What’s In A Name? Fleeing Syrians: Migrants Or Refugees?


Images of people crammed onto fishing boats, crossing the Mediterranean or scrambling over barbed wire fences at Calais have dominated our media over recent months. In order to document these events, the perjorative term, ‘Migrant Crisis’ has become common parlence, and now blithely dominates news broadcasts every day, thereby sanctioning the resultant repugnance of large and influential sectors of our so-called “ civilized” society towards the most needy people in our world. I can’t help but feel that this incongruous ‘Migrant crisis’ is the ultimate in dehumanisation. Wasn’t one of the central policies of our government “One Society”?

We are in the midst of a humanitarian catastrophe, with thousands of Syrians making desperate bids for their lives, escaping devastation, horror and death in war-ridden Syria. Alexander Betts, director of the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University explains; the term migrant is “used to imply choice rather than coercion”; it suggests that Syrians voluntarily elect movement, rather than having no choice but to move, in order to survive. Syrians don’t have the freedom of choice; they are not making a move to Europe out of greed, or wishful thinking. Most of the time they don’t even want to leave their lives in Syria, they are forced to flee for fear of their lives and their children’s lives. In fact, we are currently seeing the number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeding 50 million– the first time this has happened since World War Two.

I can’t be complacent about our government’s acts and omisions with regard to this crisis. Theresa May stated that “free movement was never intended to mean freedom to cross borders in search of benefits”. It’s enough to make me weep with shame. Juxtapose this with Angela Merkel’s acceptance of 750,000 refugees in Germany, and the use the German army to build shelters for them. Our response is shameful. We should be ashamed; ashamed and angry.

Despite the media’s attempts to ignite public trepidation about this crisis, the situation is a lot more manageable then first thought. We could fit all of Britian’s refugees on one tube train. Of Syria’s population of about twenty million, twelve million have been displaced by the conflict. About eight million of these are currently in safer areas within Syria. Four million are in refugee camps in neighbouring countries, such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Here, they can find shelter in camps, but not asylum. And of course, it is debatetable as to how safe these countries are. So far, only about two hundred and fifty thousand (less than 2%) have opted to attempt the perilous journey to EU countries, where – because of the laws we have agreed – they can claim asylum as refugees. However, Britain is failing to see these people as refugees, who we are legally (and morally) in need of our help. Worse still, Britain appears to be struggling to acknowledge these desperate people as human.

In one circumstance, refugees were dragged off trains and had numbers written on their arms- reminiscent of anti-Semitic treatment of the Jews in Nazi Germany. We should have learnt this lesson once from history; we need to always unconditionally treat fellow humans as just that, human, and nothing less. Syrians are not savage dogs, who can be restrained by the building of a wall, or a swarm of insects, and they’re certainly not cockroaches (I’m looking at you Katie Hopkins). You can’t solve this problem by throwing up an electric fence here, or a brick wall there. I’m sure we’ve all seen the devastating image of the drowned Syrian boy, just off the coast of Bodrum, Turkey. This boy was just one Syrian, one of the ‘swarm’ as David Cameron to repeat our Prime Minister’s collective noun of choice, perhaps to subliminally justify our current national policy towards people we are in every sense required to support. It shouldn’t take a viral image of Syrian children being washed up dead on European beaches for our attitude has to change. We owe fellow human beings a safe haven; it is our humanitarian and moral duty. I would urge the British public to see the human suffering here, and not the conjured threat that appears to condone our failure to allow Syrians safe settlement in the UK. The only threat implicit here, is the terrifying futures we are undoubtedly condemning people to, if we continue to refuse help. It’s time that we considered our rhetoric, because our current stance is dangerous, and inflammatory.


Features Editor 2015-2016 and a third year English student. Feminist, Perfectionist and avid adventurer. When I'm not writing I can be found in the Surge Radio studio presenting my show, 'The World According to Ellie' or drinking copious amounts of coffee. I adore history, theatre and reading.

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