Examining Inspirational Narratives of Refugee Success

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 16:00
Oral Presentation
Gada MAHROUSE, Concordia University, Canada
In his address to the United Nations 2016 Leaders’ Summit on Refugees, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the story of the Hadhads who established a successful business within a year of coming to Canada as Syrian refugees. The epitome of their success was demonstrated not only in the fact that they are now employing 30 Canadians. In his speech, Trudeau urged that “we have to recall stories like this one when we’re trying to think of solutions to help the 65 million displaced persons worldwide”. Trudeau’s speech was a clearly an attempt to set Canada apart from the fear, panic, anxiety and insecurity with which many in the Western world have reacted to the “refugee crisis” (Bauman 2015). With the example of the Hadhads, Trudeau not only challenges the notion of refugees as threats, he presents their success as inspirational. Yet, as critical refugee scholars have argued, it is an uncomplicated variation on the “from rags to riches” stories constituted by notions of rescue and liberation (Nguyen 2013; Lê Espiritu, 2014). Sympathetic groups and individuals who see themselves as in solidarity with refugees, or who simply want to assist and welcome them, are increasingly putting forward similar narratives about refugee inspiration and success.

The focus of this essay is this type of humanitarian narrative of refugees as inspirational. The theoretical framework used emerges out of several overlapping bodies of literature. First and foremost are studies that have interrogated the notion of the “good”, “freed”, and “reformed” refugee showing that it becomes a substitute for the “war enemy” (Lê Espiritu, 2014) and is used to juxtapose the “bad” economic migrant (Szczepanik, 2016) and critical work that has made links between the figure of the good refugee alongside notions of success and gratitude (Nguyen 2012).