Have you ever been rejected?

On the morals of identity rejection in an asylum seeking centre

3 minutes to read
Max Spotti

Have you ever been rejected? Not even once in your life? If the answer is no, then deem yourself lucky. Rejections are the daily bread of our conditio humana. Whether it is a love or a job application, a rejection is a sour matter. At the very core of this communication act, whether in written or spoken format, the receiver is faced with an identity question. ‘I am not fit for this post’ and ‘keep trying, better luck next time’ are all responses that often come hand in hand with a standardly scripted four line message. This message often wishes to distance itself from any personal reasoning. This detachment may point either to the amount of candidates and thus to the strict selection criteria or at the lack of some measurable skills, that boil down to some identity characteristics being ill fitting. In short, although it is a rejection of someone’s persona there is always a shade of ‘nothing personal buddy – better luck next time’.

As I have denounced in other contributions, asylum seeking procedures leading to an approved (albeit temporary) refugee status are strongly ego-ic matters. These are, in fact, based on truth searching and truth telling morale quests where someone’s identity is being approved on the basis of trustworthiness and loyalty to those who are taking you in, your future hosts. Migrants in western societies, involved in the liminal process of becoming recognized refugees and being given ‘resident status’ on the basis of their identity approval are part of this very machinery.

It is proximity to others' tragedies that provokes empathy, whereas the notion of distance entitles men to care less for the life-threatening matters that may characterize those who live far away from them.

In what follows, building on the rejection versus approval dichotomy, I deal with the dynamics of rejection with the indifference and insensitivity of contemporary immigration administrations and the hardships that are a part of them. Living - as an ethnographer - in an asylum seeking centre has taught me well. I have seen cases of people who were rejected because they were unable to prove - on the basis of how they named things - that they were really from where they said they were from. Furthermore, I have heard of cases of people that could not prove their homosexual inclinations and were therefore considered ‘not gay enough’ by the authorities. I have also seen people getting rejected, because even though they left dangerous places in full religiously inspired political turmoil, they should have just moved to another part of their country, instead of fleeing abroad. Seldom were there cases of approval and those that I have seen were based on health conditions.

The weight of morals is key. It is proximity to others' tragedies that provokes empathy, whereas the notion of distance entitles men to care less for the life-threatening matters that may characterize those who live far away from them. This ‘moral opting out’, as harsh as it may seem, is something that characterizes all human beings. There is no moral philosopher who would reject the fact that man is prone to save those who are close to him, and pity those who are in disgrace at a distance from him, but do nothing to liberate them. The likes Facebook posts receive that show someone's support for a a righteous cause are a case in point here. What's more, even among proponents of relational approaches to understand the phenomena of approval and rejection, there is always evidence of the importance of the local that runs alongside the interconnectedness of the global.

Rejections are the daily bread of our conditio humana.

What I have further noted in my time spent at an asylum seeking centre, is that although all of the guests were part of a ‘big family’ and they were all well taken care of, once decisions and rejection came through, the attitude changed. All of a sudden, there was a separation of the means and the ends of bureaucratic systems covered by ‘family attitudes’ at an earlier stage. We all knew that we were about to lose ‘one of us’ and the moral frame of reference became one of efficiency and rationality. However, the object of bureaucratic doings became something like speed, knowledge of files, continuity, discretion, following of the rules, all of which matched the continuation of the rejection letter through strictly bureaucratic administration.     

Following the groundbreaking work of Nick Gill, who takes inspiration from C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, this is what we are left with. The evil thing rejection is, is not rejection as such. Rather, it is that rejection always seems to have a shade of ‘nothing personal’. That is, to have nothing to do with the rejected one. Rather, it is the “ordered, moved and seconded work, carried out in clean soft carpeted rooms, warmed and well-lighted offices by quiet men with white collars, cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not raise their voices”. Men well distant from the target of their office-based labor.