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Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

24 Jan 2017, 01:33 PM
Chapters 2 › Unit 2: SCROLL DOWN FOR INSTRUCTIONS View instructions Hide instructions

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`Start by reading this article and discuss in your journal how current official definitions of "migrants", "refugees" and "asylum seekers" are challenged by the on-going migration crisis at the South-East borders of Europe.

You can also see Unit 2.1 for more information about irregular migration in Mediterranean region, Unit 2.2 about EU norms on asylum seeking, and Unit 2.3 on the case of Syrian refugees.

Don't forget to have a look to what others have done in their journals!

Migrants, Refugees, Asylum Seekers and the need for labels

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"Migrants," "asylum seekers," "refugees"--How important are these labels, and do they help or hinder current efforts to manage immigration flows across borders?

Much of today's immigration policy can be understood by whether or not a person is labelled as a "refugee" or a "migrant" (whereas an "asylum-seeker" is a migrant waiting to be recognized as a refugee). Simply put, a refugee leaves his or her homeland because they have no choice, while a migrant leaves because they are simply seeking better opportunities.

Migration policy over the past half-century or more has been built around this simple dichotomy; between forced and unforced migration, with national policies increasingly designed to limit the entry of the former group and dissuade or reject entry of the latter group entirely. That said, much of the debate surrounding international and national immigration policy revolves around how to sort and classify migrants into one of these two groups.

Looking at the on-going migration crisis at the South-East borders of Europe, one can see where policy based on this simple labelling becomes problematic. As one of the most used routes of migration into Europe, the borders of Greece and Italy channel migrants from the Middle Eastern countries of Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, as well as from all of the Eastern Africa countries, as well as other Sub-Saharan African countries.

This large and varied mix of people seek entry into Europe for many different reasons, and these reasons often stem from a complicated mix of need and desire that does not fall neatly into the existing labels that are typically applied to migrants. When considering that most all of these migrants--forced and unforced alike--travel the same routes, then the task of classifying and processing these migrants can be overwhelming for national immigration control.

Some have advocated doing away with the existing labels or applying new terminology to migrants that account for the more complex motivations that drive people to move to new countries. While not ideal, if one acknowledges that labels are in some way necessary in order to give public policy the correct focus, then the question then becomes which migrants should receive protection and why?

Preferential treatment for forced migrants is codified in the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (aka 1951 Refugee Convention), which defines the term "refugee" and then lists a number refugee rights and protections that all signatory countries agreed to uphold. The Convention recognizes that people have certain fundamental, human rights, and that when their own nation could no longer guarantee those rights, then it is the responsibility of the international community to step in on their behalf.

With that said, do refugees have different fundamental rights than any other migrant? In other words, when the human rights of any migrant are threatened or denied, much the same as any other refugee, is the international community bound to step in on behalf of the migrant as well? Should certain reasons for migration garner more sympathy than others? Should fear of political persecution, for example, weigh more heavily than the devastating effects of famine or environmental destruction? Are all tragedies equally miserable, or are some more deserving of intervention than others?

Given that developing countries are unlikely to advocate a return to open-borders policies towards immigration, what would be the best way to classify (if at all) incoming migrants and determine which ones deserve help before the others?

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