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Waiting for a hypothetical asylum: The photographic coverage of the Maximilian Park in Brussels

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This article investigates the photographic coverage of the migration crisis in Belgium. It focuses on an event that captured the attention of the Belgian media in September 2015. At the end of the summer, hundreds of Syrian and Iraqi refugees, waiting for a hypothetical asylum in Belgium, suddenly set up a camp in the middle of the Maximilian Park, which is located in the heart of Brussels, near the Immigration Office. Up to 1000 people slept there until the camp was dismantled in early October. These events generated a wave of citizen solidarity and constant political agitation over regularization of the refugees. Technical, thematic and contextual analysis of the photographic coverage of the Maximilian Park in four Belgian newspapers (two ‘popular’ titles and two ‘quality papers’) helps not just to understand how what happened there is to be distinguished from other pictures and stereotypes of refugees, but also how these images express and feed longer crisis narratives at both Belgian and European levels. We observed that the photo coverage of the quality newspapers focused on the refugees and the living conditions in the park (while the tabloid newspapers largely ignored them). Instead of showing the refugees as a threat or as distant foreigners facing a new interlocutor (the volunteers of the park), those pictures chose to get as close as possible to the refugees’ daily life and their difficult living conditions. In doing so, however, the pictures presented to the readers seemed far from the tendency to universalize ‘the refugee’ and do not question photojournalism as a form of humanism.
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Keywords: Belgium; asylum crisis; content analysis; newspapers; photo journalism; stereotypes

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Université catholique de Louvain

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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