Gratitude, COVID-19 and Moral Blackmail/ Moral Risk

A Turkish paramilitary police officer carries the body of 3-year-old Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi, found washed ashore near the Turkish resort of Bodrum in September 2015.

19 March 2020

Welcome to our online discussion of today’s readings. I hope you all are doing well and trying to stay sane as our (North American) society experiences near universal proximity to precariousness for the first time.

I will start by posing some reflective questions on Dina Nayeri’s piece; then ask a COVID-19 related question that pertains to refuge-seeking history; and finally ask a few questions on the Mann chapter, which ties together his previous conceptual arguments and also links to Dominique, Brayden and Ashley’s ongoing project.

You may engage with as many questions as you would like. This discussion is one of the newly added graded discussions (check the Brightspace site for the updated syllabus).

Dina Nayeri: The Ungrateful Refugee

Here is a podcasted interview with Dina Nayeri regarding the above longer book by the same title.

My suggestion for participating in discussion of this piece is to select the three phrases that struck you the most, list them, and explain why. Here are mine:

  1. This must have been how long it took them to tell their parents about the Iranian kid.” This resonated with me because of how it explains how fear of the other is passed on from generation to generation, and how elders teach children to express that fear in hostility. In Princeton a couple of weeks ago, I was discussing with Gisèle Shapiro the fact that COVID-19 seems to be sparing most (although not ALL) children. “Survival of the fittest,” she responded, “They will live the future world without us…” This brief statement made me imagine how the world might change if suddenly adults were wiped out… Of course this is all in the abstract, but to connect it back to Nayeri’s sentence, one things that it makes clear is how racialized distancing is transmitted by adults on the basis of their historical thinking, and reproduced in children before they have the knowledge or intellect that would enable them to understand it consciously. To follow Shapiro’s statement through, we might assume that in a world without adults or older children already taught to think in certain ways, prejudice on the basis of race, origin, culture, etc, might be entirely absent.
  2. Glorifying the refugees who thrive” is the same thing as “endorsing the gratitude politics” that Nayeri unveils. As I read this, I realized that this is what makes me uncomfortable in the Tareq Hadhad story that Eliza referenced earlier this semester. A Syrian refugee, Hadhad created a chocolate factory in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and he now speaks in public on the merit of private sponsorship of refugees in Canada. Not only does this shore up the “separation of the worth exile from the unworthy,” a notion that Nayeri convincingly problematizes; it also places an added burden on Hadhad’s shoulders, who has already spent “much life” settling in, thereby perpetuating his indebtedness to Canada.
  3. It is the obligation of every person in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.” When Nayeri republished this piece as a short story, she changed this setting to a building on fire. This obligation is precisely the one that Mann theorizes as the moral risk that makes an application of purely positive law impossible, and that necessitates human rights law in its stead.


Health workers are preparing for COVID-19 cases to reach the migrant and asylum seeker camps along Mexico’s US border. [Daniel Becerril/Reuters]

A week ago, I introduced the notion of lifeboat ethics during our discussion. I have been thinking more about lifeboat ethics since the social distancing measures recommended to spare those most vulnerable to COVID-19 have been enacted in most states with outbreaks. I have been observing how people respond by either ignoring these recommendations or encouraging others to apply them and explaining their importance for maintaining collective strength in the face of a pandemic.

We have already learned how crises are like flashpoints for border security and refugee/asylum laws and protocols. COVID-19, a crisis facing all humanity in the shape of a virus entirely indifferent to politics and borders, is already having significant repercussions for borders as well as for displaced populations and refugees, including those already in detention centres. What are some of these changing policies that you have noticed? How do you think this pandemic may affect refuge seeking in the long term?

Itamar Mann, Chap. 4: “Between Moral Blackmail and Moral Risk.”

  1. Itamar Mann’s Chapter 4 begins with the Australian Navy ship Adelaide positioned just on the horizon where its Commander and crew used surveillance measures on a migrants’ boat. The ship kept out of sight in order to prevent migrants from jumping into the sea–which would have obligated the Australians to rescue them and subjected Australia to certain legal obligations. For this discussion, one of the things we might ponder is this notion of the hosting state seeing without being seen. How might we understand and analyse this “operational guideline” directing Adelaide’s Commander?
  2. On pg. 140 Mann writes that the Afghani on board the Tampa were “perceived [by Australian officials] to be not yet in, but already not out of its jurisdiction. Considering the different refuge-seeking milieus you are studying this term, do you think that the goal of many host states is to create a situation of legal limbo for asylum seekers similar to the one constructed in Australia in 2001? How might the new era of pandemic that we are now living through facilitate or complicate the keeping of asylum seekers in limbo–in a holding pattern where they cannot be “refoulé” but also cannot gain access to the courts where cases might be adjudicated?
  3. Australian law makes a distinction between “migration zone” and “Australia’s territory” that enables the executive branch to categorize migrants in territorial waters as a “border control” issue rather than an immigration issue. Are similar territorial/extraterritorial legal arguments being developed by North American states, namely the U.S. and Canada?
  4. On pg. 136, Mann writes that only complementary cooperation between branches of Australian government, i.e. executive, judicial and legislative, enabled the state to eliminate the “human rights encounter” initiated by seafaring asylum seekers. He describes the implications of this three-fold alignment again on pgs. 148 and 149. How does understanding the progression of Australia’s legal and practical response to refuge-seekers help us think through what we, as Canadians, do to ensure that our branches of government do not align to conceal the role Canada plays in the “allocation of death and unlivable life on the planet?” How does understanding the Australian case help us to make sense of the policies/practices that Trump has been enacting in the U.S. on the issue of asylum seeking?

