Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Political Science

First Advisor

Lori Morso




refugees, efforts, governments, images, syrian


Photographic images of Syrian refugees - smiling, sick, or suffering - on the news and in the ads of human rights organizations have been employed to mobilize governments, armies, or businesses. These images are effective in mobilizing various forms of support or intervention because they have a strong emotional impact on the mass public. The emotionally driven connection between spectator and refugee, however, raises some troubling questions about whose interests the images serve, and how they are used for various efforts. Is it possible to depict the suffering of Syrian refugees without violating their dignity, agency, and autonomy? I argue that well intentioned efforts to mobilize societies and governments through the use of photographs can become counter productive to the interests of refugees. Many refugees are silenced by these efforts, and left out of the dialogue regarding their rights and visual portrayal. Nevertheless, the use of photographs depicting refugees can be a powerful political tool, which should not be entirely disregarded as a form of mobilization. Photographic depictions are vital to the education of societies and governments, as well as a vital form of historical documentation, and it is possible to achieve a higher degree of autonomy and agency for Syrian refugees.