Refugees and Protest symbolism: Visual images of solidarity or enforcement of racialised global development history?
(University of Manchester)
Paper short abstract:
This paper analyses protest symbolism by refugees. It argues that visual representations of protest can undermine global solidarity based on rights, as well as struggles to realise such rights in actual political space in a world characterised more and more by exclusionary nation - state politics.
Paper long abstract:
Much has been written about the visual dehumanisation of refugees in the media, showing them as faceless hordes walking towards borders or on overcrowded boats. But refugee populations are not only objects of representations that distort their agency as well as the global history of mobility, they are also producers of symbolic images and slogans in the protests they stage for their rights. One of the most recognisable slogans in this aspect is perhaps the phrase 'no one is illegal' that has united protest movements for refugee rights globally. In this paper I engage with such an example of protest symbolism, the campaign against the deportation of African refugees (mainly from Eritrea and Sudan) in Israel to a third country, namely Rwanda. Under slogans like 'slaves for sale' and 'refugees for sale' this protest, carried out in Israel as well as other cities globally and mainly in front of Rwanda embassies, in a troubling way distorts important historical events and is, I argue, based on racialised assumptions of 'bad Africans' and 'white saviours'. While intending to promote international solidarity and the respect for human rights, it ultimately invokes the trope of refugees without agency in need of pity based on their suffering. In doing so, such visual representations in fact undermine global solidarity based on rights, as well as struggles to realise such rights in actual political space in a world characterised more and more by exclusionary nation - state politics.
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