Published by Dr. Terretta

I'm a professor of history at the University of Ottawa.

9 thoughts on “Gratitude, COVID-19 and Moral Blackmail/ Moral Risk

  1. Three phrases that struck me the most from Dina Nayeri’s article:

    “A dash of racism I had expected – but I wasn’t Chinese; were these children wholly ignorant to the shape of the world outside America?”
    This particular quote struck me, not because I was exactly surprised by the fact that Nayeri had expected racism from her classmates, but because of how much of a reality it is for immigrants and non-white people coming or living in America. While I can’t speak to the experience of racism being white myself, I wasn’t surprised by the fact that Nayeri was expecting to be met by some racist insult even at such a young age, which I think really speaks to the state of societies like America and Canada. I also think that the insults the children chose indicates a larger ignorance to the cultures and the world outside of its borders, and maybe even a lack of curiosity toward learning about them.

    “If she took too long to articulate a thought, they stopped listening and wrote her off as unintelligent.”
    Much like the previous quote, this, again, struck me as something that migrants experience all too frequently. Despite her training as a doctor and the fact that she had to learn an entirely new language, Nayeri’s mother was poorly treated by her colleagues, who most likely ignored how far she had come and how much she had experienced in wartorn Iran.

    “We had to lay it at their door like an offering, and gleefully deny it to earn our place in this new country.”
    When one has never had to seek refuge or asylum, it’s easy to ignore how much people who become refugees have had to go through both before leaving their homes, and during the process of trying to be resettled. Yet, host countries expect refugees to simply forget about their past; to deny where they came from and what they went through in order to gain acceptance within the country that has been hosting them. The resettlement and acceptance of refugees is no longer a moral and humanitarian obligation, but becomes a transaction, where refugees who have been resettled within a country like America must give up their past to them and shower them with gratitude as a means of repayment.

    What are some of these changing policies that you have noticed? How do you think this pandemic may affect refuge seeking in the long term?

    One of the things that became most notable to me during the pandemic these past few weeks has been the refugee ‘crisis’ that has been happening in Greece. Turkey changed its policy to allow asylum seekers leaving its territory to reach Europe, which went against a deal signed with the EU in 2016. Afterwards, multiple Turkish refugees sought to reach Greece, where many refugees were held in holding stations, but soon took to protesting due to the deteriorating living conditions. Other refugees and migrants tried to force their way across the Greek border, but were met with tear-gas and water canons to keep them out. From what I’ve seen on news sites, the Greek leader has attempted to seek solutions, and the EU has stepped in, and Germany accepted to take some of the burden from Greece.
    However, with the virus, refugees have not been receiving proper resources to try and reduce the spread of the virus, and NGOs have done their best to support those refugees, but without volunteers and the proper funding, they can only do so much. I think this quote from a news article summarizes my own fears of how the pandemic will affect refugees: “The risk of these people being further stigmatised and pushed even further to the margins is increasing.”


    2. On pg. 140 Mann writes that the Afghani on board the Tampa were “perceived [by Australian officials] to be not yet in, but already not out of its jurisdiction. Considering the different refuge-seeking milieus you are studying this term, do you think that the goal of many host states is to create a situation of legal limbo for asylum seekers similar to the one constructed in Australia in 2001? How might the new era of pandemic that we are now living through facilitate or complicate the keeping of asylum seekers in limbo–in a holding pattern where they cannot be “refoulé” but also cannot gain access to the courts where cases might be adjudicated?

    Based on the progression of this class and what we’ve explored, I would say that there are many host states that attempt to create a legal limbo for asylum seekers, and I’m pretty sure there’s one such example that we’ve seen in class, but I can’t recall at this time. Moreover, I think this new era of pandemic might complicate the keeping of asylum seekers due to the large numbers already present in refugee camps, thus making fertile ground for the virus to spread if it were to reach them. If not already in place, this could also lead to states keeping asylum seekers in ghetto-like conditions, where they might not be allowed to leave the area designated for refugees in fear of spreading the virus either to that state’s own population or to those within refugee camps. Already, there is a strain on what resources are being given to refugees, and as the pandemic spreads, less aid workers might be able or willing to enter these camps. On the other hand, given how far COVID-19 has spread, this could potentially lead to greater international aid for refugees, who are stuck in refugee camps that rely on outside resources.

