Image by Hendrik Kuterman

ALL DISPLACED PEOPLE IN THE SAME BOAT

September 9th 2020

Interchanging terms that refer to different groups of displaced people is a very dangerous and real trend. Both politicians and the press are guilty of doing it.

Very few people are aware of the important differences that exist between the terms migrants and refugees and the different international laws that apply to these groups of individuals. By not making a clear distinction between the two, nationals of a receiving country tend to believe that all those coming to their country do so of their own choosing. Moreover, they often believe that people arriving to their countries are the reason for rising unemployment rates because they "steal their jobs", a concept that is popularly believed and encouraged by many populist – and less populist – politicians alike.

The most preoccupying trend is the use of language that criminalises these people. It is not only logical that a person an sich can never be illegal and that only their actions can be, it is also stipulated by law. What those in power often conveniently forget is that being in a country without a valid permit is not a crime in itself, it is merely a non-compliance with administrative procedures.

When asylum seekers are criminalised, and the standard arrival procedure consists of putting them behind bars in detention centres while awaiting the outcome of their asylum applications, the citizens of the receiving country find this perfectly normal because the language associated with the concerned individuals is of incriminating nature. Hence the public believes that these people are illegal immigrants and that they have committed a crime simply by trespassing their borders. The logical conclusion is therefore that they should rightfully be detained.  

The use of CORRECT language when speaking about asylum seekers, immigrants, refugees or displaced people is primordial. That politicians don't apply it, comes as no surprise but it is the responsibility of the press to use the terms correctly, allowing the public in receiving countries to fully understand the plight of those who arrive.

There is nothing, anywhere in the world, that is worth less than a refugee. Lest the use of this incriminating and generalising rhetoric changes, a positive and human approach to the refugee situation worldwide can never prevail. We should steer clear from using collective names when all the people concerned have very different rights and realities and they should not be placed in “one boat” – pun not intended.