Are migrants the crisis or result of a crisis?
by Rabia Butt
Migration has always been part of the human history and still is today. However, in the 21st-century opinions on or views of human migration have changed. Moving is now considered to be wrong and unnatural, whereas those people who moved 18,000 years ago from East Africa and spread all over the world are still regarded as explorers or traders rather than immigrants. The reasons opinions have changed now are not because there is something new with mobility but have to do with the idea of the nation-state and national borders.
According to the international organisation for migration (IOM), a migrant is an individual who is moving or has moved across international borders or within a state away from their habitual place of residence. Migration can be temporal or permanent, and it may be voluntary or forced. But why do people leave their home, the place where they grew up and leave their loved ones behind? People migrate for several reasons, which can be classified into environmental, economic, cultural and socio-political factors. Within those reasons, there are ‘push’ or ‘pull’ factors. Push factors are those that force the person to move voluntarily because the individual is at risk of something if they stay. Push factors may include conflict, drought, famine or extreme religious activity. Moreover, poor economic activity and lack of job opportunities are also strong push factors for migration. The pull factors are those that attract individuals or groups to the country and contribute to their decision to leave home. These factors are known as place utility, which is the desirability of a place that attracts people, such as better economic opportunities, more jobs, and the promise of a better life with safety.
The representation of the current migrants in the media is appalling and dehumanising because media coverage is often politically led with journalists following an agenda. There are different modes of representation, which includes films, TV, images, music, newspaper, blogs, fake news and many more. These kinds of representation, which people see repeatedly influence and affects how they perceive the world. You can most certainly know, which news outlets are anti-migrants by just reading the headlines utilising vocabulary such as ‘migrant crisis’, ‘invasion’ and ‘swarms on our street’. These headlines convey the messages and create anxiety that migrants are invading the recipients’ countries to take over their jobs, abuse the welfare system or leech on public services. People who are opposed to immigration have the idea that every migrant or refugee has made a voluntary choice to leave home to ‘invade’ their country. Rather to the contrary to this perception, the UN refugee agency states that “An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from home. Among them are nearly 21.3 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18”.
Images that are used in the media to represent migrants depend on the groups of people. Some migrants are considered more problematic than others and some kinds are more empathised with than others. Even though the groups of migrants would be understood to be the same, they are represented differently in the media. For an example, the anti-immigration campaign group Migration Watch and UKIP create fear about immigration numbers and fail to point out that immigrants include people from Anglophone countries such as Australia, US or New Zealand. People from these groups are amongst the most accepted migrants and are regarded as desirable by the British population. They are also thought to be the largest group of immigrants overstaying their visa and staying in the UK illegally. It is interesting how we don’t see any headlines in the news about these groups of people, ‘invading’ the UK and stealing our jobs. In my opinion, I don’t even think people knew these facts as in the news the immigrants that are reported on negatively are usually from countries such as India, Pakistan, Somalia or Syria. From a sociological perceptive, the reasons why some migrants are discriminated against are closely connected to their race, religion or nationality. This shows that racism is used on particular groups of migrants and applied differently in relation to citizenship and desirability of potential migrants e.g. skill levels. The perfect example of racism will be Donald Trump and his views on Mexicans as being drug dealers and rapists and his attempts to banning Muslims from entering the United States. Different types of migrants are perceived as representing different threats, e.g. Muslims migrants are more likely to be seen as a danger to the national security. On the other hand, Eastern European migrants are more likely to be represented as parasites who steal our jobs.
I think that the people, media and especially politicians need to stop treating migrants or refugees as a threat or a problem. We don’t need to see dead bodies of children on UK beaches or photos of severely injured children in Syria or Palestinians to realise that we need to help these humans being in need. What I find bizarre is that the UK, USA or western countries are not even in the top 10 of the countries that host most refugees, and yet our media repeatedly bombard us with the idea that we are experiencing a refugee crisis. According to the UN refugee agency, the top countries accepting the vast majority of refugees include Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon and many more. The actual crisis is a humanitarian crisis and an increase in the acceptability of racism and violent hate crime. The migrant crisis is presented to us as if it is a crisis for Europe’s sovereignty, national security, and economy, even though the majority of refugees are not in Europe. The UN refugee agency states that although 21.3 million people are refugees, only 107,100 refugees have resettled as most are still living in camps in terrible conditions.