Migrant and Refugee – Words Used, Abused, Twisted and Distorted

Scene from the Iranian film 'The Immigrant' by Massoud Ahmadi (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Globalization and the different demographical processes, as well as a growing number of conflicts around the world have brought about a massive number of people of all backgrounds being on the move, for one reason or another. Depending on the nature of the movement and sometimes depending on the hidden or not-so-hidden agenda of the medium we consume, the words migrant, refugee, economic migrant, illegal border crosser, or even tourist can be, and are, used in any configuration. In this article, we at FactRefuge aim to clarify each of these terms and how they appear in one of the most defining and most urging problems of our time: migration.

Let’s Face It: Almost All of Us Are Migrants

Clarification should start with the broadest category, the migrant. Anybody can be a migrant, as soon as they leave the constituency they live in.

So the moment one leaves town, the village or the farm they live in, they become migrants.

This word is one of the most vague umbrella terms and what is most important about it: undefined in (international) law. Migrant simply means that somebody is on the move, for one reason (going on an excursion to the nearby national park) or another (paying a human trafficker in order to get to Europe from war or an otherwise peaceful Middle Eastern country).

Since migrant has such a wide scope, so does “economic migrant” which means that the individual decides to relocate because of financial reasons: mostly for bigger financial gain. (Certain members of families who are mobile enough and mostly possess some sort of sought-after special skill usually move to more developed regions either in their respective countries or other ones and help their families by wire transfer.

Englishman in New York – Moving To Another Country

Motive and objective step up to be crucial factors when one decides to travel or move to another country. Based on international law, every country has the right to decide under what circumstances and with what conditions they allow citizens of any other country to enter. Based on this, countries can be ranked, based on how convenient it is to travel with their passport.

If one crosses a border legally that means they do it at a designated border crossing, with their personal travel documents at hand, possessing other documentation they are required to have. (Letter of invitation, visa etc.)

If the above cannot be presented, or the crossing happens in an alternative place, entering the given country is deemed illegal and the perpetrator of such can be charged or fined according to the law of the country where they were apprehended by the authorities.

Sometimes getting into another country cannot be done with the required documents at hand but crossing over is paramount, for example because the individual is fleeing from war.

And The Magic Word: Refugee

More certainly than not, these individuals will, upon their apprehension say they are refugees. Refugees, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), are people who are “fleeing armed conflict or persecution” and “for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences.” Refugees leave their home countries because it is dangerous for them to stay. Turning refugees away could mean sentencing them to death. They often arrive without their personal belongings, sometimes without preplanning. Refugees are protected from being deported or returned to situations that might threaten their lives. They are to be given access to social services and to be integrated into their new country’s society. Migrants are subjected to a country’s immigration laws and procedures and can be turned away or deported back to their homeland.

The problem is that the proceedings entailed and this legal framework are very often abused. There have been instances where people declared themselves as refugees just to get access to the country’s social services and for the process to start only to leave for another country the next day.

This phenomenon has been the core problem of the European Union’s (and other European countries’) migration policy. Since only the smallest minority of self-defined refugees actually see through the process of their request for asylum (and the majority, happy to be inside the desired territory, let it be the Schengen Zone or the United States, plainly flees deeper into the territory, namely Western Europe or away from the U.S. border), there is a huge number of people not having proper identification thus being without any possible legal protection or clarification.

This brings about worries in the domain of security, social security, financial security and physical safety.

Or in other words: there are a lot of unproven refugees walking among legal migrants.

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