Guest blog by Migrants’ Rights Network for World Refugee Day, originally published here on June 20, 2023

World Refugee Day

Our approach to refugee advocacy must not fall into the trap of single-issue politics. In this blog post, we unpick the language of “refugee” through an intersectional lens.

Forgotten refugees

This World Refugee Day, we want to draw attention to the forgotten refugees of the world, including Palestinians, Sudanis, Syrians, Iraqis and those from the Global South. Refugees who are racialised and suffering the legacies of (settler) colonialism and imperialism are often neglected, and their plight is ignored by European society. We must remember the colonial causes of displacement, and centre the stories of those who are often left out of the conversation, including Muslim refugees and refugees with disabilities.

At MRN, we look at migration through an intersectional lens, because we cannot understand the movement of people without an understanding of how people experience compounded forms of oppression beyond citizenship status.

Queering “refugee”

How do we stand in solidarity with refugees, especially during Pride Month? We must recognise the unique struggles of queer refugees, and the specific intersections of refugee status and queerness.

But queer theory can also allow us to expand our understanding of who gets to even count as a refugee in the first place. If queerness is an orientation defiant of mainstream norms, definitions and ways of understanding the world, we can queer the label of “refugee”, and open this definition up to include those who are often left behind.

How can we queer the label of “refugee”? Before we can expand our understanding of who counts as a refugee, we need to familiarise ourselves with what “refugee” actually means.

A refugee is an individual whose claim for asylum has been legally recognised. It includes those who have been forcibly displaced from one country to another, due to war or conflict, or because they are being harmed or are at risk of being harmed due to a protected characteristic.

As the label of “refugee” is used to denote a person whose asylum claim has been recognised, it excludes many who do not meet this criteria. We think it is important to include undocumented migrants, asylum seekers, and those whose claims have not been recognised through our refugee advocacy, since those who are barred from receiving the extra legal and societal protections afforded to refugees are denied this protection due to arbitrary legal thresholds and criteria.

The label of “refugee” also does not commonly include those who have been internally displaced, since it is focused on those who are displaced across internationally recognised borders. However, the stories of internally displaced people also deserve our attention, despite the absence of an internationally recognised border being crossed.

We must think about who gets the protection of being formally recognised as a “refugee”, and how this is reflective of racial hierarchies that denote some people as more worthy of protection and respect, and others as deserving of dehumanisation. We must think about how the legal category of “refugee” can be used to silence, dismiss and ostracise those who are deemed as “illegitimate”, “unworthy” or “ungenuine”, and how this reinforces an idea of humanity centred on Whiteness. 

Forgotten stories

Read on to hear more about stories that are often forgotten and sidelined in mainstream refugee advocacy.

Read the blog here.