The shock that greeted President Trump’s travel ban ruling was seismic, inspiring massive demonstrations in opposition to the executive order barring individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Six years ago today, popular demonstrations began against the Assad regime in Syria. Their brutal repression by the regime plunged the country into civil war, and since then Syria has become the world’s largest producer of refugees—almost five million at the latest count.
It has been noted that of the 50,000 migrant deaths in transit recorded (and two thirds are not), for as many as one in five the region (let alone the country) of origin is unknown. That so many deaths literally leave no trace in a world of instant communication and constant surveillance reflects the utter obscurity and marginality of so many migrants today.
How long have immigrants been labelled 'illegal'? The slogan 'no one is illegal' has been taken up by pro-migrant groups, especially those campaigning on behalf of asylum seekers. It is used to highlight the common humanity of those placed beyond the law with regard to their national status.
The continuing refugee crisis, involving movements of people from countries including Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria and Iran, is global and acute in nature and is once more making headlines and trending on social media, particularly in response to President Trump’s executive action on immigration and refugees that was issued on 27 January 2017 (Holocaust Memorial Day, no less).
In early March 1851, a ship docked at the harbor in Liverpool laden with Polish refugees. These men, for they were mostly men, had been soldiers in the failed Hungarian Revolution. Chased from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they made their way west in search of asylum.
Hannah Arendt was, in her own words, an ‘illegal immigrant’. She had never been under any illusions about the capacities of the Nazi regime, but when she was caught doing clandestine work for a Zionist organisation in 1933, she knew she had no to choice but to leave.
As 2016 drew to a bloody close in Syria and the government took back control over eastern Aleppo, over 4.8m Syrian refugees continued to seek safety and a means of living a dignified life across the Middle East.
he Global North has struggled to respond to the ‘Refugee Crisis’ in coherent and meaningful ways, in part because of policy short-termism that fails to take history seriously. If we are to find better ways of responding to displacement, we must re-examine our historic assumptions, and attempt to move beyond our premature conclusions about the best shape of our humanitarian institutions – especially at the international level.