Who Deserves Compassion? The Moral and Emotional Dilemmas of Volunteering in the ‘Refugee Crisis’
journal contributionposted on 06.08.2020, 10:25 by G Maestri, P Monforte
Since the ‘refugee crisis’ in 2015, civil society across Europe has participated in an unprecedented wave of support towards migrants. This article focuses on the volunteers engaged in this movement and explores how they relate emotions of compassion and evaluations about the ‘deservingness’ of refugees. We do so by analysing the moral dilemmas British volunteers face in their interaction with refugees, and the strategies they develop to avoid the difficulties that emerge when judging who the ‘deserving’ refugees are. We illustrate how these coping strategies lead them to emphasise the practicality of their role and to move beyond logics of deservingness. We argue that these dilemmatic situations reshape the meaning of compassionate acts in ambivalent ways: while reinforcing a tendency to create an emotional distance, they also allow volunteers to challenge idealised representations of refugees and foreground the political nature of their vulnerability.