Saving By Drowning: The Politics of Compassion in Asylum Policy Discourse

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Ala SIRRIYEH, University of Liverpool, United Kingdom
There has been extensive discussion of the now all too familiar hostile attitudes expressed towards undesired migrants and refugees in many societies that receive them (Wazana, 2004; Anderson, 2013; Chavez, 2013; Jones et al, 2017). In this paper, it is maintained that in the context of the rise of a cultural and political script of humanitarianism (Berlant, 2004; Fassin, 2005; Ticktin, 2014) a discourse of compassion has also been present in political debates about ‘undesired immigrants’ and refugees. It is argued that a discourse of compassion has been used by both implementers and opponents of restrictive immigration and asylum policies, often building on the colonial origins of the use of this discourse in reference to racialised others. In doing so, these voices on both sides of the debate have grounded compassion within a relationship of power disparity, control and subjugation. However, there is also evidence of possibilities for alternative engagements with compassion that are grounded in solidarity, and which offer more promising modes of responding to, and resisting, suffering and social injustice. This paper draws on the case of the European, and specifically the UK response, to Syrian refugees discussed in my book Immigration and Asylum Policy: The Politics of Compassion (in press 2018), to explore the role of compassion and its relationship to other emotions in asylum and immigration policy discourse. It examines how these manifest in compassionate refusals (justifying deterrence through compassion), compassionate resistance (resisting immigration controls), and resistance to compassion (excluding people from being recognised as deserving subjects of compassion).