This Provocative PSA Argues That Refugees Actually Should Be Treated Like Animals

Consider the African olive pigeon

Nervous about the rising tide of refugees crossing borders en masse? You're not alone. To help put things in perspective, the Association for the Rights of Immigrants and Refugees in Tunisia (ADIRT) has a surprising solution. 

"#LikeAnimals," a two-minute ad created by Memac Ogilvy Label, takes a documentary-style approach to humanity that puts mass migration in a more familiar context.

"In the wide world of Kingdom Animalia live two different types of creatures," begins the narrator. "The one we call sedentary are the ones that are permanenty attached to a land. On the other hand, there's what we call the migratory animals." 

Stay with the guy. His self-conscious interpretation of the role won't win him any Discovery Channel contracts, but he's arriving at a point.

Migratory animals, for instance, include the African olive pigeon, millions of which travel to the other side of the globe every year, when seasonal conditions become less amenable.

Our narrator is somewhat more dramatic on this point: "We can ask ourselves, why do they migrate? Why don't they just stay in their homeland? The answer is simple: SURVIVAL."

In addition to the blunt-force trauma you just endured from that iron pipe of a metaphor, the olive pigeons serve to illustrate another point: When they migrate, they are temporarily welcomed into their host countries, which ensure the birds are both well treated and protected.

You can probably guess what's coming next: The spot transitions to human refugees, described as a species that uses the same migratory routes as the pigeons (do they…?) but "is characterized by erect posture and by libido locomotion." 

Our melodramatic buddy continues, "Unfortunately, when they arrive to what they imagine is a more hospitable land, they are sometimes not well received by their sedentary counterparts."

Images illustrating the aforementioned cool reception follow, and are hard to look at. View the full video below:

"Every year more than 10,000 human beings die trying to escape war, famine and diseases," the ad concludes. "Even though they are human beings, don't beat them. Please treat them like animals." 

The objective of this work, which you've likely gathered, is to change the way host citizens perceive, and ultimately receive, refugee groups. It's a smart play: You alone can probably think of a few instances in which animals appear to be better treated, and more consciously protected, than fellow Homo sapiens. (Cue the PETA ad playlist.) 

And while the concept is great, issues with the execution are hard to ignore, the most obvious of which is the earnestly studious monotone of the narrator. ("Kingdom Animalia?!")

But that's the least of our problems. 

Comparing refugees in a state of flight to a bird's seasonal migratory pattern is a crazy oversimplification, akin to comparing David Foster Wallace's rambling, unbridled, unstructured and vaguely traumatic novel Infinite Jest to Ann M. Martin's The Baby-Sitter's Club, a series whose sum total probably matches the former's word count but is otherwise predictable down to the chapter numbers, character arcs and release dates (one a month, more or less, until I was strong enough to let the BSC's invisible hands go). 

At best it fails to work because that's something people already suspect, but at worst it fails because it doesn't clarify confusion about what separates a refugee—someone forced to leave her country because she risks, or has experienced, persecution—from a migrant, or a person whose decision to leave home is conscious and, in some ways, a privilege. 

A migrant can plan her journey at leisure, say good-bye, study the language, secure a job and go home to visit when she gets homesick. I, for example, am a migrant. These guys—the "Storm a razor-wire fence into Europe or die trying" guys—are refugees.

It would be easy to offer Memac Ogilvy a pass in this regard; sometimes you need to make sacrifices in order to get your outsized metaphor to work. But even they seem confused about the difference: Separating all living things into "migratory animals" and "sedentaries" doesn't make a lot of sense either, even if it's true among many animal species.

This manages to both reduce fleeing populations to instinctive nomads, following the whims of their genetic heritage, while suggesting everyone else is territory-bound by disposition. And this huge disservice to both subject and audience nullifies the point they're working so hard—"Kingdom Animalia" hard!—to make: that we could be kinder, and more open, toward other humans, especially those with a need so desperately expressed.

Indeed, we could treat them like species whose existence and value we simply don't question. We could treat them like animals.