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  2. Nayeri:

    The entire piece that we read helped me reframe some of my own personal thoughts on refugees and their stories. The quotes that resonated with me the most were:
    1) “If I failed to stir up enough gratefulness”…. “I would lose all that I had gained”. I think that this quote just struck me because there is such a common discourse that being resettled is always entirely better than the previous life a refugee might have had in their place of origin or on their asylum seeking journey. There is less attention paid to the reality of having to adjust to a new place where you are unaware of the custom, language and way of life, and the difficulties that arise with resettlement, including the memory and trauma that refugees have to live with on a daily basis. We focus on the gains that refugees should be “grateful” for and do not focus on the losses that are sometimes greater than the gains. And so it is difficult to remain grateful in the face of loss, and yet there is enormous pressure to keep that smiling face.
    2) “implied the unthinkable, that Iran was as beautiful, as fun, as energizing and romantic as Oklahoma, Montana or New York”. This quote just stuck out to me especially because I had someone in my life (who was also Iranian) articulate this point to me in a similar way. Like I mentioned above, the focus of refugee stories is so often on what has been gained, and it assumes that life in their host country is always entirely better than life in their country of origin (Nayeri also touches on this in the radio podcast, where she explains that just to be taken seriously as a refugee she has to tell her story differently depending on who she is talking to). It is difficult to imagine that someone who is claiming asylum could have these fond and kind memories or feelings toward a place where they have sought to escape. However the human experience of life includes a balance of this good and bad and we cannot discredit the good simply because a refugee has felt unsafe somewhere.
    3) “a person’s life is never a bad investment”. I almost felt as though this part of her article was a plea to the world, to reach out and perform our “human duty to one another” as she describes it. We see this in the Mann chapter about Australia (and especially in my research on Australia and Nauru) that there is a tendency of host countries (especially Western I feel) to place refugees in a state of limbo, because to take on the responsibility of accepting these refugees is a threat, or a burden, especially if it turns out “badly” (I suppose badly would be anywhere from economic failures, or failure to assimilate in a new culture, etc). We also see this in the COVID-19 responses about the care provided to patients who test positive. Especially with hospitals becoming overcrowded and talk of treating only those patients likely to recover and leaving those unlikely to recover out of the health centres. As Nayeri writes I believe also that a person’s life is always important, and that there is no future outcome that negates the fact that saving a life or extending a hand is a bad investment for any party involved.

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  3. A few passages/quotes that stood out to me in Dina Nayer’s article:

    1. “From then on, we sensed the ongoing expectation that we should shed our old skin, give up our former identities – every quirk and desire that made us us – and that we would imply at every opportunity that America was better, that we were so lucky, so humbled to be here”
    Nayeri discusses her unease with the feeling she faced in America that she had to fully give up her old identity in order to be accepted. When reading this passage, I had the impression that she felt as though she couldn’t feel comfortable sharing what her family did remember positively about Iran, and instead had to present her family’s story in bipolar terms, with America being the good and Iran being everything America was not. She couldn’t share positive memories because as she writes, such memories “would imply the unthinkable: that Iran was as beautiful, as fun, as energising and romantic, as Oklahoma or Montana or New York.” This passage stood out to me because I think too often people forget that refugees did not flee by choice, but rather for their survival and freedom, and we forget that it is entirely reasonable and justified for them to miss their home country.

    2. “Even those on the left talk about how immigrants make America great. They point to photographs of happy refugees turned good citizens, listing their contributions, as if that is the price of existing in the same country…. But isn’t glorifying the refugees who thrive according to western standards just another way to endorse this same gratitude politics?”
    After researching discourse around refugees and asylum-seekers for my group presentation, this quote by Dina Nayeri stood out to me. In my personal experience I have noticed that pointing to refugees’ achievements and contributions, often in economic terms, is one of the primary ways proponents of refugee-hosting defend their case. I have also come across the use of this argument by the UNHCR itself (see, with the UNHCR sharing stories of refugees founding businesses and growing up to become doctors and Rhodes scholars as proof that refugees are beneficial to Canada. Nayeri shows that welcoming refugees, and thus protecting those whose lives or liberties are at risk, is an obligation, regardless of whether or not refugees turn out to be “success stories” in the Western sense of the term.

    3. “But what America did was a basic human obligation. It is the obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks”
    I appreciated reading Nayeri challenge the self-congratulatory view of refugee-hosting that exists in North America. I feel as though in Canada particularly, we have a tendency to applaud ourselves for all of our efforts at taking in refugees, as if we are going above and beyond what is expected, all while forgetting the refugees that our country turns (and has turned) away. This attitude necessarily creates a situation in which we feel refugees owe it to us through their gratitude.

