Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

Chapters 2 › Unit 2: SCROLL DOWN FOR INSTRUCTIONS View instructions Hide instructions


`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!

The Problem with Labels


Definitions are challenged by the on-going “migration crisis” in Europe, because not all individuals crossing Europe’s borders can be identified simply as irregular migrants. Many people are in fact asylum-seekers and refugees.

In the article, these terms are described as becoming “politically loaded.”

We can understand this to be part of the difference in calling migrants “irregular” versus “illegal.”

In this course, it serves us well not to refer to people as illegal. However, there are, in fact, others who find it serves their beliefs well to do the opposite. It all depends on the desired outcome.

For example, If you are someone who disagrees with the migration of other nationalities into your country and hopes that such activities will be prosecuted firmly by the law, it may be easier to maintain your position by ignoring the human aspect of the situation and persist to identify a person as simply some thing that it is not right according to the law (illegal). In another case, however, perhaps you may agree or disagree with migration into Europe or in your country, but you want to grant the migrants their human dignity. In this case, using the term irregular migrants is more fitting.

The same goes for use of the terms migrant, economic migrant, refugee, or asylum seeker.

In one conversation I shared with an intern for the International Rescue Committee, I learned of his belief that the coined phrase “European Migration Crisis” was engineered so that the public hearing this term would not believe these people passing into Europe to be in grave need of protection and asylum rights.

Indeed, some people do not agree with the boundaries laid by the UNHCR definition of a refugee, and believe that many people are considered refugees as soon as they flee the situations in their countries and before actually being granted asylum elsewhere.

Other examples of terms serving interests are also provided in the reading: use of the term “illegal” by politicians and “asylum-seekers” and “refugees” by rights groups and activists.

Terms will continue to be challenged as governments and asylum systems try to differentiate who they have to and do not have to protect among migrants entering their borders. However, after speaking to refugees in the Jungle (Calais) and beyond, my understanding is similar to the argument presented in the article. The conditions for which people move are often mixed and hardly clear cut, making the labels we use to identify migrants inadequate in many cases. The idea that migrants fall somewhere in the middle of a spectrum situations is much more accurate.

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