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Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

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!

Terminology in the Migration Field

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The different terms that are available in the migration field all aim at defining clear categories in which migrants can be sorted out according to the grounds of their migration and their aims. However, in my opinion, this categorisation is still very difficult because of two main reasons.

On one side the terms themselves have overlapping meanings and they have been defined differently by different entities and at different times. This is quite natural because the meaning of words evolve by time and the definition of a refugee in the Geneva Convention of 1951, for example, as a person who flees from his country because of fear of persecution, had to be developed more by the Organisation of African Unity Convention of 1969 to include victims of external aggression and natural disasters and even further by the Cartagena Declaration of 1984 to include generalised violence and human rights violations. For this reason it's very often necessary to refer to a term together with the source that defined it, for example 'refugees as defined in …'.

Secondly, in reality, people cannot just be put in fixed categories. Their motivations and aspirations change over time and their actions are the result of complex processes. A person can set out as a migrant, becomes a refugee, then an asylum-seeker and then it could turn out that he's actually an economic migrant. On the other hand, a person can set out as an economic migrant and becomes a refugee, because a threat develops in his country of origin and he cannot return there. One therefore cannot just say that all the migrants arriving in this boat are all refugees or are all illegal migrants. Each person's case should be examined individually, taking account of all the complexities involved. This is of course very time-consuming and with the huge numbers of migrants arriving every day, it might be impossible. On top of this, different states apply different criteria and who might be considered a refugee in Finland, might not qualify as such in Greece.

In conclusion I therefore think that first of all the terms involved in the migration issue should be reviewed and redefined, and secondly there should be agreement about them from the different states. Such harmonisation would certainly help avoid other problems like asylum shopping.

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