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Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development

No Human is Illegal: Why Migration Terminology Matters

Thursday, February 11, 2016

People are pushing at the borders of Europe. Border fences, prison like holding areas and long waiting periods, are often what await migrants and refugees from the holiday island of Lesbos to the streets of Berlin. Despite the intense media coverage of the issue, the risks associated with the journey and reports of mass deportations in destination states, people continue to arrive. This indicates more than anything else that the decision to leave is founded on the want to live, at whatever cost. For those fleeing their homelands due to disaster, conflict and lack of economic opportunities, what they are referred to matters. As the Guardian journalist Ben Doherty says: ‘words are powerful, especially when discussing people who have no voice of their own, no place in the debate, and whose identities are shaped by the words others use about them.’ These labels have significant bearing on the status of these people's’ resettlement, how they are perceived on their journey and in the new countries. The following paper looks to identify the terminology used when referring to those who are leaving their homes or countries of first asylum like Jordan and arriving at Europe’s doorstep. Whether migrant or refugee the reasons for departure are varied and all the time complicated. What is for sure is that people are seeking better futures for themselves and their children. How we understand this movement, and thus the terminology we apply to these people, must be grounded in humanity and appreciation for international law.

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