Every day there is a newspaper or web article, a video footage in TV or the streaming services or a live conference that deals with the dramatic issue of refugees crossing national frontiers due to war, ethnic persecution or famine. The tightening of border controls in the European Community did not stop the flow of migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa or Syria ready to cross the Mediterranean Sea; they are just lingering on in Libya, exposed to big harm in its protracted civil war and without proper social support.

We are becoming inured to their plight and oftentimes we do not want to see or hear any more tragic news as if the problem would go magically away. In our modern societies we have developed a subconscious yet powerful fear of the poor, of the disadvantaged, of the relegated to the fringes of economies. It’s natural to fear poverty but another different thing to fear its victims. The worldwide poor do not register in our minds. The picture above shows Syrian children in a refugee camp in Lebanon but they could as well be Venezuelans in a Colombian border town, fleeing their country’s debacle. We look at these pictures but we do not actually “see what they represent” any more.

Almost twenty years ago, Adela Cortina, a Spanish philosopher that teaches an Ethics course at the Universitat de València, had the occurrence to create a new word to refer to the increasingly common dejection of the poor in the public discourse and social media. She consulted a Greek dictionary and made the fusion of two terms: áporos (the resourceless one) and phobia. She started using it in her writings because she believed that our rejection of the refugees—often referred as “xenophobia” and “racism” in the media—is not produced by their status of undocumented migrants but by their dire poverty.

She said that ”I believe that it’s necessary to show the existence of this phenomenon, giving it a name. I find it noteworthy that we put a name to storms like hurricanes so people will take preventive measures in their presence. Therefore the rejection of the poor, which socially relegates them, should be prevented in the same way, because it is contrary to the human dignity and a challenge to democratic institutions. It’s unacceptable that a part of the population despises another one and considers it as inferior.”

The “Fundación del Español Urgente”, sponsored by the EFE news agency and the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya (BBVA), designated it “the word of 2017.”

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.


18 thoughts on “Aporophobia

  1. Dr. Sahib, thanks sharing; poverty dwells in our mind – helpless and hapless are those who are shunned and not cared by their own societies and escape to seek shelters somewhere else!

  2. So true what you’re writing. Coming from Italy I’ve seen and heard a lot of stories. People blame on them all kinds of crime, they reject them like some kind of disease. People are angry and refugees are just a way to free their frustration. Very sad!

  3. I believe it’s sad but true, esp. with the ongoing refugee crisis. Xenophobia, is, consciously unconsciously, often accompanied by peniaphobia, which is not only fear of poverty, and the poor, but of becoming poor yourself. We are prone to thinking it’s contagious.
    So YES, we are afraid of strangers, not the well-off and pretty ones, but the poor and the ugly. It’s a popular stereotype that ugliness implies malice and evil. Kids know it best. We make sure we teach them.
    What do you think, Herr Doktor? Don’t leave me alone.

    1. Good morning (sorry afternoon for you in Munich) and thanks for this outstanding commentary dear. As a former citizen of that weird Tito inspired-collage called Yugoslavia you have had first-hand experience of this phenomenon. Although you were one of the most prosperous and relatively free populations behind the Iron Curtain, weren’t you?

      1. You do? And how come you turned so naughty on moi and stopped your comprehensive review of my “Emotional frustration”series, eh? I’m writing the book and need your input so, so desperately dear…

      2. I didn’t stop. I’m just pacing myself.
        I like to let it sink in.
        I’ll come back, don’t be so damn impatient.
        In the meantime, feel free to put me in your book.

      3. Knowing me as you do, you know it wasn’t. So get back to your homework asap as you will write the Introduction to the book.

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