    COVID-19 creates a unique set of circumstances for refugees. Firstly, with COVID-19 understandably dominating the news and media, I feel as though all other news issues have taken to the sidelines at the time. In these circumstances and in the midst of a crisis and pandemic of this nature, it’s easy to forget that there remain other challenges out there. I think it’s important for people to remember that the challenges refugees currently face have not gone away, but in fact have been worsened by the new health care challenges they are dealing with. For refuge-seekers, COVID-19 is just another one of many hurdles that they have already faced and, in particular, I worry that they may not receive the testing they need to protect themselves and that vulnerable refugees who contract the virus may not have access to respirators and the health services they require.
    Secondly, this is one of the few (if not only) time(s) in my life when I truly feel like most people around me feel like we are going through a crisis, in the sense that it’s one of the first times when I’ve seen most people put away their other concerns and focus on one single problem. While the circumstances we are going through now are different than a refugee facing war or severe persecution, this event certainly brings me more understanding about what it’s like to live in a society going through a crisis.
    Finally, I am very interested in seeing what the long-term effects of COVID-19 are and the implications of the responses countries have taken. I came across an article this morning in The Globe and Mail entitled “Closing of borders could be the most lasting harm from this coronavirus pandemic” (see While the exceptional circumstances of COVID-19 understandably call for exceptional measures, it will be worth looking at what this means in the future when we eventually return to normal at the end of the COVID-19 outbreak. With many people seeing borders closing so easily, it will be interesting to see how easy it will be for these new walls to come down afterwards. While I sincerely hope that COVID-19 will bring humanity together, I have seen examples of the coronavirus inflaming rhetoric against asylum-seekers, with a number of right-leaning Canadians using the closure of the border to express anger that asylum-seekers continue to cross the border at Roxham Road in Québec (see

    1. Mann’s Chapter 4 raises an interesting point about seeing without being seen, as the ship Adelaide arrived “just beyond the horizon” so it could see the migrants, without itself being seen by them (Mann, p. 134). The example provided by Mann shows the extent to which states will go to abdicate their obligations when it comes to hosting refugees. As the commander of the ship explained, his ship sought to ultimately remain hidden in order to prevent the migrants from “thrusting their bodies into the water in sight of the Australian shop” and thus creating a legal necessity to initiate rescue (pp. 134-135).

    2. In my own research, I have come across examples of asylum-seekers in a situation of legal limbo while they wait for a more permanent outcome. Articles (for example see Kao and Lu) discuss the long waiting periods asylum-seekers must go through when seeking asylum in the US. At the same time, increasingly harsh laws against undocumented immigrants make it harder for these asylum-seekers to go beyond mere survival and instead enjoy freedoms and a sense of civic participation, as they await an outcome. As outlined in my group’s first presentation, laws in Canada have also had a similar effect. The Safe Third Country Agreement between Canada and the U.S., for example, prohibits asylum-seekers from the U.S. (which is listed as a safe third country) from seeking asylum at official border entry points, which has led more and asylum-seekers to turn to non-official land border crossings, after which they wait for a decision in precarity and limbo. In terms of COVID-19, it is certainly a worry that the voice of refuge-seekers will go unheard at this time, while at the same time, be left in an even more precarious situation as they lack testing and the vital health care services they need.

    3. I found it interesting to read about the difference between Australia’s territory and its “migration zone,” as it was not something that I was aware of before reading Mann. As I continue my research on Canada and the U.S. for this class, it will be something I can look into. One argument, I can think of, however, is the presentation of migrants and asylum-seekers at borders in North America as a “border control” issue to be managed and stopped, rather than as a humanitarian issue.

    4. Mann’s research shows that the different branches of government in Australia worked together to eliminate the “human rights encounter” between refugees. For example, the executive branch saw itself as Australia’s gatekeeper, with the ultimate discretion over the border (p. 147). The legislative branch, on the other hand, viewed sovereignty as “operationalized and realized though a cooperative transnational network” and thus worked with other countries in the region to arrive at the Pacific Solution (p. 148). The judiciary also played a role by affirming that the executive power to remove rescued asylum seekers came from “Australia’s nature as a sovereign state” (p. 141). In the North American context, the complementary cooperation seen in Australia shows the effects that over-bureaucratization can have on the human rights encounter. As Mann writes, Lévinas wrote that “the ethical imperative is something that is experienced in the world — paradigmatically in the encounter with the other” (p. 158); this over-bureaucratization and the reliance on large policies like the Pacific Solution, however, can detract from the human rights encounter. Trump’s Executive Order 13767 (“Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvement”) can be seen in this light, viewing the border and asylum-seekers as an issue to be managed, rather than a human rights encounter to be experienced. Finally, I believe the rhetoric coming from President Trump reflects the quote by Australian Prime Minister John Howard, cited by Mann, that “We will decide on who comes to this country, and the circumstances in which they come” (p. 141). By seeing refuge-seekers as a threat to a country’s independence and declaring in advance that the terms for the “human rights encounter” were already set — on the host country’s terms — it makes it difficult to have a true human rights encounter, described earlier by Mann as the decision of “you, and no one else, will decide if I have a life worth living” (p. 48).

