ABSTRACT

After the refugee crisis of 2015–2016, European reactions to foreigners came to the fore. The massive rejection of refugees/asylum seekers taking place made their conditions before, during and after flight increasingly difficult and dangerous. Current xenophobia is related to historical trends in Europe regarding Islam and claims that a basic conflict is at work: the one between anti-modernism/ and modernism. Narratives on refugees often relate them to both the foreign (Islam) and to “trauma”. In an environment of insecurity and collective anxiety, refugees may represent something alien and frightening but also fascinating. The author argues that current concepts and theories about “trauma” or “the person with trauma” are insufficient to understand the complexity of the refugee predicament. Due to individual and collective countertransference reactions, the word “trauma” tends to lose its theoretical anchoring and becomes an object of projection for unnameable anxieties. This disturbs relations with refugees at both societal and clinical levels and lays the groundwork for the poor conditions that they are currently experiencing. Historically, attitudes towards refugees fall somewhere along a continuum between compassion and rejection/dehumanisation. At the moment, they seem much closer to the latter. The author argues that today’s xenophobia and/or xenoracism reflect the fact that, both for individuals and society, refugees have come to represent the Freudian Uncanny/das Unheimliche.