Germany is taking in a new category of refugees: those displaced by war. Politicians have been using the word for people fleeing Putin’s war of aggression for some time. It sounds like great suffering through no fault of one’s own: when fleeing, a person actively avoids an emergency, purely linguistically speaking. Expulsion, on the other hand, is passive, making the expelled the ultimate victim of his circumstances.
The Austrian cultural scientist Judith Kohlenberger argues in her book “The Flight Paradox” that such a new word was needed to turn the asylum discourse around. For years, the public debate was about sealing off the EU against further influx of refugees. But now they suddenly wanted to welcome millions.
New problems for the right of asylum
Hurrah, one could shout. The EU is finally showing itself to be united and humane in dealing with displaced persons. Kohlenberg, however, immediately robs the reader of this hope: She sees the universal right to protection of the right to asylum threatened by the one-sided aid for Ukraine.
A work permit for Ukrainians and pushbacks for Syrians – contradictions like these characterize the entire asylum policy, writes Kohlenberger. Her book reveals them all: Escape in itself is a paradox, she writes: you want to stay, but you have to get away. To exercise your right to protection, you have to break the law and enter illegally.
The way our society deals with refugees is also paradoxical. In our opinion, the right to protection is primarily given to those who need the most help, such as women with children, the sick, drowning people. At the same time, we celebrate the fit and hard-working as examples of successful integration. We grant the newcomers few rights, and in many cases they are not even allowed to work. Nevertheless, they should be integrated as quickly as possible.
The accusation: Europe is too comfortable
A different, less paradoxical refugee policy would be possible. With footage straight from the UNHCR refugee camps, with safe escape routes and legal immigration for those able to work, writes Kohlenberger. But where are the citizens fighting for it? The Europeans are too lazy, too confident that the lawlessness that prevails in the Mediterranean and on Lesbos cannot happen to them.
“Basic rights cannot simply be turned off for some while they continue to apply to others,” she writes. They are like the air. Either everyone has them or nobody has them. Where they are absent, illegitimate tendencies spread. It is no coincidence that the rights of asylum seekers are being trampled on in countries such as Poland and Hungary.
Asylum policy affects us all, that is the simple and thoroughly stirring message of her book. Anyone wishing for concrete instructions for action to be given to politicians will be disappointed. For this, the author presents the readers with a moral mandate: It is about the refugees, not as Other to look at, but as people that we could be ourselves. Taking responsibility would mean consistently and persistently putting yourself in the shoes of everyone who comes along. An asylum policy that would take this to heart would be different anyway.