Humanitarian Pluralism: The Arctic Passage in an Age of Refugees

The scale of the mass movement of people from current conflicts recalls the two World Wars, both of which radically reorganized the world. This article by Nefissa Naguib reflects on new ways of thinking about human crisis and humanitarianism and how they are mobilized in different temporal and geographical settings.


As I write, the Syrian migrant crisis is boiling over and the Arctic Circle has become the latest precarious route desperate Syrian refugees are braving in their pursuit of security and shelter. A young Syrian woman is interviewed on the Norwegian evening news. Earlier this year other members of her family had fled to Germany. She stayed in Syria, waiting to hear from them before setting out herself. When she finally managed to get a call through to her family, they recounted the humiliating agonies they had endured on their journey through Turkey and advised her to find another route. She decided to take the new migration route to Europe, the safer and less expensive Arctic route, as far as possible from the horrors of war. She doesn't go into the details of her long journey, other than to say that she has been hungry for a couple of years, often dizzy from hunger. As she is interviewed in the polar night, she stands in front of a building decorated with Christmas lights, a Bethlehem star in each of the windows, skinny pines covered in frost in the background, snow on the ground: “I don't mind that my ears are frozen and that I can see my breath. I want to be safe and have a dignified life. Get a proper education, work, and be able to feed myself.” The camera shows other Syrian families with young children, single men and women, and girls and boys, traveling alone. Volunteers from the “Refugees Welcome to Norway” (RWTN) association distribute warm clothes, nappies, prams, toys, coffee, tea, sandwiches, and traditional Christmas cakes.

Published May 11, 2016 9:16 AM - Last modified May 11, 2016 9:16 AM