Graduation Date

Fall 12-18-2020

Grading Professor

Carrie Brown

Subject Concentration

Social Journalism

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


In my research and interviews throughout my Practicum, the topic of refugee representation in the media was frequently discussed. The most common narrative around refugee lives constructs them as dehumanised victims. In an article for The Independent, Emily Cousens writes about the portrayal of the so-called “good” and the “bad” refugee -- in other words, the refugees who are deemed deserving of reception, and those who are not. Cousens reflects upon how the photo of a dead refugee child on the shore of Turkey sparked a wave of global interest in the issues that refugees were facing. She highlights the former Prime Minister of the U.K. David Cameron’s reaction to this image, where he promised to take in 20,000 Syrian refugees in the following 5 years. Cousens compares this motive with the U.K.’s “Kindertransport” from 1939-1945 which transported 10,000 refugee children from Nazi Germany and the occupied territories, saving them from a certain death. Cousens argues that this reinforces the idea that it is primarily children whose lives are worth saving -- the “good” refugees -- and eventually leads to the dehumanization of adults and especially men who are going through the same experiences -- the “bad” refugees. I would add that this ultimately creates a hierarchy of who is deemed human and who is not, and who is perceived to be “innocent” and not, based upon racialised imaginaries inscribed upon different refugee bodies.

The dehumanization of refugees is further deepened through narratives that focus solely upon victimization and tragedy. For example, this is demonstrated by frequent images of refugees that remain “anonymous or sentimentalized (as the figures of refugee mothers with children)”, removed from a broader contextualisation of who these individuals are and where they are from. The common journalistic focus on the tragedy refugees have experienced, as well as upon the work of humanitarian organizations who focus on showing refugees as passive victims, strip refugees of agency and voice, and work to homogenise all refugee experiences as the same.