Stop talking about the ’refugee crisis’!

Expressions such as "refugee crisis" and "migrant crisis" are cropping up frequently in media coverage of Ukraine. In the past, they were applied to Syrians, Afghans and others. Luna Vives, Professor in the Department of Geography in the Faculty of Arts and Science and an expert on international migration, believes these terms should be banished from our vocabulary. We asked her why.

Two reasons. First, the word "crisis" denotes a short-term situation. It’s something that requires our immediate attention because it has reached a critical point. The time to act is now. But the flow of refugees to the United States has been a permanent "crisis" since the 1980s. In Europe, it’s been a "crisis" since the 1990s. When a state of affairs persists for 30 or 40 years, the term "crisis," which refers to a temporary situation, isn’t the right word.

Secondly, when we use the term "refugee crisis" or "migrant crisis," it implies that the trouble is the refugees or the migrants. However, the problem isn’t the refugees but the situation that’s forcing them to leave their homes, such as a war, or the fact that their country doesn’t have an effective apparatus for upholding the legal obligations states have voluntarily undertaken to protect people whose lives endangered. So it is more appropriate to call these situations "humanitarian crises" or "political crises," terms that point to the source of the problem. It is also clear that climate change will force more and more people to leave their homes, so we will also need to use terms like "climate migration" or "climate migration crisis."

A crisis demands fast action. Calling a situation a crisis gives politicians the power to take exceptional measures that are not available to them in ordinary times. But focusing on immediate action can lead to a failure to think long term.

The problem isn’t so much the word "crisis" but the word in front of it--"refugee crisis." We could call it a "humanitarian crisis" or a "political crisis" instead.

Take, for example, the arrival of Syrian refugees in Europe in 2015. This was a political crisis, not a refugee crisis. EU member states couldn’t agree on a course of action: some wanted to close their borders, others wanted to open them. So the Temporary Protection Directive that has been invoked for Ukrainian refugees wasn’t used in that case.

Yes. We often hear the media using expressions like "migrant tsunami," "wave of immigration" or "flood of immigrants." This deluge of water metaphors dehumanizes migrating people and drowns them in an ocean of words.

Two reasons. First, the word "crisis" denotes a short-term situation. It’s something that requires our immediate attention because it has reached a critical point. The time to act is now. But the flow of refugees to the United States has been a permanent "crisis" since the 1980s. In Europe, it’s been a "crisis" since the 1990s. When a state of affairs persists for 30 or 40 years, the term "crisis," which refers to a temporary situation, isn’t the right word.

Secondly, when we use the term "refugee crisis" or "migrant crisis," it implies that the trouble is the refugees or the migrants. However, the problem isn’t the refugees but the situation that’s forcing them to leave their homes, such as a war, or the fact that their country doesn’t have an effective apparatus for upholding the legal obligations states have voluntarily undertaken to protect people whose lives endangered. So it is more appropriate to call these situations "humanitarian crises" or "political crises," terms that point to the source of the problem. It is also clear that climate change will force more and more people to leave their homes, so we will also need to use terms like "climate migration" or "climate migration crisis."

A crisis demands fast action. Calling a situation a crisis gives politicians the power to take exceptional measures that are not available to them in ordinary times. But focusing on immediate action can lead to a failure to think long term.

The problem isn’t so much the word "crisis" but the word in front of it--"refugee crisis." We could call it a "humanitarian crisis" or a "political crisis" instead.

Take, for example, the arrival of Syrian refugees in Europe in 2015. This was a political crisis, not a refugee crisis. EU member states couldn’t agree on a course of action: some wanted to close their borders, others wanted to open them. So the Temporary Protection Directive that has been invoked for Ukrainian refugees wasn’t used in that case.

Yes. We often hear the media using expressions like "migrant tsunami," "wave of immigration" or "flood of immigrants." This deluge of water metaphors dehumanizes migrating people and drowns them in an ocean of words.

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