Isadora Loreto: ‘Time to adapt to the complex reality of migration’
Polis Perspectives are weekly perspectives of our team on Polis-related topics. We also share our favourite articles and tweets. This week’s perspective is written by Isadora Loreto on Kristy Siegfried’s article “Refugee versus migrant: time for a new label?” IRIN, 15/6/2015.
In her article “Refugee versus migrant: time for a new label?” Kristy Siegfried raises an essential question in the current debate on immigration: is it time to have a “rethink of our terminology”? Is it time to have “a terminology (…) that takes account of secondary movement and mixed motivations while still ensuring that international protection is safeguarded”?
Since the beginning of the year, migrants are making the headlines of most newspapers while following the several shipwrecks in the Mediterranean Sea; European decision makers are holding several meetings to discuss a possible common solution to the problems posed by “illegal” migration. These past years, the Mediterranean Sea has become the most dangerous natural frontier, with almost 75% of migrants dying while trying to reach Europe.
As underlined by Kristy Siegfried, international law distinguishes economic migrants and refugees, which are people that “have to move to save their lives or preserve their freedom” according to the Geneva Convention of 1951. If it is understandable that states need some kind of criteria to determine who needs the refugee status and the protection that comes with it, it seems that the strict distinction between economic migrants and refugees does not reflect the complexity of the motives that push people to flee their country. “This kind of view ignores the very complex reasons for why people set out on these very dangerous journeys in the first place,” said Ruben Andersson, an anthropologist with the London School of Economics and author of “Illegality, Inc.”
Most migrants that reach Europe ask for the refugee status because it is the only way they have to be recognised as “legal migrants”. When the status is not granted to them because they do not meet the strict criteria of the Geneva Convention, they become illegal migrants. In other words they become people with no rights, no identity and no future. Since 2011, close to 80% of asylum seekers have seen their requests for refugee status be refused in Europe. The time to “rethink of our terminology” has come. Instead of relying on “the myth of clearly distinguishable categories”, developing tools that correspond to the complex reality of migration is crucial.
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