Poisonous rhetoric does nothing to remedy the ‘migrant’ crisis

Kettlemag, Politics, Syria, Migrant Crisis
Written by Tom-Deacon

According to the UN more than 300,000 people have entered the EU this year. The vast majority are escaping daily violence and horrific persecution at the hands of various groups and governments. Yet by reading British newspapers you would be led to believe otherwise. They instead claim ‘migrants’ are seeking to exploit our welfare system. Even our politicians, such as Prime Minister David Cameron, use language like ‘swarm’ when describing such desperate people. Such rhetoric does absolutely nothing to assist those in need. It demonises and dehumanises.

The semantics surrounding the ‘migrant crisis’ has been discussed at length lately across the media. Some may argue that debating what words we use to describe the situation will do little to help. But we must show respect and humanity through the words we use.

The Qatari based news organisation Al-Jazeera has recently announced it will no longer use the term ‘migrant’, instead choosing the term people. Barry Malone, online editor at Al-Jazeera said recently that ‘The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean.’ How have we reached a point where describing those crossing the Mediterranean as people is such big news?

We do not have to look far to see why.

Home Secretary Theresa May recently signed a deal with the French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuveot regarding the situation at Calais. Rather than helping people with their asylum claims, the deal promises to continue to abhorrent rhetoric. The six-point plan includes sending UK Border Force officers to refugee camps to “correct any misapprehensions” about life in the UK and provide a “more dissuasive and realistic sense of life for illegal migrants.” This will achieve nothing. Does Theresa May honestly believe that such a measure will help solve the crisis? It is hard to imagine a Syrian being told that the UK isn’t actually so great, listening to such helpful advice, then deciding to head back to Syria where they and their family almost certainly face the constant threat of violence.

The Migration Observatory recently studied 58,000 published articles containing terms such as migrant, immigrant, refugee and asylum seeker. They found that the most common modifier of migrant between the start of 2010 to the end of 2012 was ‘illegal’. The findings found little difference in papers across the political spectrum too. The British media must take some responsibility for the attitudes we have towards the migrant crisis. If our news sources used language that actually portrayed the crisis more humanely, perhaps we would demand more of our politicians. If we saw all of the ‘illegal migrants’ in Calais as people, we would be more outraged at our government’s announced measures. Instead of accepting Theresa May’s latest announcement to increase deportations via chartered flights, we would perhaps question the lack of actual assistance and sympathy.

Such rhetoric is not as common in Germany, which has seen far more ‘migrants’ arrive this year than the UK. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week visited the city of  Heidenau, where xenophobic rhetoric has led to rioting by right-wing groups. Merkel made a speech damning such actions, saying “There can be no tolerance of those who question the dignity of other people.” It is hard to picture a high-standing British politician uttering a similar sentence. Although Germany’s dark past is perhaps partly the reason Merkel was quick to  denounce right-wing violence, her humane tone is admirable.

The rhetoric used by our politicians and media does not respect the ‘dignity of other people’, and for the crisis to be resolved this must change. Although more practical measures are needed immediately, this will require long and difficult negotiations at a European level. A change of rhetoric can be implemented far more quickly, and would perhaps hasten the political process. David Cameron should be ashamed of his ‘swarm’ comment, and Theresa May should be helping those in need seek refuge in Britain, not flying them back to their countries.

Many argue that this is a pointless argument. But imagine if you were in a similar situation. And instead of being offered refuge you were called ‘illegal’ or your family was described as a ‘swarm’. It seems seems hard to comprehend.