Leila Hudson writes: By the end of September 2015, 8,000 refugees and migrants, most of them Syrian, were arriving in Europe every day. By November, even with the onset of winter, that number had risen to an average of 8,700, with as many as 10,000 arriving on Greek shores on one October day. As of November 2015, the UNHCR counted 744,000 arrivals for the year, nearly triple the 219,000 who came in 2014. The millions displaced by Syria’s civil war and hundreds of thousands making their way by foot, boat, train, bus, car and truck across Eastern Europe are people hoping to live and work in peace and dignity somewhere on the planet. They are not a swarm or an invasion or a metastasis. As the aftermath of the November 13 Paris massacres showed, refugees do not seem to be a vector for terrorism, which is more easily incubated domestically and through communications networks. They are girls, boys, men and women, and every one of them has a full complement of ordinary hopes, fears and dreams. Most have experienced trauma and mustered tremendous willpower and determination. How the world treats them will have consequences for all.
What might one day be remembered as the Great Syrian Migration for its scale, or the Syrian Exodus for its epic and tragic character, is currently referred to as the European migration crisis. The proto-genocidal war in Syria, and even the pressures of four million refugees on Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey are by any measure more critical than the challenges to Europe’s immigration and integration policies. However, these problems were easier for the global north to dismiss as part of a chronically benighted and distant Middle East. There has been some media controversy over this Eurocentric framing of the issue and how to refer to these asylum seekers. Al-Jazeera announced a policy decision to avoid the word “migrant” and exclusively use the word “refugee,” as flight from war zones creates de facto refugees. Under the spirit of the 1951 Geneva Convention, the fact of displacement generates refugee status until proven otherwise. Most North American and European mainstream media outlets continue to use the term “migrant,” assuming that it is neutral and descriptive, and that legal refugee status will be confirmed, de jure, by an asylum court or other formal national or international process. There are important legal implications depending on the word and assumptions used; those judged to be refugees have a path to asylum and legal status, while economic migrants are subject to deportation. The displaced people themselves often prefer not to be labeled and categorized.
As this subject is discussed in the English-language media, the core of Syrian refugees is joined each week by people fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Pakistan, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Bangladesh and recently even Iran and Lebanon. Refugees and migrants from other zones of war and poverty are joining the caravan to Europe, sometimes even claiming to be Syrian to gain an edge in the quest for asylum. Falsified Syrian papers are available for purchase from the same smugglers selling rubber dinghies on the Turkish coast. These non-Syrian refugees and migrants are pushed from their homes by inequality, fear and insecurity and lured by promises of freedom, tolerance and prosperity. [Continue reading…]