Why is violence still perpetuated against refugees?

Across the world today refugees are subjected to torture, abuse, and discrimination. Why, when refugees are in need of support, are they still the targets of violence?

Lack of accountability

The number of detention centres has increased across the world. Not only do they intensify the suffering of refugees, they also remove their experience from public view. Detention centres often operate in a legal vacuum without proper scrutiny from politicians or the public. 

The use of fear

Sadly politicians are all-too-aware that creating fear of an out-group can help boost their popularity – under such conditions, people often look for sources of leadership and authority. Use of words like “swarm” and “invasion”, the perpetuating of myths about the impact of refugees on national economies and culture, and the use of racial slurs works to both increase public fears and dehumanize refugees – “legitimizing” policies of violence. This creates a dangerous cycle. Evidence shows that the increased use of anti-migrant rhetoric by politicians increases public anger towards them – therefore requiring a hardline response from those that represent them. 

Lack of knowledge

Partly driven by political priorities, research into the experiences of refugees are not mainstream. Research on refugees tend to focus on their impact on host countries and investigations into refugee poverty are rare. And while economists are interested in promoting the free movement of goods and capital, there is less passion for the promotion of free movement of people – especially if those people may not be categorized, in economic terms, as a net-benefit.


How a refugee is categorized and labeled impact their inclusion and exclusion at borders and in host countries, how the conditions for displacement are understood, and how refugees are presented.

Often a high profile war – especially one perpetuated by a villainous, anti-Western figure – will create “deserving refugees” while a more prolonged or uncertain conflict does not. There tends also to be a favouring of refugees who are visibly and currently ‘suffering’ compared to those who are threatened – such as because of their political, ethnic, or sexual identity. The categorization and labeling of displaced populations set the deserving against the undeserving for refugee protection.

Empathy fatigue

Even those refugees who are deemed worthy of support, may find that the tide of public opinion turns against them. The repeated portrayal of negative and depressing stories about the plight of refugees in the media often leads the public to “switch-off” – empathy is drained and concentration moves on to a new problem. 

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