Migrant is not a dirty word

Images of drowned children are horrible to look at. Images of people fleeing war, desperate, scared. It’s painful to look at. And ever more of us want to do something about it. We want to help, and we want to welcome these people – to offer safety.

But on the condition that they are refugees.

It’s certainly not a condition I would impose. I’ve seen countless Facebook posts and tweets reminding us that these people fleeing Syria are refugees and not migrants. And while it’s true that these people are refugees (and really we should use that term – certainly from a legal perspective refugees are entitled to protections that are not offered to migrants), we’re talking as though migrant is a dirty word, as though migration is a shameful thing.

But migration is not a shameful thing. Migration is a good thing, and migration is a human thing. People move about, across all areas and for so many different reasons. Nomadic tribes, family migration, study abroad – and, of course, fleeing war and political persecution. People cross borders, and there is no “invalid” reason.

During the last few weeks, the people who I have seen correcting “migrant” to “refugee” have left me wondering – what if they weren’t refugees? Would we support letting them drown? Would their dead children not matter? Could we justify the cruel and inhumane treatment we are seeing? It saddens me to think how some of us would answer.

Seeking a better life is not a crime. Seeking a better life should not be punishable. We’re not the gatekeepers of The Good Life, and it’s not for us to decide who deserves a better life, and whose life isn’t quite bad enough already. Most of us live where we do by coincidence and circumstance, and that’s no basis to deny others the privileges we enjoy.

I support all forms of migration, and all reasons for migration. Right now there is a crisis in the Mediterranean, with people fleeing war. We urgently need to help them. But because they need help; not because they’re “not migrants”.


Note: for the sake of full clarity, those who seek to smear refugees, and use the term migrant as a slur disgust me. There are people who need our help urgently, and we must help them, urgently. It’s clear that the Syrian refugees in the news right now are not economic migrants, but really – so what if they were.

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