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!

Mixed migration

1 comment

The masses of people travelling to Europe nowadays certainly does the official definitions of "migrants" and "refugees". The migration into Europe seems to be truly mixed, as it's very difficult to disentangle who is a refugee and who isn't (and it would be regardless of what definition would be taken).

UNHCR's definition of refugees as people who escape to another country "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted" and who "have to move to save their lives or preserve their freedom" throws up numerous questions, however. For one, who defines what "a well-founded fear" actually is? Is it definable? Does a person escaping a persecution in Russia from the government there have the same rights to asylum as a person fleeing the war in Syria?

Economic migrants, on the other hand, are defined as those "choosing" to improve prospects for themselves and their families. First things first: you'd think that escaping a war would be to improve the prospects for yourself and your family - so they are not mutually exclusive!

Secondly, it's the "choosing" that bothers me. You'll find very few people who "choose" to uproot themselves and go to live in another country. It's actually restarting your own life. In my case (and was lucky in that I am a teacher of English language, so no linguistic barrier there!), it was not so much of a choice, but a matter of necessity. Whilst teaching full-time at a secondary school, I was getting a meagre £500 pcm, barely enough to live and pay the rent. I ended up working above full-time: working at a private EFL school after my main job and on Saturdays. After a few years, this became exhausting. Wanting to do just a full-time job was not "a choice" - it was a necessity.

The very same notions mean that having these neat distinctions between "refugees" and "economic migrants" applied to a far more complicated situations than mine has ever been is troublesome. As pointed out by the IRIN article, a lot of the people will be both refugees and economic migrants - if lucky and you get a right to stay, that's not just it: you want to get a job and get on in life, so you do become an economic migrants. It is unuseful - and, frankly, callous to "zone in on" Syria and define all people from there as refugees whilst crossing out all the people from other countries and defining them as migrants instead. The breadth and variety of people's experiences expose the unfit-for-purpose nature of the labels in current use. Indeed, mixed migration would be better.

Another phenomenon that has happened due to the use of these labels and the current humanitarian crises, is that they have become sociolinguistically subverted. An economic migrant and asylum seeker is now a dirty word in the UK. It's those people who "have come" or "are coming to take our jobs". Since the labels are unfit to be used, as they don't reflect the reality of the multitude of people, and their definition is not clear, they have taken on the negative meanings in the society. Another reason to ditch them.


almost 3 years ago

I am in line with what you are saying. What started as migration in all it forms always end up as economic migration because people will want to resume their lives and work and earn something and that the foundation of 'human dignity' and not live in camps and ration.

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