Most studies of how refugees are represented focus on negative media representations. Less attention has been paid to sympathetic counter-representations. This article explores the representations preferred by refugee advocacy organizations and how they tend to exclude the mass of ordinary refugees and the difficult arguments required to defend refugee rights. The article outlines the rise of the health paradigm for understanding the conditions of refugees. The contemporary representation of refugees as traumatized victims is inspired by compassion. However, the trauma framework implies impaired capacity and the need for individuals to surrender their welfare to expert authorities. The article argues that casting refugees in the sick role risks compromising their rights. The article is informed by the writing of the sociologist Talcott Parsons on the sick role and the philosopher Hannah Arendt on refugees.
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