The deserving poor

A few weeks ago I was reading about the way refugees are talked about and ran across an article by Vanessa Pupavac in which she talks about the way refugee advocacy groups have fought the negative xenophobic framing of refugees that has become so attractive to politicians across the world.

One of her findings is that advocates have built stories about exceptionally talented refugees and middle class professionals to build a picture of deservingness. Somehow we have come to believe that being a human being who is homeless due to persecution is not enough in itself to deserve help, we need to be told that they’re special.

The problem, of course, is that most refugees aren’t special, refugees are a mix of people just like our communities. To quote Pupavac

Asylum rights are thereby implicitly made conditional on qualifying as nice, talented, sensitive individuals. But where does this leave any unappealing, untalented, unskilled asylum seeker with culturally repellent views and habits? A well-founded fear of persecution is not confined to nice people.

This pattern of needing people to prove their deservingness before we give them basic human support and kindness is seen again and again in the rhetoric of the new right: there are deserving beneficiaries and the others that don’t deserve help, there are deserving families that deserve state help and those that don’t … .

When did we become a society where people have to prove that they deserve to be able to buy food for their children? Or live in a country where they won’t be killed?

Hat tip to Julie’s post at The Hand Mirror