Flows and Barriers

Cruel nature has won again*

*Song lyric from the song “On battleship hill” by PJ Harvey, from her record “Let England Shake”.


It is often repeated that the issue of refugees reveals much about today’s Europe. The political response may widen the rift between EU member states. The language used to describe the movement of refugees from warzones into Europe is telling in this respect.

Mainstream media talk about “the migration phenomenon”, “refugee flows”, “a wave of migrants/refugees”. These terms strip agency from people. Using the language of geology, they conceal what caused people to become refugees. At the same time, they cast refugee arrivals as natural phenomena limited to a particular area. Nothing more natural, then, than the creation of barriers to limit “inflows”.

To what degree do images of reality refugees face lead to the awakening of consciences? Much debate followed the circulation of the photograph of dead Alan Kurdi on social media. In a society feeding on violence, how is it still possible that violent images, reproduced out of context, awaken consciences? Combined with water metaphors, reactions are like those to a natural disaster. A disaster for which no one is to blame and which no one can stop.

This may be fulfilling an aim, namely the avoidance of real cooperation in Europe. This is compounded by the dramatic developments of this year’s “Greek summer”. Guardian economics editor Larry Eliott draws parallels between the current situation and the beginning of the First World War. He argues that the Greek crisis is point zero for the new European breakup. Failure to meet obligations towards refugees may be the next episode in this saga. Cruel nature seems to be winning again…


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