WHAT WE STAND FOR
Refugees are often portrayed as heroes or victims. This framing is used by NGOs, activists, academia, and individuals to foster support and counter anti-refugee sentiment. Although used with good intentions, both labels see the person only through their experience of fleeing war. These narrow depictions reduce complex individuals to a single experience – that of being victims of a war, rather than all the details about their lives that preceded that moment – making them “the other”.
While stories of heroism or vulnerability are used to create positive impact: to mobilise for help, highlight injustice or tell empowering and hope-filled stories, they also create a lens through which refugees are seen by the eyes of the world, stories that are incomplete, and that divide.
- When refugees are seen as vulnerable, they are only a victim. In one word, they are patronised.
- When refugees are seen as heroes, they are seen through the lens of being inherently good or that their refugee experience, and anything they do during it, is somehow worthy of being celebrated. In one word, they are romanticised.
- When refugees are seen through the lens of group identity, as inevitably being an outcome of their culture, they are stereotyped.
These depictions lead to inherent biases, which our model identifies and roots out by engaging with refugees as unique individuals with agency, through an approach based on trust, fairness and engagement.
Building trust is a long-term process. It requires understanding every situation in terms of how it will impact similar situations in the future, and taking the time to assess carefully the best course of action.
Many refugees had to fight for their most basic needs and had to be suspicious of any promise made to them. That is how they survived, escaped war, and succeeded in a dangerous journey through smugglers, crooks and unfriendly soldiers. In every action we need to show that things are different now, that we are different. We build credibility through stringency, consistency and care.
Being fair is what allows us to build meaningful relationships with refugees without being accused of favouritism. “You help Arabs more than Afghans” (or Kurds over Palestinians, or East Africans over West Africans) is a common allegation in a refugee camp.
Many refugees come from a history of discrimination, and are sceptical towards service providers. We have succeeded in avoiding these accusations by being sound, transparent and extremely strict in applying our procedures, building a reputation of utmost fairness that precedes Second Tree and is spread and testified by the people we work with.
Engaging with someone means taking that person seriously by carefully assessing and fully addressing what they have to say. This means not avoiding disagreement or a difficult discussion just because the person is a refugee.
Refugees are not irritable children or unreasoning bearers of inarticulate instincts; they are not an explosive device that has to be handled with caution and fear. Refugees are proficient individuals who can engage in a discussion, offer counterarguments, and change their minds. For this reason, engaging at Second Tree means appealing to their intellect, not to their gut.
The Manifesto For Transformative Action
This is a Manifesto and a Position Paper put together with humanitarian workers, public servants and academics. It highlights the cultural and philosophical underpinning of the change we want to see in the humanitarian world through our training. It is not a Second Tree document, it has been developed as a joint document by an online working group coordinated by Second Tree called Resetting Migration Narratives. If you would like to join the Working Group, contact us.