The representation of refugees, through visual framing and language, plays a crucial role in shaping the way they are perceived and systematically handled. The discourse, or system of representation, around refugees is shaped by the the concept of ‘othering’. By creating a binary opposition model of ‘us’ and ‘them’, othering creates a disconnect with the real life experiences of refugees. The concept of othering stems from colonialism and eurocentrism, working as a categorisation system that divides the world into a dichotomy of ‘the west’ and ‘the rest’. By oversimplifying the concept of ‘difference’ and reducing diverse societies into collective others, ‘the rest’ are effectively dehumanised and considered inferior to the West.

Visual framing of refugees is significant because it creates perceptions of refugees and informs our ideas about them.

Images shape what can and cannot be seen and, indirectly, what can and cannot be thought.

(Bleiker R, Campbell D, Hutchison, E & Nicholson, X. 2013)

This process of dehumanisation removes the representation of refugees as individuals seeking humanitarian assistance and frames them as a mass threat to our sovereignty and security. As shown in ‘Represent’, the persistence of images of refugees in large groups on boats or behind wires continues the rhetoric of them as a collective other, as the images remove any sign of an identifiable victim. Othering is directly linked to the idea Western critics have that refugees with smartphones aren’t in need of help and therefore cannot be granted refugee status. Seeing refugees with modern day technology that westerners also use forces critics to no longer view them as “relics of a cultural past that helps separate them from us”. This representation of refugees challenges the view of refugees as a separate other, hence the confusion and criticism that has arisen from these images.

The image of Aylan Kurdi and the emotional response it garnered temporarily ‘humanised’ the plight of refugees and also challenged the conception of a separate other. This images caused a ‘reframe’ of the refugee crisis, whereby people in the West were able to connect with the humanity of death and form a “common in-group identity” (Jones J, 2015). The formation of this common identity that “we are all human”, leads to a desire to help these people who are now part of an in-group. The supportive response that followed this image lead to pressure for “a compassionate response, and the government’s subsequent decision to accept 12,000 Syrian refugees” (McLouglin L, 2016).

The language and visual framing of refugees informs the systematic treatment they receive, and vice versa. Dehumanising images teamed with terms like ‘economic migrants’, ‘illegals’ and ‘boat people’, creates a climate of moral disengagement and perpetuates the rhetoric of asylum seekers as a threat. Moral disengagement involves the disabling of moral codes to make immoral behaviour justified.


This moral disengagement has been constructed by the Australian Government to justify actions against refugees that the UN has declared are in direct violation of human rights.

The discourse of visual framing and language inform the climate of tolerance and intolerance towards refugees. Humanisation and individual stories of refugees are crucial to represent refugees as humans seeking asylum and not a separate other and a collective threat.


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Rafi:ki. 2015. rafi:ki / mixtape 015 / instrumental hiphop / trip-hop, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0), Soundcloud, available at

Footage in order of appearance:

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Ramgobin R. 2015. Dr Janelle Jones on The image of Aylan Kurdi has made ‘everyone become human’, Independent, available at

Images in order of appearance:

Ggia – Vlastní dílo. 2015. Refugees coming across the Aegean Sea to the Greek island of Lesbos , in the background is Turkey, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia,

AP. 2015. Refugees go on hunger strike in Australian Detention Centre, Al Jazeera, available at

New America. 2015. Policy Responses to the Refugee Crisis, CC BY, available at:

[unknown]. 2011. Image of US and THEM, Bilgrimage, available at

Freedom House. 2015. Syrian Refugees: Migrants clamber onto a train at Gevgelija train station in Macedonia, close to the border with Greece July 30, 2015, Public Domain, Flickr, available at

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Affect Lab. 2015. Migration & Mobiles, Affect, available at

Wylie A. 2013. Tent homes on Nauru., The Sydney Morning Herald, available at

Freedom House. 2015. GRAPHIC CONTENT: A Turkish police officer stands next to a migrant child’s dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on September 2, 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos, Public Domain Mark 1.0, Flickr, available at  

Freedom House. 2015. Aylan Kurdi’s Body: A Turkish police officer carries a migrant child’s dead body off the shores in Bodrum, southern Turkey, on Sept. 2 after a boat carrying refugees sank while reaching the Greek island of Kos. (AFP/Getty Images), Flickr, available at

CAFOD Photo Library. 2015. Refugee crisis in Europe: As the biggest refugee crisis in recent times grips Europe, CAFOD and our supporters are calling on the Prime Minister to do more to support vulnerable Syrian refugees resettling in the UK as quickly as possible., Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), Flickr, available at

DFID. 2014. Iraqi refugee girl with her family at Newroz camp where they are being helped by the International Rescue Committee, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0), Flickr, available at

Freedom House. 2015. A Syrian refugee from Deir Ezzor, holding his son and daughter, breaks out in tears of joy after arriving via a flimsy inflatable boat crammed with about 15 men, women and children on the shore of the island of Kos in Greece, Aug. 15. (Daniel Etter/The New York Times), Public Domain Mark 1.0, Flickr, available at

Simonarson G (@gissisim). 2015. [Screenshot] Gotten a lot of requests to help this man and his daughter. Anyone know people in Beirut able to locate him? #BuyPens, Twitter, available at:

By Noborder Network (no borders no precarity  Uploaded by PanchoS) [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons, available at,_no_precarity_-_Shut_Down_FRONTEX_Warsaw_2008.jpg

[unknown]. 2015. EU law requires asylum seekers to have their fingerprints registered on a central database, The Independent, available at

Von Irish Defence Forces. 2015. Irish Navy rescues migrants within the Triton mission (June 2015), Wikimedia,, CC BY 2.0,

Wylie A. 2013. Tent homes on Nauru., The Sydney Morning Herald, available at

By Noborder Network [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons, available at

[unknown]. 2016. Secure National ID Cards, Gemalto, available at

[Screenshot] WIFI?CHARGING INITIATIVE AT KELETI, 11th September, Tumblr, available at

Syrova/AP O. 2015. Jonas Kakoschke (right) and Bakary Conan chat at Kakoschke’s flat in Berlin. Kakoschke gave shelter to Conan with his initiative Refugees Welcome, which has now placed 26 refugees in private homes, available at:

[Screenshot] New Humans of Australia, Facebook, available at

Simonarson G (@gissisim). 2015. “Finally found him =) Been a lot of work, but it was worth it! Now lets help them!”, Twitter, available at:!%20Now%20lets%20help%20them!%20from%3Agissisim&src=typd&lang=en  

Archdox. 2015. Clouds Over Sidra (2015) by Chris Milk and Gabo Arora. Promotional Still., Archdox WordPress, available at:

Project Open Network. 2015. Project Open Network volunteer talking with refugees and migrants in Tovarnik, Croatia, on September 20th., abc NEWS, available at:

Free the Children NAURU. 2016. Rest in Peace, Omid, Facebook, available at

Lima M. 2015. A group of Syrian refugees charged their cellphones using a television station’s satellite truck outside the Keleti train station in Budapest last week, The New York Times, available at:

Muheisen M. 2015. Refugee holding phone with google maps and directions, Time, available at:

Marko Djurica/Reuters. 2015. Alvand, 18, from Syria takes a selfie with his friends as they walk along a railway track after crossing into Hungary from the border with Serbia last week., CBC, available at

By DFID – UK Department for International Development [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons, available at,_northern_Jordan_(9613477263).jpg

Specia M. 2015. Smartphones line a makeshift shop in the Za’atari refugee camp on Sept. 19, 2015, Mashable, available at:

Free the Children NAURU, Children holding up signs in protest, Facebook, available at

About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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