Life jackets on shore

Anthropology, refugees and the politics of belonging in Europe

  • Sholeh Shahrokhi
Keywords: Refugees, migration, Islamophobia, humanitarianism, minority existence, politics of belonging, representation, European identity, xenophobia, the Middle East, North Africa, human flows, ethnicity, citizenship


Since 2015, media coverage has emphasized the numbers of migrants arriving in Europe, rather than the complexity and diversity of migration journeys they endure. Current increases in anti-immigrant politics across the Global North have perpetuated the narrative of the Muslim refugee as the embodiment of terror and socio-economic instability. In this article, I explore the problems with the narrative of a ‘refugee crisis’ in Europe on two levels: first, the classification of the displaced and border-crossing bodies into hierarchical categories of the ‘unwanted’ other; second, the misrepresentation of a ‘crisis’ of refugees in the political North compared to the rest of the world. I argue that despite the rise in asylum seekers in Europe and North America, the political North continues to be minimally affected by the refugees and dislocated populations. Moreover, from the transnational humanitarian organizations to the governments in the
Global North, has come a system of classifying immigrants that privileges some particular ‘types’ of the displaced over others. Thus, the representation of the ‘threat’ is misleading, engendering the displaced as ‘refugees’, and too often, as Muslim refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.