A Decolonial View

By students in the Colonial and Postcolonial Master

Imagined Refugees

Postat den 9th March, 2022, 19:51 av

I write this post with a few caveats. First of all, the fact that war (and especially highly medialised ones, such as the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine) uncovers acts of racialised violence and generally deep-rooted patterns of colonialism. Secondly, in any fruitful discussion of a topic as traumatic existentialist as that of war, be it in an academic or non-academic setting, one should be able to hold more than one thought in one’s head at the same time. This is not intended as a form of gatekeeping by demanding a certain level of academic professionalism when expressing a thought on a topic, but it has become clear in the last few days (especially when opening Twitter), that the condemnation of war crimes committed by anyone other than Putin’s forces, is  directly anti-Ukrainian and (in some extreme cases) also an apology of everything bad that went down in the Soviet Union (yes, apparently Russia in 2022 is a commie dictatorship). So when I voice an opinion against some of the atrocities that are being committed by other actors than the Russians, this by no means is to serve as an apologetic stance towards the illegal invasion by Russia. With that out of the way, let us look at a particularly under-reported topic, which might seem slightly trivial, but indeed is symptomatic for the policy of Europeans nations on the matter of refugees.

Since the invasion which began on the 24th of February 2022, the international support for Ukraine and Ukrainian refugees has been overwhelming. Hitherto unprecedented economic sanctions (likened by some experts to economic warfare) has been put in place, not just by the West, but even by China. Countries, like Poland and Hungary, who earlier have expressed a, to put it mildly, firm stance against refugees, soon came with promises of being safe havens for the millions who fled the war. However, relatively soon, reports of gross racial violence against non-white Ukrainians and foreign students emerged. The accounts were brutal, and I find no reason to go into the gory details in this post but suffice to say that the UNHR issued a statement on the xenophobic violence (1).

While this form of brutality is nothing novel in war, and certainly not unique to this conflict, there is a certain case which caught my attention, and which demonstrates some of the more sinister and structural forms of racism in Europe.

The Nordic countries have, at least in terms of international standing, been regarded as relatively humane in their treatment of refugees. However, of these countries, Denmark has received quite a bit of criticism for passing laws aimed at altering the behaviour of non-ethnic Danes (read: Foucauldian bio power in its purest form). Among these were the controversial ‘Ghetto laws’ (2) and the insistence on people ‘shaking hands’ in a civilised matter when swearing the obligatory oath of loyalty to Denmark (3). These are certainly problematic in themselves, but there is one law which stood out: the jewellery law. It stipulates that the Danish state can confiscate any piece of jewellery possessed by asylum seekers who have passed through several “friendly” states to arrive in Denmark. It is a law, which now, might be revoked specially for Ukrainians.

Again, this is not a criticism of Ukrainians fleeing the war. I am personally for revoking the law. But I am also of the stout opinion that such a revocation should apply for everyone, and not, as in this case, as a loophole for certain people. It becomes, as I shall argue, a form of reversed state of exception (as postulated by Agamben) wherein the hastily inclusion of a demographic group becomes the variable which serves to highlight the exclusion of others. The controversial law which drew widespread international criticism (4) allows for the confiscation of valuables worth over 10.000 DKK and came in the wake of the 2015 refugee crisis. However, now the two biggest political parties in Denmark, the Social Democrats and Venstre (a market-liberal but quite value conservative ‘moderate’ party) are investigating the possibility for changing the law to exempt Ukrainians. It is as of now not yet clear whether this includes Ukrainians of colour. But what is clear is who it does not include: the Syrian refugees who was the primary target of the law when it was enacted in 2016.

The motivation for this, according to a spokesperson from the Social Democrats is that Denmark is a regional neighbour to Ukraine (5) (6). Another area being investigated is whether one could change the very law on asylum seekers, so as to circumvent ‘  flygtningeproblematikken’  (as a Dane myself, I would translate this as the ‘refugee issue’) in order to label Ukrainians not as asylum seekers, but a category for themselves (5). It has to be mentioned, that reports show that the jewellery law is seldomly, if ever, enforced. Yet it does highlight the categorisation, thinly veiled behind regional security policy, of certain peoples as wanted refugees against non-wanted refugees. And while I am all for opening the borders and supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression, it saddens me to see exactly how blatant the bias against refugees from what is deemed as the ‘periphery’ is. The state of exception in this case is a mechanism of power which becomes highly imperial in that it decides exactly who gets to live and who gets to die. It creates, as Agamben might have noted, the perfect homo sacer by imagining some people as legitimate refugees, and others as simply opportunistic.

Ejner Pedersen Trenter


Det här inlägget postades den March 9th, 2022, 19:51 och fylls under blogg

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