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  4. Phrases that struck me from Dina Nayeri’s article
    1. “The hate wasn’t about being darker, or from elsewhere. It was about being those things and daring to be unaware of it. As refugees, we owed them our previous identity.”
    The need to be not only aware of your difference but also grateful for the chance to renounce and abandon it really struck me. As Nayeri writes just before this paragraph, assimilating was not enough without vocal confirmation that doing so was a privilege. At the same time, she highlights how little the people of her town actually knew about the identity they were expecting her to abandon (the paragraph where she talks bout what people didn’t ask her – “No one ever asked what our house in Iran looked like, what fruits we grew in our yard, what books we read, what music we loved and what it felt like now not to understand any of the songs on the radio.” – was another one I felt deeply). It makes me think of the tension between the expectation to abandon your previous identity and the nationalist narratives of “a country of immigrants” and “Canadian multiculturalism” and other nationalisms that use rhetoric of difference and a search for safety. However, no country on earth calls itself “a country of refugees.”

    2.“The refugee has to be less capable than the native, needier; he must stay in his place… If so, then why all the reverence for the refugees who succeed against the odds, the heartwarming success stories?”
    Nayeri’s question made me think of Tareq Hadhad as well, and I think his story highlights at least some of the conditions placed on this reverence for those who succeed. First is numbers – Canada has accepted very few refuge-seekers so Canadians (particularly those outside of urban centres) can laud Hadhad’s success and pat themselves on the back for our welcoming nature without actually having to face the arrival of difference within our own communities. I also think the industry Hadhad succeeded in is a factor – how many Canadians, especially in Nova Scotia, would have felt that Hadhad’s chocolate-making business was a threat to their economic security? Very few, if anyone, in Antigonish felt their livelihood threatened.


    The requirement of having citizenship in the country you’re landing in as a permit to fly is the first things that comes to mind. The policy and public discourse emphasis is on what governments are doing to protect their citizens, not people in general regardless of origin. To some extent it feels like currently health is not a human right but one associated with citizenship (and/or wealth, depending on the country you’re in). I think in the long term, we may see an increase in the need for refugee-seekers to prove their “healthiness” even more than we do now and an increase in rhetoric around refuge-seekers’ uncleanliness. Border security and “emergency measures” to limit population movement (that may only partially get lifted) does and will disproportionately impact non-citizens – the freezing of legal ways to enter a social contract in the name of restricting the spread of the virus seems possible.

    There is also a danger for people who are within the borders of a country they might wish to settle in but are not citizens. There is a large Chinese migrant community in northern Italy working in the textile industry, often unregistered with the Italian government and sometimes working for no pay (here are three articles (sadly I can’t hyperlink) with come interesting thoughts about community, citizenship, the “successful” migrant etc: ; ; Already targeted by the police and facing Sinophobia pre-COVID-19, I wonder how the lockdown is affecting them and what the government might do, especially to those who are undocumented, post-lockdown. We’ve seen communities scapegoated for the tardy action of governments before.

    On a different note, non-citizens and recent immigrants are highly represented in many of the services governments have deemed essential in North America (grocery stores, food services, transportation, construction etc). This dramatically increases their risk of exposure while they simultaneously have more restricted access to healthcare. Like others in industries with low job security, they cannot necessarily self-isolate or lose shifts/jobs and they don’t necessarily have access to the social security services citizens do.

    Mann, Chapter 4
    1. By enforcing “seeing without being seen”, one of the things the guidelines do is attempt to prevent refuge-seekers taking action to initiate the human rights encounter. As Mann has discussed, it is their acting to make demands in the name of human rights is what calls those rights into play. It does make me question what would happen if the migrants’ boat was already in life-threatening distress, like sinking. How would the Adelaide have acted? What moral risk is felt if there is no moral blackmail?


  5. Dina Nayeri, “The Ungrateful Refugee”:
    1. “As refugees, we owed them our previous identity. We had to lay it at their door like an offering, and gleefully deny it to earn our place in this new country.”
    This statement made me think about the saviour complex that is sometimes associated with refugee sponsorship, especially the words “owed” and “earn”. The trade-offs faced by refugees are often greater than the trade-offs faced by the host society since refugees are expected to assimilate and demonstrate that they are deserving of membership in the host society, whereas the host society gives up comparably little besides the space granted to the refugees. Social interaction between refugees and the host society is consequently grounded in indebtedness and these exchanges are not equal because they are contingent on the suppression of the refugee’s identity, while the host has no analogous obligation.

    2. “From then on, we sense the ongoing expectation that we would shed our old skin, give up our former identities – every quirk and desire that made us, us – and that we would imply at every opportunity that America was better, that we were so lucky, so humbled to be here.”
    This statement relates to the first one in that it also touches on the theme of muting one’s identity. The image of “shed[ding] our old skin” made me think about how refugees encounter orientalism in the Western world and how in many cases the only viable solution to this problem is to renounce one’s culture entirely. Another way of thinking about this is ‘roots and routes’: this is a phrase I learned in my religious education classes when I younger. Although ‘roots and routes’ bore positive connotations in the way it was taught to me, it can be thought of as foregoing the identity of where one came from, the identity that shaped a person, in favour of a new identity – one that is foreign to the refugee but is familiar to those in the host society.

