Sunday 6 March 2016

Refugees are not migrants

On the BBC television news channel yesterday the language used to describe people escaping across the sea to reach Europe was challenged by a fellow journalist.

Newscaster Gavin Esler introduced the ‘Dateline London’ discussion slot by asking, “Is it the end of compassion in the European Union for migrants?”

He continued:
“Far more migrants, some say 30 times more, have tried to enter Europe in the first two months of this year than a year ago. Greece, which has plenty of other problems, is under enormous pressure. 
"There have been disturbances in Greece and from Macedonia to Calais, plus border tightening, from the Balkans to Austria, Belgium to Scandinavia. Has compassion for migrants ended, and have we also seen the end to the idea of Europe without borders?"
Turning to studio guest, Maria Margaronis, who writes for The Nation (America’s oldest weekly magazine), she immediately responded:
“Let’s start with language, you say migrants. These people by any definition are refugees. 90% of the 125,000 who have come into Greece already this year are from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. 
"More than 50% of those are women and children, they are not coming to Europe – quote – ‘to take our jobs’.”
Why is it that the British media - especially the BBC - persist in describing people desperately escaping from war, terror, violence, oppression and religious extremism as migrants? 

Isn't Maria right when she asserts that the correct definition and description of these people is refugees?

The term ‘migrant’ means a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions. Migrants voluntarily leave their home countries for another, and can voluntarily return home at any time.

That’s not the case for refugees. The term refugee means a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster. They have to leave their homes involuntarily and they cannot return. 

William Spindler, Senior Communications Officer for UNHCR told me:
 “The approximate recognition rates in the EU for Syrian asylum seekers is around 95 percent and for Iraqis and Afghans it’s over 70 percent. 
“In other words, the majority of Mediterranean arrivals will be recognized as refugees by EU countries.”
According to Frontex, the numbers of arrivals to the Greek islands compose 39% Syrians, 25% Iraqis and over 25% Afghans. So about 90% of arrivals to the Greek Islands were from areas of war and conflict, and almost all of these people are accepted in the European Union as genuine asylum seekers and refugees.

Reported Eurostat in their asylum report for the last quarter of 2015: "Syrians, Afghanis and Iraqis were the top 3 citizenships of asylum seekers (to the EU)".  

Commented human rights law expert, Professor Steve Peers of University of Essex:
“It's clear that a large majority of the people risking their lives to enter Greece, the country of arrival for most of the EU's asylum-seekers, are still coming from conflict zones and therefore likely to qualify as refugees." 
Language matters; all journalists know that. To constantly refer to refugees as migrants is a betrayal of their desperate circumstances. 

Using the blanket term ‘migrant’ to describe all people arriving to or travelling across Europe results in viewers, listeners and readers of our media not discerning between them. 

And yet, there is a huge difference between EU migrants, non-EU migrants, illegal migrants and refugees. Is it laziness, ignorance or another agenda that our media in most cases simply refers to all of them as migrants?

Using the wrong term to describe refugees can hurt them. It can result in the public not having empathy with their plight, or not believing that they are people worthy of help. 

This in turn can allow governments to dismiss them or not provide adequate help, with the apparent approval of the public. 

After all, when Britain’s Prime Minister, David Cameron, can refer to refugees as a “swarm” or a “bunch” it says something about the acceptable language of our day.

But would Mr Cameron - or the BBC - have described Jewish refugees, or the ‘Kindertransport’ children, who escaped to Britain from Nazi oppression in the late 1930s, as a ‘bunch’ or ‘swarm’ of migrants? 

BBC newscaster, Gavin Esler, asked on his programme today whether it was the end of compassion for migrants? 

But maybe if he – and all other journalists – had more accurately described them as refugees, there would be more compassion for those genuinely war-torn, ravaged, stateless people who aren't coming to Europe for a better life or a new job.

They are mostly coming for refuge, having escaped from the most terrible, shocking, heart-rending circumstances.


Other articles by Jon Danzig:


 Readers comments are very welcome, including opinions that oppose mine. Comments need to be on-topic and personal attacks will not be allowed. To read more about the style of debating that I encourage on all my blogs, please read my article: 'Debate, don't hate'

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→ How the wrong word by journalists can hurt – please share REFUGEES ARE NOT MIGRANTS – MEDIA PLEASE NOTE On the BBC...
Posted by Jon Danzig on Saturday, 5 March 2016

  Jon Danzig's speech 'Newspaper lies can cost lives' (14 minutes)


  1. I absolutely agree that these tricks with words are despicable and am glad you are highlighting this one.

  2. Until these people apply for asylum, they are migrants.

    The insistence of using the term refugee for someone merely attempting to enter another country is 100% innaccurate. Taking offence about this is dangerous virtue signalling as it muddies the waters about this issue and affects opinion.

    Anyone who insists on distorting the truth using language - or even argues the toss about it - is not worthy of being called a journalist. If you need to get this sort of thing out of your system, have a game of Scruples and a glass of wine with well-off left wing friends instead of distorting the truth for everyone else.

    1. Around 90% of arrivals to the Greek Islands were from areas of war and conflict, and almost all of these people are accepted in the European Union as genuine refugees.

      An economic migrant is someone who has moved to another country to work. Refugees are not economic migrants. These are not just my words, but accepted across the world and in international treaties and legislation.

      Finally, you have chosen to make ad hominem comments against me, and to use an anonymous name to post here. If you want to post again, you will need to do so under your real name, and avoid making your comments personal. I do my best to encourage edifying debate here and usually only accept comments by people who have the courtesy and courage to post under their own names.

    2. Sorry, Jon, but an economic migrant is not just somebody who is coming to another country to work, but somebody who wants a better life, and that includes those who choose to "earn" their living through illegal activities and government handouts.

      I've looked at the numbers provided by BAMF, and your 90% figure is simply not accurate. The actual number of refugees seeking asylum, which is significantly less than the total number of migrants, hovers around 64% and was never anywhere near 90% according to German officials: Many of the arrivals know that they have no right to claim asylum and that it will not be granted, hence they simply choose to disappear and never register. This is true for people from the Maghreb states, the Balkan states, and many others. Germany and Austria have massive problems with North Africans committing awful crimes including the mass sexual assaults in Cologne on New Year's Eve. Here is an English-language article from Germany that sheds some additional light on the situation:

      P.S. I always post under my own name, because I believe in respecting each other, and in an open and honest exchange. I don't share your viewpoints, but it doesn't mean that I don't listen to what you have to say.

    3. Katia, thank you for your response. However, you have described the figures and definitions as mine. They are not. I have been provided the statistics by the United Nations and Frontex and these are clearly quoted in my article along with sources of reference.

      The definition of an economic migrant comes from the dictionary; it's not my definition. In any event, the definition from the dictionary also says that a migrant is seeking work OR better living conditions in another country, which it seems you agree with. (Migrants usually can only improve their living conditions through work, so I am unsure of the point you are trying to make)

      If you are saying that the United Nations and Frontex statistics quoted in my article are incorrect, please let me have verifiable evidence, and I will forward that to the relevant agencies for their responses.

      The link you provided to the English version of The Local does not provide any evidence to show that most people risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean to Europe are not genuine refugees.

      To quote my United Nations contact once again, William Spindler, Senior Communications Officer for UNHCR:

      “The approximate recognition rates in the EU for Syrian asylum seekers is around 95 percent and for Iraqis and Afghans it’s over 70 percent.

      “In other words, the majority of Mediterranean arrivals will be recognized as refugees by EU countries.”

      What evidence do you have that both Frontex and the United Nations statistics are incorrect?


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