A refugee is defined as a ‘person who has been forced to leave their native country to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster,’according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. However, in Agamben’s ‘We Refugees,’ The refugee is conveyed as a symbol through which it is “possible today to perceive the forms and limits of a political community to come.”(114)He also presents the idea that the status of the refugee is usually expected to be temporary that should “lead either to naturalization or repatriation.”(116)
The use of the term ‘refugee’ in Agamben’s piece is quite interesting as he conveys refugees; usually an exclusive term that is purposely used to distinguish a certain group of people from the rest, to be an imaginable figure of the people today. He uses the term to represent the challenges of living in today’s society that is dominated by political conflict and the “general corrosion of traditional legal-political categories.”(114)He claims that in our attempt to resolve the problem of nation and identity, we must reconstruct our political ideas and philosophies with the use of the refugee figure. He later discusses the shrinking difference between a ‘refugee’ and a ‘stateless person’ (my understanding of this word is an individual who chooses to abandon their nationality) due to the development of national laws, in Europe, over the past 50 years or so. There is also an emphasis on the use of a refugee to represent a mass phenomenon rather than individual cases. Furthermore, there is a discussion on the concept of the Rights of Man and an acknowledgement of the radical creation of a crisis of this concept by this refugee figure.
I chose this word due to the striking presentation of the refugee as a ‘figure’ of significant political issues and Agamben’s emphasis on the necessity of using this figure in our attempt to fully understand and resolve the political migration conflicts in today’s world, especially in the Middle East. Moreover, having lived in the U.A.E for most of my life and being a close ‘neighbor’ to the conflicted countries in the Arab World, my understanding of a ‘refugee’ was quite one dimensional, as the above dictionary definition conveys. Hence, I couldn’t look at their position beyond an empathetic and piteous standpoint, but this short essay encouraged me to step beyond that and understand the greater implications of the refugee crisis, in the past, present and the future.
Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary Accessed 4 Jan 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/refugee. Agamben, Giorgio. "We Refugees." Symposium, 22 Jun 1995.
Arendt and Agamben both use the term to make the most vulnerable person central. Because so many have fled situations of extreme violence and persecution without recourse to resettlement, Agamben turns the situation around and says that in a global and interconnected world, the division of people into nations no longer support vast population of people and eradicates the possiblity for most to have a meaningful life. So now, a meaningful life becomes only the property of enfranchised citizens, who become even more protective of their privilege. Agamben lays the blame on the fiction of nation – that borders are real those who are protected from them remain untouched. The question is how to think beyond nation knowing that so many people migrate from violence and in search of a better life. If we organize social life around the needs of the most vulnerable, how would resources and political life account for the way that we can better interact so that social existence recognizes just how interdependent we all are? What happens if we think about radical change that allows for encounters with the vulnerable, provides them opportunity and doesn’t prevent movement or fear of interaction?