Nordic emergency relief kitchen

nordic kitchen one
Nordic kitchen two

The everyday life of the asylee is based on an uncertain future without hope for improvement. It is one of the worst states, I remember from the early 90ies, the period I spend as asylee in Denmark. I remember meeting Alija, a refugee from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a young man in his late 20ies; I remember the summer day, I met him, when he was sitting on the bench at the train station in Kolding. Alija’s gaze fled the meeting with mine, probably so to avoid having to talk about his meaningless reality. But his sense and consciousness forced him to say hi anyway, and we exchanged a few sentences. While looking straight down at the platform, he told me that after more than three years of waiting for a permanent residency and work permit, he was now waiting for papers from his sister in Canada and hoped to be able to leave Denmark soon. In a quiet voice, he mentioned that he hoped to work and get a better life, “because this is not a life. You see how it is!” Alija had a mild and patient nature.

The true condition of a society is most clearly mirrored in its relationship to its weakest. That is one of the reasons I deal with the Danish migration politics in my practice. Migration politics is more complex, though, than the simple formulation of socitey’s relationship to its weakest, because an asylee is not per definition the weakest link in society (but put in the poorest situation because of her powerless position in the existing asylum system). Because of this, it is not simple to compare the asylee with other groups with special needs, as it is anyway often done in the media. The question of the asylee in contemporary Denmark is far wider than this. Today, the asylee is, among other things, a political instrument, through which the broad majority of the middleclass exercises its own vitality through symbol politics and national identity questions. During the last 20 years, we have in Denmark witnessed a constant development in asylum politics. A development which has been and still is characterized by a form of parliamentary exercise in which we are constantly testing our limits of cynicism, as well as the limit for remaining unpunished for this by those we hold in regard and our global trade partners.

During the same period the policies regarding asylum have made impossible any relationship with the asylee, be it in terms of rights, solidarity, moral or simply human. In other words, the asylee is morally and legally criminalized, guilty until proven otherwise. In the political spectrum, from right to left wing, logics rule from asylees being absolutely unwanted, over them being unwanted because “we cannot receive everyone,” to us being obliged to help those, who are already here, but reserved about whether they are wanted. The absence of any strong public political and cultural opposition on asylum makes such an approach, in its different variations, even more legitimate, and the logics of the ruling xenophobia become the only and convincing truth.

That is one of the reasons why we, in the uneven relationship between on the one hand the asylum system as “legislator” and on the other the asylee as “the accused“, in the public debate often witness a rethoric based on xenophobic logics. The logics of xenophobia are even accepted by people from elsewhere themselves as a premise and foundational to dialogue, in their longing for consensus and acceptance. One of the places, we see this is in the debate on cultural assimilation of people from elsewhere in the leading host culture, and the open acceptance to debate the question based in a liberal logic of costs and benefits connected to “housing them.”

Such an aggressive legislative and institutional break down first and foremost effects the one it is targeting, i.e. the asylee. It is necessary to keep in mind that asylum politics are not only a symbol of a certain symbol politics, but is real and manifests itself physically and mentally in real time and space: Through laws on the seizure of jewelry and assets on the border upon arrival in the country, through reductions of child support with the intention of hurting the basic support of babies and children, through housing new asylees in tent camps even if there are better and cheaper accommodations, through tougher legislation on family reunion, etc. These are only a few of the laws the echoes of which we hear in society and the media – while on average tightening of asylum policies are carried out every three months.

But the reality of the carried-out legislation is reflected on human beings in the present, when he or she is forced to struggle against the almighty system, the monstrous, bureaucratic asylum machine; when he realizes that he is left, deprived of choice, deprived of hope, deprived of visions for the future; when she realizes that a legal and dignified stay in the new context is not possible. With this realization comes the moment with the feeling of ultimate defeat, times when the struggle ends and hours in which you reconcile yourself with the so-called faith. At a symbolic level, this is the manifestation of the power’s victory over the powerless. While the powerless is forced to look defeat in the face. Left is only for him to reconcile himself with a new reality in a succession of failures in the attempt to achieve status as a legal citizen.

It is obvious and without any doubt who carries the responsibility of such a reality, and for the development of the relationship to the asylee. Here we can quote Frantz Fanon: “A society that drives its members to desperate solutions is a non-viable society, a society to be replaced. It is the duty of the citizen to say this.”1 Through Fanons optics it becomes clear that we find ourselves in a situation, where we to a large extent (individuals as well as collectively) are silent about a reality that demands our involvement and action to move us towards the better. Today, we witness many people in the same or worse position than the one Alija was in in the early 90ies. We are witnessing an almighty asylum system which has long ago left all human values behind, if they ever were a part of it, and has transformed into a system of physical and mental torture. A system which unconditionally deprives the asylee any hope of a future or a voice. A system which in a modern manner is administrating prisoners and not human being. That is, those who by luck of coincidence have been fortunate enough to be alive.

The installation “Nordic emergency relief kitchen” can be seen at The Finnish Museum of Photography in Helsinki as part of the exhibition Nordic Delights, from 17 May to 13 August 2017.

1 Frantz Fanon: ”Letter to the Resident Minister”, in Toward the African Revolution – Political Essays; N.Y.: Grove Press (1969), pp. 53-54.

The text is translated by: Jeppe Wedel-Brandt