Language MATTERS

It took me a day or so to get my head around the migrant/refugee distinction and why it mattered. My thanks to Al Jazeera for adding to my understanding there.

Thanks, too, for showing how such distinctions matter.

For the bottom line is that although there may be some overlap between the two groups, the essential difference between the two is that the former are looking for something: a better life, a less oppressive government, perhaps; whereas the latter is running away. Sometimes, where oppression becomes intolerable, the two collide.

And today i was struck by another distinction that we are well overdue in making. David Cameron rejected Yvette Cooper’s modest suggestion that we offer shelter to a few more refugees saying that the UK “taking in” more refugees will not solve the crisis.

Indeed: it probably won’t. A real solution requires, as Cameron so cleverly observes, peace in the areas from which those individuals are fleeing. Still, for each individual so taken, it will solve a serious, life-threatening personal crisis.

But – and here’s the language point: it’s NOT about “taking” refugees, as though by offering them shelter, we have thereby made a lifelong commitment. At risk of sounding flippant – and honest! i am not being – a refugee can be just for christmas and not for life.

That is borne out by something else i wrote today: a piece examining how we dealt with past refugee crises. At the end of WWII, some 20 million displaced persons wandering the roads of Europe. Homeless. Penniless. Stateless.

What was needed, and what Europe eventually came up with, was first emergency shelter, where refugees could stay without fear of being moved on. And then, afterward, longer term solutions. In the end, states needed only to “take” some 5% of the total. The rest, in the fullness of time, returned to somewhere approximating their point of origin.

So yes. Language matters. These are refugees we are so easily dismissing today. Not migrants. And they need to be “offered shelter”: not “taken in”, like so many burdensome unwelcome house guests.


About janefae

On my way from here to there
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