How saving refugees saves host populations

Humanitarian responses to the European refugee crisis may not just be about ‘saving refugees’ but also about ‘saving’ host populations in emotional and material terms.

In a paper published by the Cambridge University Press Review of International StudiesDr Luca Mavelli argues that the UK’s decision to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees over a period of five years and the German decision to welcome hundreds of thousands of refugees were not just the product of governments bowing to public pressures. Instead, he says, it is the result of an ‘evaluation’ of Syrian refugees as ‘valuable’ in both emotional and economic terms.

In particular, Dr Mavelli explores how the British pledge can be seen as a way of promoting a self-understanding of Britain as a just, moral and compassionate nation, and therefore, as a way of promoting and enhancing the emotional life of its population.

For Germany, considerations of justice and compassion have contributed to a self-understanding of Germany as caring and committed, and have been accompanied by an appreciation of Syrian refugees as an overall young and skilled workforce that can support the German welfare system.

Accordingly, Germany’s welcome to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees should also be understood as a form of care of both the emotional and material well-being of the German population.

Therefore, humanitarian acts, Dr Mavelli says, should be considered not simply as ‘acts of care’ but also self-referential and self-centred ways of benefiting from refugees and cleansing our conscience.

Dr Mavelli is a senior lecturer in International Relations at Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations.

His paper, entitled ‘Governing populations through the humanitarian government of refugees: Biopolitical care and racism in the European refugee crisis’, is published in the Cambridge University Press Review of International Studies.