    3. “The refugee has to be less capable than the native, needier; he must stay in his place.”
    This statement made me think about dependency versus symbiosis when it comes to the attitudes of the host society. In the first instance, the host society provides for the refugee who is less than, thereby creating a situation of dependency. Under this artificial dependency, any benefit that the refugee provides to the host society is outweighed by the costs of supporting the refugee. There is no equal footing, but an asymmetrical power dynamic where the refugee remains inferior to the host because the system cannot sustain itself if the refugee is as capable as “the native”. With regard to symbiosis, I’ll bring up the example of the Ismaili community in Canada, although there are many other groups and diasporas to whom this condition also applies. The refugees who arrived from Uganda in 1972 were initially met with ignorance and intolerance. Over time, the Ismailis have exemplified how being Ismaili is not inimical to being Canadian, but that the two identities are complementary. Many Ismaili institutions serve to enhance civil society and work in tandem with public organizations to enhance the community at large. There is no imbalance at play – both the Ismailis and civil society benefit from mutual assistance.

    From a non-political point of view, the coronavirus pandemic has certainly illustrated the differences between people’s wants and needs, particularly with all of the panic buying and hoarding of goods taking place in North America. In the United States, there has been a surge in the harassment of Asian immigrants, both in person and online. At the same time, I have seen an outpouring of kindness with people offering to pick up groceries for others, supporting charities, and fostering a sense of solidarity online. These examples show different sides of human nature: the defensive side and the compassionate side.

    Politically speaking, countries are closing their borders and imposing travel restrictions. This tightening of security is fueling insecurity and the states of emergency enacted alongside these security measures amplify this unease. Many Canadians are stranded abroad with no way of returning home due to airlines minimizing international flights. Cruise ships are being turned away from ports in order to limit contagion. Hospitals are operating at capacity and sooner or later, medical staff will be faced with the decision of deciding who to save and who dies.

    The following tweet fits well with our class discussion: “If the #coronavirus has taught us anything, it is the lengths that people will go to when desperate. Next time you want to judge boat people, refugees, migrants fleeing war torn land – remember we fought over toilet paper.” (Link: My hope is for people to become more empathetic with asylum seekers, especially with cruise ships being denied permission to dock at ports – this can be stretched to boat people being turned away from the opportunity of asylum. Furthermore, we are fortunate that we have the means and the ability to practice social distancing, but this practice is next to impossible in refugee camps due to population density and the lack of adequate sanitation. The following article by VICE summarizes the immense threat that COVID-19 poses to refugee camps:

    Mann, “Between Moral Blackmail and Moral Risk”:
    1. I will link my answer to the idea of the suppression of humanitarian assistance that Professor Okafor spoke about in his presentation. The operational guideline directing the Adelaide’s commander is an example of preventive action in the negative sense, that is, circumventing humanitarian action before the actor even has a chance to assert him or herself in the name of humanitarianism. The directive renounced the Australian state from its duty to provide life-saving assistance by forestalling any interaction in which this duty could be activated. This created a situation of limbo for the asylum-seekers. They subsequently became scapegoats to justify additional restrictive measures against asylum-seekers in general.

    4. Coordination between the different levels of government affirmed the Australian state’s position as a unitary body, whereas if there had been dissent by any one branch, the state’s overall response would not have been so robust. Public opinion is polarizing in Canada; many Canadians believe that the government is not doing enough in terms of refugee resettlement, while others believe the immigration system is not strict enough. Accordingly, the government is forced to tread carefully. Those calling for refugee resettlement are trying to prevent the issue of unlivable life, while those opposing resettlement and asylum do not wish to deal with this problem at all. In terms of the United States, Trump has the ability to issue executive orders that bypass traditional checks and balances, which makes it easier for his divisive rhetoric to prevail. Measures like the border wall, travel bans, and detention centres are shrouded with the language of ‘emergency’ and Republican members of government help to ‘operationalize’ this sense of emergency through their endorsement of the proposed measures, thereby legitimizing the fear of asylum seekers. Paradoxically, I think that COVID-19 presents an unprecedented opportunity for a role reversal, with Mexico considering closing its borders to Americans. Only time will tell if this will have any impact on American immigration and/or asylum policies, but it could be a power move by Mexico to challenge the treatment faced by asylum seekers trying to gain entry into the US.

