Have we misunderstood the #RefugeeCrisis?

A number of articles have been written in the past week or so regarding the falseness in calling the current influx of people into Europe, the “Migrant Crisis”. #MigrantCrisis has been an almost constant trend on Twitter for months now, until it was correctly pointed out that these people are not migrants, they are refugees. Simply, a migrant is “a person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions”. A refugee, on the other hand, is a person who has “been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster”. This has prompted a change for some, to instead identify this as the #RefugeeCrisis (although it should be noted some are still calling these people migrants).

However, many journalists and politicians are also misunderstanding the word ‘crisis’ in this phrase. It seems many reporting on the affair are defining the crisis as an economic/political one first and foremost. I feel this is the exact reason these human beings are not being treated properly. This is a humanitarian crisis on a scale which Europe has not seen since the Second World War. I argue that this definition of crisis is adversely affecting the help these people seek and require and Europe’s understanding of what is critical about this situation.

I will identify what I see as the two most fundamental examples of how this ‘crisis’ is being incorrectly defined. Firstly, the fact that we only seem to see these refugees in a humane manner when they die is an incredibly worrying thing to see and is belittling the problem. Secondly, the hostility shown towards Germany’s incredible reaction to this crisis and generally to people who say they want to help recently, shows how the economic and political thought is overriding the importance of humanitarian thought. I feel both of these things need to stop for us to help these refugees sufficiently.

It cannot be doubted that the wide scope of reports on this influx of people to Europe has communicated constructive, humanitarian opinions about how to help these people. This has been particularly highlighted this week, when 3-year old boy Aylan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach after he and his family tried to escape Syria in a dingy that capsized. This little boy seems to have somewhat captured the true horror of the current scenario with one picture of his body being carried away by a policeman. Even earlier than this, the hundreds who have died crossing the Mediterranean and those found in the truck in Austria have been treated and discussed with compassion.

However, to only provide such emotion when a refugee has died is not enough. Even death has somehow not changed the opinion of some (Katie Hopkins calling them “cockroaches” is probably the most prominent of these disgusting comments). We cannot only look at pictures of the people dying trying to escape torture and death in Syria and feel sympathy. It seems that if these people are alive, we think all is okay, ‘they have escaped ISIS, they are in Europe and therefore things will be okay’. This is not the case, as hundreds of thousands struggle to get to safe points. The current opinion that these people are merely part of a “swarm” aiming to selfishly better their lives, by not accepting that sleeping on a street outside a train station in Budapest is enough for them, is incredibly distressing. For as long as we continue to listen to the lies which certain parties in the media and politics are feeding us about the economics of aid, the longer we are denying the fact that not only those who so horrifically die deserve our attention. Those who have miraculously survived and made it to Europe also need to be supported. The crisis is not only that innocent families are dying at the hands of traffickers charging extortionate prices to potentially escape terrorism. The crisis is also, that those who somehow survive this ordeal are currently stranded in countries such as Hungary, with nowhere to go, due to this “first country asylum” principle. This principle, discussed here, is not a blanket legal requirement; it is to be assessed on a case-by-case examination. Such an examination would now inevitably show that the principle cannot apply. Other countries in Europe must step up to help these people, as the crisis does not end once they escape Syria.

This feeds into the second fundamental problem with the current understanding of this crisis, which is that currently, too many people are taking the facts and figures of politicians as inarguable. The general consensus has been that Europe as a whole is not in a position to offer these refugees asylum. Germany has proved otherwise recently by welcoming refugees to their country. They have exceeded all expectations for the numbers they are granting asylum and have plans to accept more. We seemingly have seen some progress in the UK this week too. Today, David Cameron promised to help ‘thousands more’, as the situation in countries such as Hungary begins to collapse. One thing Mr Cameron did intelligently omit, is the precise number of refugees he should allow, as this would lead to targets which he would inevitably not meet. The reason for the lack of precision is seemingly economics. Many right-wing opinions recently have expressed that the UK cannot afford to take in more refugees. Headlines have stated that we just don’t have the money to grant thousands of people asylum. Such a statement, I believe shows how politicians are seemingly removing humanity from their considerations. It cannot be denied that economics has a big part to play, but to deny refugees food, water and shelter for the sake of continuing the advancement of nuclear weapons is unacceptable. Even worse than this, Germany has actually faced criticism from Hungarian PM Viktor Orban for their generosity, saying the circumstances these refugees find themselves in, is because Germany actually wants to help them… an apparently terrible thing to do.

With the number of people coming into Europe everyday, one cannot deny that considerable expense will have to be incurred to help these refugees. However, to abandon humanity due to this potential cost of saving potentially millions of people from the destruction of terrorism is the real crisis. What’s even more insulting to me, is that not only is our country denying protection to people whose devastation we have (at least) partly caused, but the EU is actually debating whether to help people survive and thrive, when its foundational freedoms communicate that as the main aim of the Union itself.

Yet regardless of this negativity, millions of us remain active and continue to press the fact that more and more people are starting to realise the severity of this travesty occurring. We continue to pressurise our leaders to end the desperation we are seeing and reading about every day. Aylan Kurdi seems to have acted as a turning point in the majority’s opinion, as trends show all of Europe’s leaders are finally realising the severity of this situation, after seeing that picture. However, Aylan Kurdi did not need to be that boy. Aylan Kurdi could have made it safely to Europe, been granted asylum with his family and look forward to a life not desecrated by an evil terrorist group. But, it was not to be. All because the word ‘crisis’ has been misunderstood. All I hope, is the growing number of us that understand the true nature of this as a crisis, are able to maintain the determination to help these refugees, until an effective solution is provided.

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5 thoughts on “Have we misunderstood the #RefugeeCrisis?

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