This thesis aims to explore the tool of illustrative storytelling to challenge governmental restrictions faced by refugee narratives in Sweden. This exploration will be done through the study of stereotypes that stigmatize the refugee’s identity. The figure of the refugee is often shaped by the visual representation one consumes via mass media and the words one hears in political debates and social discourse. Refugees are often portrayed as immigrants and nothing but immigrants, faceless victims on news, and often de-named suffering people drowning in some ocean. This portrayal makes the humanity of the refugee invisible. A human who has a face, a name, a past, a story beyond his/her refugee story, and most importantly an identity and rights.
I have always witnessed the portrayal of refugees – and myself as one of them- in the media as an act of dehumanization, a misuse of terminology describing me and my situation in political and social discourse, and the effects of these factors on refugees. I have always struggled with the entitlement this invisibility and misrepresentation gives to people. I sense this every time people talk to me, talk about me, and/or talk on my behalf. This misrepresentation always portrayed me as a ‘’problem’’. The refugee has always been a crisis, ‘’A global refugee crisis’’, ‘’An integration crisis’’, and a ‘’European migrant crisis’’. This use of terminology results in a lot of feelings that become politicized and socialized such as fear, apathy, empathy and sometimes hate.
This study will present an exploration of such feelings and their significance to the refugee situation. I will present a critical analysis on the representation of the refugee through a research on Swedish media, political discourse, and the design executed by the Migration Board’s office in Stockholm. The research will be supported by a visual outcome in the form of a graphic novel that narrates two parallel stories. One story is my own experience as an asylum seeker, and the other is a narration of the overall refugee situation in Sweden. The two stories will be treated on two different levels, a personal one and a journalistic one. Illustration as a tool here serves an aim beyond its practical aspect of depicting a narration. It is a resistance against the restrictions of filming, recording, and photographing whatever happens inside the Migration Board’s offices in Sweden. It is a significant tool that educates, interprets, and re-contextualizes the right of refugees to tell their own stories as well as document and expose a history told by our oppressors. Illustration here serves an aim of narrating a story that is not institutionalized but provides the reader with cultural understanding and access to a world only the refugee can depict.