The Distinction Between Refugees and Migrants

The current European refugee crisis has been a subject of angst and debate. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this debate is that individuals of all age groups and communities are actively involved in expressing opinions, generating awareness or involving themselves in the efforts to support the refugees from unfortunate war stricken nations, primarily Syria. However, the outcry from European crowds has been appalling. The dialogue focuses not on empathy and aid, but instead it targets asylum seekers and refugees. People claim that these refugees are migrants who will do nothing but harm the nations from which they seek help.

Making the “correct” distinction between a migrant and a refugee is critical. Turning refugees away because we fear the negative effects of immigration, such as wage depression and job poaching, causes us to think in the short term to protect the so-called “unskilled” labor force in European countries. Asylum-seekers aiming to protect their lives, families and children are treated as migrants intending to move to a new state and compete for jobs, consequently increasing the burden on the resident population. Perhaps some of these worries are legitimate from the viewpoint of economically unstable European countries that prioritize providing for their own people before allowing “migrants” to exploit their resources.

Credit: Aris Messinis/AFP
Credit: Aris Messinis/AFP

Perhaps such an issue would not persist had the European nations taken the necessary steps to mitigate the sudden inflow of refugees they cannot support. For example, as of November 6, 2015, Germany will not be granting refugee-status to Syrian refugees. This means that refugees may enter the country for only one year under a subsidiary protection scheme with limited rights. Hungary closed its borders to refugees and asylum seekers. In the UK, a quota limits the number of refugees accepted within its borders.

These examples illustrate a disbanding of the European Union in a time when responsibility, resources and legal doctrines should emulate the fundamental rights of humans, especially those who are imperiled and in need of basic human necessities such as food, water and shelter. European governments have done little to aid refugees through certain means such as using diplomatic relations to establish shelters or setting up alternative schemes with the commonwealth. Governments can also simply educate the European public of the true nature of this movement to ensure that refugees are treated with dignity and humanity. These asylum-seekers have an equal right to the fair and internationally standardized manner by which their refugee applications should be processed. Countries need to focus attention on the same short term objectives of refugees. However, the current lack of empathy is creating a severe disconnect between European governments and asylum-seekers.

As stated, refugees continue to be ill-treated because Europeans confuse them with migrants. This disconnect emerges because there is no agreed-upon definition for each term, causing them to be used interchangeably. Moreover, change comes from the public, but change is far-fetched in a place where the government is doing little to create awareness for the humanitarian crisis. The European Union is defeating the purpose of its existence by disbanding and applying individual state laws to a common problem in a time where responsibility should be shared. Refugees are not arriving to steal jobs and exploit resources — they seek help from countries whose commitment to honour basic human rights fails to apply to them. Change for the better starts from the very foundations of defining who a refugee is and what he or she is seeking. Refugees are looking for the basic foundations of life, which we have the ability to provide and ensure that their lives are not regarded as useless. They are refugees, not migrants.

Anushka Sikka, Staff Writer

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