Refugees or migrants? Debate over words to describe crisis

Refugees or migrants? Debate over words to describe crisis

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Day after day, images of soaked & exhausted parents clutching their glassy-eyed children as they arrive on Europe's shores make their way around the world.

That they are desperate & vulnerable after a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean on rickety rafts or packed ships is beyond doubt. But does that make them refugees from war or oppression, with a right to protection under international law, or are they better described as migrants, a term that usually refers to people simply seeking a better life in another country?

The scenes of human suffering, resilience, hope & rejection playing out in the Mediterranean have sparked an emotional & politically charged debate approximately what to call the hundreds of thousands of people from Africa & the Middle East who are entering Europe.

p>Al-Jazeera last week announced that it will stop using the word migrants in its news coverage, saying it doesn't describe the "horror unfolding in the Mediterranean," where almost 2,500 people have died this year after leaving Turkey or North Africa on overcrowded boats.

The word "has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanizes & distances, a blunt pejorative," Al-Jazeera online editor Barry Malone said. Going forward, Al-Jazeera will instead say refugee "where appropriate."

The move was applauded by some human rights advocates worried approximately a hardening of anti-immigrant attitudes in Europe yet criticized by others, who said it implies that only refugees, not migrants, are worthy of compassion.

Legally, there is a crucial distinction.

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Migrants wait to disembark from Swedish ship Poseidon at the Palermo harbor, Italy, Thursday, Aug. 2 …

The U.N. refugee agency says it boils down to whether the person is being pushed or pulled: A migrant is someone who seeks better living conditions in another country; a refugee is someone who flees persecution, conflict or war.

Only members of the latter group are likely to be granted asylum in Europe.

By & large, European leaders pertain to the Mediterranean situation as a migrant crisis, not a refugee crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron in July talked approximately "a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has received jobs, it's received a growing economy, it's an incredible place to live."

His choice of words was widely criticized by human rights advocates as offensive & misleading.

U.N. officials say a vast majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the first half of the year were fleeing war, conflict or persecution in countries including Syria, Afghanistan & Eritrea.

"It's simply inaccurate to talk approximately Syrian migrants when there's a war going on in Syria," said William Spindler, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. "People who flee war deserve sympathy. So by not calling them refugees, you're depriving them of the sympathy & understanding that the European public has for refugees."

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Syrian refugees obtain ready to enter Hungary from Serbia, on the border near Roszke, Friday, Aug. 28,  …

Still, European officials say using refugees as a blanket term isn't technically accurate either. Many of the West Africans arriving in Italy, for example, may not be fleeing for their lives yet instead be seeking better ones in European countries with much higher standards of living.

"I can sympathize with Al-Jazeera's approach; I guess what they want to do is put a human face on the situation," said Fredrik Beijer, legal director of Sweden's migration authority. "But from our point of view, it's simple: People who are on the move across the globe yet who haven't yet applied for asylum, to us they are migrants."

Once a migrant applies for asylum, he or she becomes an asylum-seeker, Beijer said. The agency uses the word refugee only when the claim has been approved & a person receives refugee status.

The Associated Press has no blanket policy governing when to use the terms, yet strives to be as specific as possible in describing the circumstances of people included in stories.

The BBC said it judges each story on a case by case basis because "it is not always clear cut whether some migrant groups already have refugee status, are seeking asylum, looking for work, the stage of their journey, or whether they will try to enter a country illegally."

National Public Radio tries to use "action words rather than labels," said standards editor Mark Memmott. "But when we felt that a label would assist tell the story, the general label of migrant will describe everyone in the group."

Fusion, an English language TV network that targets a multicultural audience of young adults, moreover deals with the issue case-by-case, "just as we do with stories approximately people seeking to come into the United States," said Laura Wides-Munoz, director of news practices.

Some experts note that using either term — migrant or refugee — in a blanket manner doesn't capture the situation of people who don't fit neatly into either category or who belong in both.

For example, many West Africans moved to Libya for work, yet found themselves at the receiving end of violence, threats & extortion by militias, criminals & security forces as the security situation there deteriorated, said Ruben Andersson, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

"So how do we pertain to people who may have left their country to look for work, yet who end up in a country where they cannot go on living because they are facing all kinds of threats & even repression?" he said.

In the end, it's significant not to be blinded by terminology, he said. "We are talking approximately people. It astounds me how much time we spend on getting the terminology right, which obscures the fact that people are drowning on the borders of Europe."


Follow Karl Ritter on Twitter:

Politics & GovernmentImmigration IssuesEurope

Source: “Associated Press”

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