As of September 20th 2015, Hungary had built a fence to keep refugees from crossing the border, its politicians have threatened hostility towards the refugees thinking of passing through Hungary, and the rest of the EU scrambles in panic every time the word ‘refugees’ is mentioned. All these symptoms present within the EU as of today form a giant structure that’s foundations are based on xenophobic, and empty rhetoric that feeds off the centuries old fears of “the Orient and his savagery”.
Even through a brief and surface analysis of the prevalent discourse within the EU in regards to the ‘refugee crisis’ and the repeated talking points spouted by politicians from all across the EU xenophobia can be identified as a running theme. From the economic to the social oppositional views to the notion of accepting more refugees, an old but very familiar set of generalizations and misrepresentations of the Syrian refugees are witnessed within the mainstream discourse.
Before I get into the prevalence of such rhetoric and its possible dangers, a quick revision of the refugee crisis is needed. Since 2012 Syria has become the greatest source of the world’s growing refugee population with roughly half its population displaced and 4 million settling in refugee camps in its neighbouring countries. As Refugees enter the EU at a rate of 3000 a day, the western discourse on the issue of refugees has become increasingly dominated by racialized and generalised framing of the incoming migrant/refugee population.
A constant voice of opposition to the acceptance of great numbers of refugees into the UK, or the rest of the EU have continuously identified refugees in negative light, some even go as far as identifying them as potential terrorists, a burden to the welfare system, and crippling to the already with struggling economies of the EU. These generalizations can be understood as a form of the Orientalist perspective that Edward Said advocated against. Orientalism is the perspective taken by the European towards Eastern culture and eastern people as being a homogenous populus that can be understood through a set of generalizations that are deeply rooted within the historical colonial experience. Edward Said argued that “In a sense the limitations of Orientalism are, as I said earlier, the limitations that follow upon disregarding, essentializing, denuding the humanity of another culture, people, or geographical region.”. Out of this process comes the notion of the ‘othering’, it places refugees in a naturally opposing binary against the European population to create a dichotomy in which on one side the EU is seen as the rational and enlightened actor, while on the other side of the dichotomy is the Syrian/Arab/Muslim refugee who are repeatedly characteristics linked with barbarism, backwardness, and other forms of social and moral ills. Such simplistic perspectives theorist Siba Grovogui argues is very dominant today as “pretentious civilisational discourses provide sustenance to the belief that Muslim emigres within the gates of Europe would work in tandem with Muslim barbarians beyond in order to destroy Europe”.
Such categorization can be seen in the political discourse by EU states such as Hungary, Slovakia ,UK in a move to limit the influx of refugees. Among these voicing their opposition to the settlement of refugees is Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban who stated that “Let me be clear: Europe will not be able to carry this burden on our own,” and he later goes on to conclude that “If there is no change in the current trends, Europe will be destabilized.” Such Orientalist forms of thinking have also resulted in near extreme measures , including Slovakia considering to only allow Christian refugees into the country.
So how do these assumptions of refugees being an economic and a social burden actually hold up?
Firstly, in regards to the refugees being an economic burden, according to an article by The Washington Post, citing several research articles they found that in the Long run refugees are not a burden but rather serve as a healthy economic stimulus to the economy as an “Influx of lower wage immigrants into a community tend to raise wages for everyone else”. This question of burden was also refuted by an article by the New York Times titled “Europe should see Refugees as a Boon, not a Burden” due to the findings proving that “immigration benefited local population in 19 out of the 20 industrialized countries they studied”. More studies can be sighted that show that the EU is in need of more migration due to the issue of aging population which is seen as significant threat to the EU’s workforce productivity in the following few decades.
It becomes quite clear that the fear mongering and political rhetoric opposing the acceptance of refugees does not hold as an empirical argument. It becomes quite clear that the arguments forwarded by Orientalism are factually incorrect, as by definition the perspective held depends on vague and sometimes pretentious assumptions, due to this, much of what is argued can be classified as empty rhetoric. It is clear that certain nations in the EU are opposed to the refugee quota that is being promoted by the EU. Yet it is also of great importance to note that in countries like Germany, Sweden and Finland, the public and the governments have been more receptive to the possibility of accepting more refugees.