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Why Do People Migrate? Part 1: Facts

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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!

Re-thinking our terminology

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In an attempt to provide fast protection to people exposed to high threats, institutions and policy makers divided displaced people into two categories: "refugees" and "migrants". As far as I understood "migrant" is anyone leaving its country in an attempt to improve his/her living condition (see Oxford Dict. for example), it is hence a category comprising almost everyone who migrates. This seems to coincide with the category of "economic migrants", since the improvement of living conditions has often an economic interpretation.
On the other hand the term "refugee" has been linked to the concept of persecution, hence to a forced and unavoidable escape. It aims at creating a category of "more vulnerable" people, to be provided with urgent protection. Although the intention is in my opinion valuable, its implementation is not.
A group of people have tried to identify which are the circumstances that make someone leave the county forcedly or not. It is a very hard task though, since individual perceptions of risk and scale of values are very different among people and cultures. This problem emerged drastically in the last months, with the explosion of the migration crisis at the borders of Europe.

In fact, motivations bringing people on the move are especially nowadays so variegated that old categories, stated more than 50 years ago, simply can't apply anymore (and I wonder if they could back then). It is pretty intuitive that who flees from a war zone or even from persecution is trying to improve his or her living condition, and many of those, since they are coming from developing or underdeveloped countries, are also hoping to improve their economic condition. Furthermore, for someone coming from a peaceful but very poor place in the world, moving abroad might represent the only choice for ensuring him/herself and his/her family a safe life and freedom. He/she is hence moved by the same motivations as an "official" refugee is, but maybe he is not acknowledged so because the definition of "refugee" does not include his own situation. So who is a refugee and who isn't? What are, in particular nowadays, the circumstances that make someone being more in need of protection than someone else? They are becoming more and more personal, individual, while the massive migrants flow maybe doesn't give time to listen carefully to every single story. Although I wonder how do the countries that are hosting most of the displaced people (Lebanon, Turkey etc.) handle this emergency.

On the top of that, speaking with categories always creates division in the civil society: those who don't want anyone, those who accept only "refugees" (but again, who is a "refugee"?), those who welcome everybody. Politicians follow these movements, and very few think about reforming the terminology and the beaurocratic procedures.

It is hence clear that, also with the fragmentation of the definiton of "refugee" provided by several official documents, it should be the time to re-think it and then adapt to it the immigration as well as, more broadly speaking, the international policies.

The problem I see is that policies, as well as science, need to work with definitions and categories. When the limits become so blurred, and the spectrum of the phenomenon so wide, how is it possible to formulate a category?

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