took part in several fieldwork projects in Turkey and focused on everyday experiences, ideas, perceptions, and feelings of subaltern groups, including social aid receivers, long-term unemployed people, and displaced people. In collaboration with Dr. Banu Gökarıksel and Dr. Devran Koray Öcal from the UNC-CH, she is conducting a new research project on Syrian refugees in Turkey through the lenses of race, gender, everyday (geo)politics and state-making.