A Refugee crisis we can’t ignore because of distance

Recent catastrophic loss of life of refugees in the Mediterranean attempting to reach Europe has resulted in a media storm about the issue. Yet those at the centre of the crisis are being persecuted and the focus being pushed further and further away from the real issue. Here, Lorraine Patch explores the underexplored but vitally important question of why it is no longer possible to ignore plights of refugees desperate to reach Europe.

Fear and scaremongering has affected our ability to see the issue from what it really should be- a human issue. With this fear, we seem to have forgotten to consider humanity.

Any issue of injustice, poverty, war or of those in need deserves an equal consideration, whatever country it originates in. However, the plight of refugees seeking to reach Europe does not fit within this category of ‘them and us’. The presents and futures are, for better or for worse intertwined.

‘Them and Us’ is no longer applicable 

In some cases, crises’ are dismissed and easily forgotten because of sheer distance, further problematising the ‘them and us’ scenario between the developed and developing world. However, the issue of refugees risking their lives to reach Europe cannot be simply dismissed because of distance, as it is right on our doorstep here in Britain and relates directly to our lives.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

This week saw shockingly not the first case of two stowaways who hid in the undercarriage of plane on a 10-hour long haul fight from Johannesburg to London Heathrow. One was discovered dead on the roof of a West London office, and the survivor was admitted to hospital in a critical condition. Like those travelling by boat, this is yet another case of refugees risking everything for a chance at a better life.

Being able to ignore poverty because of its lack of proximity is becoming harder, the over used notion of ‘them and us’ is no longer applicable as our world becomes far more interconnected. This also resonates with comments made this week by the International Development Secretary, Justine Greening is something which is occurring more often, and that indicates what should be a new attitude towards poverty; “the days of being able to simply ignore poverty around the other side of the world are over”.

Interconnectedness is often seen as the best way to approach world challenges; and yet in the case of the EU refugee crisis countries and the individuals within the countries seem desperate to distance themselves from this approach.

Refugees and Migrants- what’s the difference?

One of the biggest injustices of the overuse of the term ‘migrant’ as opposed to ‘Asylum Seeker’ or ‘Refugee’ is understatement of the desperation which prompts people to pay thousands to people traffickers to board a dangerous boat and risk life to get away from where they live. The term migrant suggests a choice built on a desire for a greater financial and economic future. It is believed that many of the ‘migrants’ seeking refuge in Europe are fleeing poverty, violence or religious oppression in Somalia or Eritrea and war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.

They key difference here is choice. To suggest that anyone who is fleeing violence, persecution, severe poverty or lack of freedom could make a choice to return home without the situation which forced them to leave in the first place improves, is inhumane.

Migrants can plan travel, take belongings and in some cases begin to build a plan for life in their new home country. Refugees don’t have this luxury, so the two are very different.

The sheer danger of the methods used to navigate away from their home country and seek asylum is testament to these two distinct definitions. The widespread media use of the term ‘migrant’ implicates choice and misrepresents the desperation and severe danger that refugees find themselves in.

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

© Rasande Tyskar/Creative Commons License

Insensitive Representation

The Daily Mail last month published an article demonising refugees who having landed on the Greek island of Kos are living in the town centre where British tourists often visit.

With points in the article such as “The holiday-makers feel uncomfortable”, “These ladies’ view of the harbour is somewhat disrupted by dozens of migrants walking the streets” the article only seeks to further de-humanise and persecute refugees who find themselves on the island of Kos still living in poverty whilst trying to seek asylum.

This representation diminishes the tragedy and once again promotes the idea of ‘them and us’ which is so harmful in damaging public perception of those who are genuine refugees fleeing persecution.

Many of us will be lucky enough to never end up in a situation where we feel we have no option but to leave our country in search of freedom, basic rights and opportunity. Understanding and consideration of humanity is important to ensure that even further demonisation of these people already in a desperate situation does not happen.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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