My post is arriving a little late today. Here’s why.
Friday, my post was ready. It’s title: World Refugee Day.
Here’s how it began:
Did you know that June 20 is World Refugee Day? I didn’t, until I set my blogging calendar for 2018 and looked for holidays that fell on Wednesday.
And so, I began to read about the refugee problem. Thank you, And So It Goes, for pushing me to learn more.
I like sprinkling my blog with posts on various holidays for they offer opportunity for a look at a holiday we’ve never heard of — like the one in May for World Day for Cultural Diversity — or a new look at a more familiar holiday — like the post on Valentine’s Day this year.
Today’s post fits into the former group.
On December 4, 2000 the United Nations General Assembly declared June 20 to be a day to raise public awareness about the refugee situation throughout the world.
I hope this blog will do just that.
I pulled together some photos (mostly refugee-filled boats capsizing in the Mediterranean Sea), collected some stats (like which countries produce the largest number of refugees?), and ended by asking How do we address this problem? How do we begin to get our minds around it?
The issue was huge. But I pursued it with an intellectual aloofness that protected me.
There were just so many ways to look at the worldwide problem of refugees fleeing
- their countries of origin. Which countries have seen the most refugees fleeing? Syria, Afghanistan, and South Sudan, btw.
- by mode of travel. Turns out there are only two: sea and land; boat and foot;
- by year? I wanted to see the trends. Turns out the numbers have just now begun to fall. Check out Eurostat (“Your key to European statistics”) for the figures.
- by country of destination? Where are these refugees going? Who is taking them in?
And I ended by asking,
Or shall we look at the millions still languishing in refugee camps, some for decades?
I thought any one of these approaches would make a great future blog post and hoped you’d tell me in the Comments which one you’d be interested in. If I found sufficient interest, I’d research that one and see what I found.
My post was ready to go last Friday. I was just puttering around with it. You know, tightening a few paragraphs, changing a few verbs, cross-checking a few statistics.
Then, as I reread my definitions — refugee, immigrant, emigrant, migrant — the realization hit me that we’ve got a refugee crisis right here at home and we aren’t talking about it in that way. My intellectually aloof stance evaporated.
Why is it, I wondered anew, that we keep hearing about our “illegal immigration problem” when
we don’t have an immigration crisis on our southern border, illegal or not. We have a refugee crisis.
The language here is critical. The word choice, telling.
We have an American refugee crisis and our government is treating it like it’s a problem with people who are just looking to up themselves a rung or two on capitalism’s ladder.
The news media is not only following along, they’ve made it worse. You’ll hear them using “migrant” a lot. Neither “migrant” nor “immigrant” is synonymous with “refugee.”
A migrant relocates within the same country. The dustbowl era Okies were migrants, leaving their barren Oklahoma land behind for a better life farther west. Bleak as it was, no one was out to shoot them.
An immigrant has chosen to move to a different country, often in search of a better opportunity, better life. By definition, it’s by choice; they can go back if it doesn’t work out.
Sometimes I get the feeling the news folks are using “migrant” because they are confused between “emigrant” and “immigrant” and don’t want to make a mistake. “Migrant,” they believe, is safer.
BUT IT’S STILL WRONG .
Sorry for yelling. This has really gotten my dander up.
An emigrant is an immigrant viewed from the country of departure. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan suffered an emigration problem as Kazakh-born Germans and Russians
raced emigrated back to the mother country. At the same time, Russia and Germany welcomed their new immigrants in those early years (Germany better than Russia, but that’s a story for another day).
Even the terms “refugee” and “asylum seeker” are too often confused. It’s a birds vs. robins thing. All refugees are (by definition) asylum seekers, but not all asylum seekers are refugees. Let’s not get into that here.
Why does it matter what we call them?
Do you think I’m bogged down in semantics? I don’t believe I am. It’s a humanitarian crisis, certainly, and it needs our attention.
The people now coming across our southern border — who WANT to be taken in by US authorities — are women and children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, what is known as the “northern triangle” of Central America.
Don’t forget our involvement in El Salvador (1979-1992), in Guatamala (1960-1996), and Honduras (forever). To stir those memory cells, I’ve linked to articles I recommend for a decent background. But don’t just take my word for it. Google, “US role in …” for each country and choose the headline that sounds right to you.
These people are fleeing brutal gang violence, extreme poverty, or death by starvation. And they should be protected by international law, specifically the 1951 Refugee Convention.
They qualify as refugees. Let’s start by calling them refugees. And then let’s make sure they get the protections afforded to them under the UN’s Refugee Convention, approved in 1954 and amended in 1967 to extend protection to refugees world wide.
The words immigrant and migrant are not just wrong, the use of these words minimizes the desperation that led to the choices these people have been forced to make. They cannot go back to their homes.
Pay attention when you hear the news broadcasts. Is anyone using “refugee” when speaking of those coming to our American shores? I’d love to find one. Just ONE. I’ll write them a thank you note.
I’ll close with these words from UN Secretary-General, António Guterres.
“This is not about sharing a burden. It is about sharing a global responsibility, based not only the broad idea of our common humanity but also on the very specific obligations of international law. The root problems are war and hatred, not people who flee; refugees are among the first victims of terrorism.”
How about you? How has the refugee issue impacted you? Do you want to know more? Or do you already feel overwhelmed?