Saturday, August 08, 2015

Migrants or refugees

Watching the news as it follows the unfolding story of the migrant camp in Calais and reading the various bits and pieces that are popping up on the internet, I can't help but wonder at the way language is used the describe the people at the centre of the current worldwide crisis. Calais is just one expression of what is a truly worldwide issue. When the likes of Nigel Farage talks about adopting an Australian style immigration policy, he is both fuelling the fire of outraged middle-classes beloved of a Daily Mail headline, and more importantly missing the point completely. Even those who share the data about doctors and nurses and other overseas workers in the UK, in an attempt to point out the flaws in the UKIP style arguments, are arguing on similar ground. It's an important foil for the negative talk about migrants but we need to remember that people drowning in the Mediterranean is another symptom of the crisis as are the thousands of people displaced across the Middle East in camps in Lebanon.

But what if we change the language? Instead of assuming the only reason the occupants of the camp in Calais want to cross the channel is because they want access to our benefits system, what if we asked the question, "From what are they trying to escape?" What if we called them refugees rather than migrants, would that change anything? Would we be more sympathetic to their situation?

I don't know how or if it would change anything. It does seem to me that the main focus of the commentary we get on the issue is an economic one mixed with the usual fear factor. Talk of sending people back is typical of the economic/fear factor argument. It fails to acknowledge that money or a so-called easy life is not the driving force for many of these people and it's time we spent more time talking about that.

Perhaps the reason we're not prepared to have that discussion is because we would have to acknowledge that we share some degree of responsibility for the conditions that have generated the crisis. We don't need to beat ourselves up about that, just get off the fence rather than building it and do something positive about it.

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