Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity

By Andreas Wimmer | Go to book overview

7
Racism and xenophobia

The Kurdish refugees who are currently arriving in thousands every month in Western Europe have to face a rather hostile environment (cf. Wahlbeck 1999). While asylum law guarantees some protection from refoulement, it assigns them the status of second-class citizens who can be expelled from the territory to a 'safe third country', if necessary by force, whose mobility within the country of asylum is limited to one commune or province, whose possibilities of gaining an independent living are severely restricted, and for whom all routes to political participation are closed; in short, a situation that resembles the one from which they fled, except that their physical survival is now guaranteed.

The status of refugees is specific on the one hand, but on the other is symptomatic of the fate of other immigrants in the fully nationalised states of Western Europe. While these states are inclusive with regard to their own citizenry, including the 'minorities' that may have survived the nation-building process, they exclude non-national others 'belonging' to other states systematically and legally. The old medieval principle of quidquid est in territorio est de territorio had been replaced, one-and-ahalf centuries previously, by the distinction between national citizens and aliens.

Most refugees and migrants cannot show themselves to be members of the national community on the basis of shared ethnicity and ancestry, as in the case of diasporas 'returning home'. They are not only faced with the structural discrimination against foreigners characteristic of the fully nationalised states, but with a general hostility in everyday social life. One elderly man from northern Iraq who found shelter in Finland described this experience in the following words:

Yes, all the time when you walk on the street you think that perhaps that person hates me. Because it happens sometimes [i.e. racist attacks], which is why you have it with you all the time. We respect Finland and what they have done for us, but we do not know who is against us here. In Kurdistan we knew who the enemy was. (Cited in Wahlbeck 1999: 129)

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