6 November 2015

The human rights organisation, The Elders, published an article by ECRE that questions the language the media and European leaders are using to describe the current increase in people fleeing conflict and persecution who are arriving in Europe having undertaken dangerous journeys. This relates to the frequent use by European leaders of language designed to engender fear, and cynically emphasises security concerns.

“The use of humane, appropriate and accurate language is critically important when describing people on the move and their predicament, especially refugees who have unique legal protection, but also other migrants who travel nonetheless with human rights,” write Michael Diedring and John Dorber in their blog.

Thus, a humanitarian crisis is being described in combative terms; ‘wars’ on smugglers, ‘threats’ to European society, and ‘illegal’ entry. This toxifies the discussion and provides politicians with a remit to impose sanctions and justify the ill-treatment of people arriving in Europe without prior authorisation. Consequently, there is a frenetic building of fences, illegitimate closing of borders, the widespread detention of asylum seekers, and the creation of further legal barriers to claiming asylum.

The result? A further narrowing of safe and legal channels available to people fleeing war and persecution. This, in turn, has only increased the number of people who have had to resort to irregular entry and the use of smugglers and criminal networks to access Europe.

ECRE calls for the use of humane, appropriate and accurate language to describe the predicament of people on the move. The continued use of inflammatory language is not a meaningful contribution to what should be a balanced debate; one that fosters respect and calmness in the face of deep human suffering. It is critically important to accurately and humanely describe the plight of refugees who are entitled to protection, and so too for those other migrants whose human rights must also be respected.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 6 November 2015. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.