Images o f Refugees as Constructed by Social Workers in Poland and the Netherlands
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Uniwersytet Śląski
Publication date: 2020-06-05
Problemy Polityki Społecznej 2004;7:117-130
The article presents the theoretical framework and empirical findings of an international research comparing Dutch and Polish social workers’ discourses concerning refugees. The underlying assumption of the research project was that the relations between social workers and refugees might be considered as relations of power: the former posses the institutional, professional and cultural power over the latter. Those relations of power might then be either preserved or contested through social workers’ discourses and therefore the analysis of the languagein-use seems a useful perspective to inspect them. The analysis of interviews with social workers from two Polish and two Dutch institutions providing assistance for refugees shows that the images of refugees constructed by the Polish and the Dutch differ significantly. The Dutch present a uniformly positive image of their clients. They show refugees as victims of past miseries and present injustices, and they also acknowledge refugees’ potential and willingness to cope with the difficult situation. Responsibility for the difficulties, however, is located mainly in the state policies and the Dutch society. The Polish picture is much more ambiguous. There is also the element of presenting refugees as innocent victims, but descriptions of refugees’ present behaviours in the host country convey an image of untrustworthiness, idleness, and demands. Difficult situation of refugees is blamed on the overall crisis in Poland, but to a large extent it is refugees themselves who are found responsible for their problems. Differences in the Polish and Dutch social workers’ images of refugees are explained by the national contexts of refugee assistance. The less favourable opinions of the Polish social workers are to some extent understandable if one takes into consideration factors such as Poland’s worse socio-economic situation, less hostile public attitudes towards immigrants, different history of integration policies, and different system of social workers’ education. It is argued, however, that a change in the Polish workers’ discourses could be advantageous as it could empower the refugees in Poland and help them achieve more self-dependence.
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