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  6. I found this a really important part of your comments: “Secondly, this is one of the few (if not only) time(s) in my life when I truly feel like most people around me feel like we are going through a crisis, in the sense that it’s one of the first times when I’ve seen most people put away their other concerns and focus on one single problem. While the circumstances we are going through now are different than a refugee facing war or severe persecution, this event certainly brings me more understanding about what it’s like to live in a society going through a crisis.” This is what I meant when I started off my blogpost with that phrase “universal proximity to precariousness.” Because although social status, wealth and power will greatly effect how people can access testing and treating, and the degree to which they can follow directives to “shelter in place,” the reality is that everyone is vulnerable to contracting this virus, no matter how much money they have invested in shoring up their own individual security. For me, having grown up in Cameroon, and traveled extensively abroad, one of the frustrating things about teaching human rights to Canadian or American students is the gap between their own experience and what they can conceive/imagine when they think of the rightless or less privileged. This moment in our global human experience offers a glimpse of that feeling of precariousness, lack of control, fear and vulnerability that a majority of the world’s population lives with daily…


  7. I’ve included some phrases that struck me from Dina Nayeri’s article. Her entire piece was though-provoking but I chose a few sentences that placed vivid images in my mind.

    1. “It was about being those things and daring to be unaware of it. As refugees, we owed them our previous identity. We had to lay it at their door like an offering, and gleefully deny it to earn our place in this new country.”

    Nayeri describes this interaction like one between an individual and their deity. An offering made to your host country to accept you for how much you can be like them (or grateful to them) as well (by learning their mannerisms, characteristics and cultures). Who you were prior to your displacement did not matter. Who you would become in America and how much of your success you would attribute to your host country is what people sought to celebrate.

    2. “You don’t know how much life has already been spent settling into the cracks of your walls.”

    A refugee re-learns their entire life in order to fit into the social, political and economic fabric of the host country they enter and that is exhausting. Nayeri’s heart-wrenching analysis of the old man punching his fist in the air after he receives his citizenship is not one to celebrate but rather worry over. Imagining the hurdles, trauma and stress he endured to finally feel some semblance of safety is painful because you realize how much of someone’s life is spent trying to prove that they are worthy of this safety. Even worse, people born into it celebrate his struggle as if it was the price he needed to pay to gain citizenship. This sentence was impactful – I pictured a wall representing citizenship and a refugee trying to fit parts of themselves into its cracks.

    3. “For me, as soon as those words leave the officer’s mouth, my confidence is replaced by a gush of gratitude. “Thank you!” I say breathlessly.”

    In this portion, Nayeri speaks of her interaction with a border patrol agent upon her return home from abroad. For anyone holding an American passport, this interaction should not feel like an exchange of power, but the moment Nayeri hears the word “welcome home,” she is grateful for being let back into this country. Grateful to whom? This passage is powerful in its vivid portrayal of how this invisible expectation of gratitude is not only cultural but also systemic. Stories of grateful interactions with border patrol agents exist to remind us that at any moment, our right to be on this land can be taken away So we must live with that precarious feeling for the rest of our lives, grateful to America for letting them in but not daring to ask it for more.

    COVID 19

    This morning, Prime Minister Trudeau announced new measures to address the spread of COVID19 by turning back refugee and asylum-seeker arrivals at borders (unspecified whether this would just be land borders but also include sea/air travel). An independent journalist during the press briefing clarified this measure with the PM, asking whether this would turn asylum seekers back to the US where they faced detention in an ICE facility or worse, deportation. While Trudeau’s answer did not address this question specifically, he did mention that these types of agreements were being talked about with their American counterparts far before the spread of COVID19 became an emergency. This is concerning – particularly with the negligence of a human rights commitment to the refugee and also with the increased risk of COVID infection in detention facilities. How will we protect our most vulnerable?

    On that note, the panic and distress witnessed by so many of us is a stark reminder of what living life in precarity looks like for a refugee. I am re-reading Sharon Bala’s “The Boat People,” a novel on the stories of 492 Tamil refugees who arrived by boat during the 2010 MV Sun Sea incident. One of the fathers is separated from his 6-year old son and taken to a high-risk penitentiary. There, he is directed to wash up with his fellow male asylum-seekers and scrub off three months of dirt, sweat, and blood. Once they’re done, they stand together in the communal shower and start to laugh. After witnessing a brutal civil war, deaths of their wives, torture, and all types of abuse, they have finally arrived in a land that will hopefully return some semblance of safety. I think this passage stuck out to me this past week, because one thing we’re forgetting to remind each other during these times is the necessity of hope. Hope that things will change for the better, hope that we will get through this.

    Itamar Mann, Chap. 4: “Between Moral Blackmail and Moral Risk.”

    1. When members on Adelaide chose to not approach the migrant boat, they did so out of knowledge that if the passengers would have seen them, they would’ve jumped out of the boat and the Navy would have had to rescue them. Understanding the difference between being saved by the Navy then brought to Australia, and arriving in the migrant boat are two key components in assessing the significance of this example. If the refugees arrived by boat, they would be perceived as actors who had a set of rights and chose to embark on a boat and seek refuge. If they were saved by the Navy and brought over, the refugees would be perceived as needing asylum. The “operational guideline” employed by the Australian Navy ship is a reaction to the measures they see states around them adopting to protect their sovereignty and limit their human rights commitments to asylum seekers.

