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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!

Who creates a refugee?

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Imagine two Eritreans, presenting with the same life stories and the same experiences of persecution, in need of the same degree of protection. Unlike their friends they manage to escape across the Eritrean border into Sudan, successfully avoiding the Eritrean soldiers commanded to shoot to kill anybody fleeing the country. After many months of hazardous travel one manages to apply for asylum in Norway, the other in France. While the first will very likely be accepted, the second will most likely fail in getting accepted as a refugee. Instead, this person will now be considered an illegal migrant and placed into detention for future deportation.

The general view is that a migrant only becomes a refugee after they have applied for asylum and are granted refugee status by a host country. In the current crisis, most people are not allowed to fulfil even the very first requirement of the asylum seeking process: to enter a suitable host country in order to submit their application. Considering that attaining refugee status determines not only the rights of a person fleeing their country, but ultimately their safety and their very survival, it is worrying that the criteria applied in granting that status vary so widely from country to country.

Additionally, rates of acceptance can change rapidly – not necessarily due to improved conditions in the countries of origin, but rather due to host countries changing acceptance criteria according to their own needs and demands. This means that the status “refugee” is not assigned according to an objective assessment of the person and the conditions in their country of origin, but determined by factors entirely external to their experience and situation. This has happened in the UK regarding the assessment of Eritreans: “while in the past 95% of Eritreans had their asylum applications accepted, it’s now down to 28%.” Does this mean an individual who previously would have been accepted but is now rejected, detained and ultimately deported, is not a refugee?

Contrary to the wording of the 1951 Refugee Convention, which defines a refugee as someone who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." , it seems that in current practice the refugee experience does not exist unless it is validated by a host. Considering that host countries have their own agendas, leaving such validation up to them seems entirely inappropriate.

Because validation is placed into the hands of hosts, asylum seekers will obviously seek out host countries with fairer criteria and avoid those with high rejection rates. While in the long term, refugees will benefit a host country, there are inevitably initial costs – financial, social and political. For example, there may be a fearful, prejudiced electorate that governments are keen to appease by ensuring very low acceptance rates. Low acceptance rates will in turn make their country less attractive to asylum seekers – a win/win situation some may say.

While the finger is frequently pointed at Gulf states, because ‘they haven’t even signed up to the Geneva Convention, they don’t even give people refugee status’, the question is: what use is such a status, if potential host countries (countries that have indeed signed up to the Geneva convention) do everything in their power to avoid awarding it?

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