Humanize Humans

Are all humans truly humans regarding to the media? Are refugees seen in the same neutral eye, and their stories; are they written with the same crafted hands? A polemic about the medias portrayal of refugees  

von Oula Suliman

Migrants at September 13th 2015 in Munich. Photo: JouWatch
refugees arrival – september 13th 2015 in Munich. Photo: JouWatch

Linguistically, the word refugee has one meaning: a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster. But the current humanitarian and social status of refugees gave the word new stagy meanings depending on the context in which it occurs. Take the media as an example where one word can be transformed either into a beautiful shapely image, a red alarm or simply a product. The refugees, according to the media, have become one beloved spice that you can add to every fatty main course to make it more appealing and delicious, regardless of how poor the meal itself could be. So, all you have to do is add the word refugee to any report, no matter how trivial the event actually is and you will get attention and clicks. “The refugees sing”, “the refugees go to school”, “the refugees volunteer”; these are some headings you must have seen in the last few years. Here you see the media foolishly applauding a refugee for doing simple, basic and normal activities that any normal person could actually do. You may ask yourself: so where’s the problem? Why would encouraging refugees be a source of disturbance to you? I asked myself the same question. Well, applauding a refugee for bringing back some money he found on the street made me feel like these acts were not expected from the refugee in the first place. Like he’s a bizarre, undeveloped creature and a simple moral and humane act would not have been anticipated from him, neither towards his host land, or his brothers in “asylum”. I believe moral codes used to be universal, so have refugees become aliens according to the media?

No, stop! I know what you’re thinking. I appreciate the good intentions of helping refugees by presenting decent images of them to their new societies. However, I stand against the systemic sale of the human side of what we call a “refugee”, because I find this kind of media overemphasize is equally harmful to both – the refugees themselves and the host societies.

How? For me it is crystal clear. While the media was desperately looking for the most likely to be sold story, the one that can shed tears and bring donations and sales, they narrated the wrong tales. They presented refugees as victims, neglecting their skills and qualifications. However, there are also Syrian students getting admitted in the best universities, musicians who play in world-class orchestras, filmmakers, scientists or athletes, how can we possibly applaud the first naive activity we see in a camp? Is this all that the refugees can do? Are these seriously breaking-news stories?

While some believe that these articles are helping smoothen the integration process, I think they only expand the chasm between the refugees on one hand and the German citizen who is not receiving anything but onedimensional impressions about the refugees. Impressions that do not represent the diversity of different stories. From my point of view, integration is an act of adaptation, beginning with acceptance and ending with real actions. In this context, I think the media helped modeling stereotypical ideas of the refugee –  as naughty lawbreaker, or a naïve hero with minor qualifications.

True, Syrians and other refugees have suffered a lot and they deserve better than this. Speak to them, get to know them, assess their abilities based on commonly shared standards, not as if they all had special needs, applaud what is worth applause, and punish those who violate the law. We do not want integration based on pity, but on reciprocal recognition, just like other humans. Because refugees, believe it or not, are humans too.

Oula Suliman is a medical student at Charité  Berlin and lives in Germany since 2016. She works as a social worker for WIB; an organization for integrating psychologically and mentally ill people based in Berlin. She is one of seven co-founders of the “Syrian Researchers NGO” in Syria and Germany, a member of its executive board, and manager of the sexual awareness department. She is also a social blogger and runs yearly campaigns in cooperation with different parties especially in terms of women’s rights and health in Syria, gender equality, LGBT rights, and education. She attended medical school at Damascus University for three years, was a member of the national orchestra of the ministry of education, a member of the national team of the Mathematical Olympiad, and represented Syria in many international events.