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  8. Question 1: Nayeri

    Quote 1: “if I failed to stir up enough gratefulness… I would lose all that I had gained”

    This quote reminds me of Thi Bui’s story. In the graphic novel, Bui describes her first years in America living with relatives and the difficulties that brings. These difficulties such as finding work and getting in education in a new language. Both Nayeri and Bui describe the difficulties of being a refugee that has been resettled. The discourse around settled refugees is that they are privileged enough to have been saved, grateful for this new chance, despite the problems that might come with it. It is necessary to understand what a person has lost when they seek refuge, such as culture, communities, and history.

    Quote 2: “As refugees, we owed them our previous identity. We had to lay it at their door like an offering, and gleefully deny it to earn our place in this new country.”

    For refugees, in order to be accepted they often have to give up their past. By assimilating in order to create a better future. This means wearing different clothes, reducing accents, and following the hegemonic ways of their host societies. The amount that is given up by these host countries is not comparable. In order to save themselves or their families, refugees are asked to suppress themselves. This makes me understand why diaspora groups are so prevalent, because by finding people with the a shared understanding of your experience, you can be comforted to find a community that is in your new space.

    Quote 3: “But what America did was a basic human obligation. It is obligation of every person born in a safer room to open the door when someone in danger knocks.”

    This quote simplifies the act of refugee-hosting. By helping someone escape a bad situation, it is not something that deserves praise because it should always be done. American people thinking we are owed gratitude is misplaced because often we turn away people in need of support. This quote helps me understand that although Canada and the US often take people out of danger but that does not deserve praise because often refugees are not given proper support after this act to thrive properly in their new home.

    Question 2: Covid

    Personally, I have not noticed much information about how this virus will affect refugees. Short term, I believe this will cause major problems for people trying to access host countries. In the long term, this virus has increase people’s racist behaviours, unjustly making them fear people from foreign countries. This behaviour not only makes it more difficult for refugees to access a host county but also opens them up to more possible violence in the future.

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  9. “Because a person’s life is never a bad investment, and so there are no creditors at the door, no debt to repay.”

    When I read this paragraph, it immediately brought me back to the research I have done for our group blog posts and presentations. Consistently, refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers and were depicted as criminals. For instance, an article called Sanctuary Cities: What Trump doesn’t tell you published my MSNBC began with a story of a woman getting shot by an undocumented immigrant. I was shocked that a typically liberal media source would begin a story centering undocumented people with a story about violence committed by an immigrant. After reading the whole piece, it turns out that President Trump was using this story as a way to justify measures against sanctuary cities. The author of the article further explains that this incident did not take place in a sanctuary city – though President Trump claims that it did.

    This article ultimately defended sanctuary cities, however I was still uncomfortable with the use of the story of a woman getting shot by an undocumented immigrant as a way to carry the piece and refute President Trumps claims. What if an undocumented immigrant did shoot and kill someone in a sanctuary city? Does that mean that entire communities don’t deserve the limited protections that are in place in sanctuary cities? Does that mean that the undocumented immigrant that killed someone did not deserve to live in the U.S? Nayeri’s piece emphasizes the duty to open doors to people who need it – even if it is difficult, messy, or a ‘strain on resources’. This includes people who might be labeled as criminals.

    “They’re right about that, but does that mean that Malamud’s refugee isn’t entitled to his private tragedies? Is he not entitled to crave death? Must he first pay off his debt to his hosts and to the universe?”

    Even in death, refugees are committing a crime in not being eternally grateful. I think what struck me about this paragraph was the student’s reaction to his death. That they immediately suggested that Malamud was not deserving of security, safety and opportunity since another person was in his place. It brought me back to discussions I have had with my friends and other young people with regards to mental health care. University students often discuss how there should be more resources for people suffering from mental illness. Suicide is not regarded as a tragedy not a ‘waste’ of investment. Is this thinking only reserved for citizens or non immigrants? Why are non-refugees not told that they should be grateful for living in the global north when they are suffering?

    In another paragraph, Nayeri brings up interactions she had with her with women in America when she was young.

    “No one asked what we did in summers or if we had any photos of the Caspian Sea. “Men treat women horribly there, don’t they?” the women would ask. Somehow it didn’t feel OK to tell them about my funny dad with his pockets full of sour cherries, or my grandpa who removed his false teeth when he told ghost stories.”

    Here, she discusses how she felt as though she could not bring up the fact that she had happy memories with her father and grandfather. She also felt as though she could not have corrected her teacher in explaining that she and her mother did not experience abuse at their hands. Refugees are meant to have entirely tragic pasts-but cannot experience, feel, or express those tragedies nor can they express the joys they experienced in their home countries. Their experiences are constructed for them and placed in geographic locations: their tragedy is placed in their home country and their joy is placed in their host country. To feel pain while residing in the host country is to be ungrateful and to have felt joy before arriving in the host country is to be undeserving or unneeding of security and safety.

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