In our fourth and final instalment of this week’s #BeyondTalkingBack, Olivia Rutazibwa gives the last word to Robbie Shilliam, Professor in International Relations at Queen Mary University of London. He discusses our tendency to overemphasize the short term in our framing and handling of questions regarding refugees. >>>
“I’m answering your question about sedimentations in light of the Trump victory, the executive order for immigration targeting a set of Muslim-majority countries, the relative enthusiasm that said order garnered amongst European publics, and the most recent decision by the UK government to close the “Dubs amendment” that, last year, committed Britain to taking its fair share of child refugees. What I’m going to say might immediately be interpreted, counter-intuitively, as nativism. But I hope you will stick with it just for a moment. I’m not into a radical politics that formulates itself around “emergencies”. The refugee issue always carries those terms. Materially, these are – no doubt – emergencies; and the humanitarian impulse should rightly be seen as addressing refugee issues in all practicality as emergencies.
But a radical politics formulated around the sensibility of “emergency” won’t cut it. We need to strive for a bit more longevity in our bodies – inter-generationalism, even. And who wouldn’t want that? Such a striving can make people load their children onto a dinghy to cross a rough sea. I can only imagine the impetus in those conditions. But that’s the thing. If you are not experiencing the emergency yourself, yet you drench yourself in a feeling of emergency, then your optic will rush outwards to scan the horizon. And it will make you liable to trip over the politics that you should be immediately invested in, for everyone’s sake.
At the EISA conference in Sicily in 2015, when the long-standing refugee crisis in the Mediterranean was grabbing European populations in all its emergency-horror, we held a very well attended emergency plenary. Organized by a committed and long-term-engaged refugee and asylum-seekers activist-scholar, I was invited to present something as at the time I was a co-convener of the BISA colonial/postcolonial/decolonial working group. I felt very awkward. I am not an expert in any of this.
I said that, when it comes to our own European societies, we should not make too much of a categorical distinction between refugees/asylum-seekers and minority Diaspora or “immigrants”. One woman stood up and said that universities should open their door to refugees immediately. Well intentioned emergency-radical-politics. I replied, why have we not done that for the children of settled refugees? The successful refugee turns into a minority. The emergency solution becomes an intractable multicultural problem. The refugee ceases to be “the light of the world” and becomes a failed experiment in social cohesion.
I hope you can see that I’m not being nativist. I’m wanting to find the intimate relationship between “foreign” refugees and “domestic” minorities. I’m wanting to think long-term even in emergency situations. Some of us can afford to – chose to – do so and we should do, and act upon that thought appropriately. Inter-generationalism can be a strength and a comfort. We all want to live, and live well. Working through the sedimentations of peoples that make up postcolonial populations can offer the possibility of relating seemingly different struggles to each-other. Giving a strength to Intensifying the resonances, always carefully. We should be shaking the sedimentations of racialized oppressions and inequalities, the ground on which we stand. And we would see the horizon differently. Let’s not find solace in emergency.”