Affective Politics of Refuge: Syrian forced migrants’ narratives of state violence and war in Denmark

Authors: Malene Jacobsen*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Migration, Political Geography
Keywords: emotions, affective encounters, orientation, geopolitics, refugee protection, Syrian refugees
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 3:05 PM / 4:45 PM
Room: Roosevelt 5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper examines the affective politics of refuge. Refugees and migrants have long been represented by politicians and mainstream media as a threat to the nation-state by using figures such as the ‘bogus refugee’, ‘anchor babies’, ‘illegal alien’, and ‘boat people’ as well as metaphors such as ‘waves’, ‘swarms’, and ‘floods’. As the number of refugees arriving to Europe began to rise in 2014, many of these words and metaphors resurfaced as politicians across Europe framed the arrival of refugees a threat to the nation-state and ‘societal cohesion’. In this paper, however, I turn to narratives of forced migrants themselves. Through an analysis of focus group discussions with Syrian refugees in Denmark, I examine Syrians’ accounts of becoming/being a refugee. I build on Ahmed’s (2004) use of the term impression to explore how affective encounters with neighbors, strangers, employers, and integration caseworkers influence Syrians’ experiences of being/becoming refugees and shape their conceptions of refuge. My findings illustrate that while Syrians have obtained legal refugee protection, they do not feel secure, at peace, or protected. Rather, they describe how these affective encounters produce a new war-like state of being or ‘psychological war’ that is felt on the skin and in the body through emotions of stress, worry, fear, and horror. This paper contributes to existing feminist critiques of state provision of security and protection as it begins to develop a politics of refuge that takes emotions into consideration and further question the idea of Europe as a place of peace.

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