March of refugees: An act of civil disobedience
On September 4, 2015 asylum seekers who got stranded in Budapest’s Keleti train station due to deterrent Hungarian policy started marching to the Austrian border. Their aim was to show to the world that they do not accept their predicament and cross the border towards reaching Germany and Sweden. How should we understand the march of refugees and the events surrounding it?
In this article, I argue that the march should be characterized as an act of civil disobedience. This claim may seem to contradict common convictions regarding both acts of civil disobedience and asylum seekers. Acts of civil disobedience that essentially involve breaking the law are not easily legitimized. The most common justification is that the act ultimately furthers the interests of the public. Asylum seekers are not members of the European public. How can they know where the interest of the public lies or play a role in advancing it? How can they be entitled to break the law?
I provide an answer to these questions by drawing on the recent debates on civil disobedience and refugee rights. I begin by investigating the march through the features of a paradigmatic case of civil disobedience. Then, I explore its moral aspects. Finally, I investigate the role of the march as a non-member’s act of civil disobedience. The three components give us an account of how the liberal theory of civil disobedience can be broadened to include the acts of non-members. This is significant in thinking about asylum seekers, as it provides us with a new conceptual tool that recognizes them as novel political agents that demand redress of an injustice, rather than plea for humanitarian aid.