When Refugees Become Migrants


By: Barbod Pournajar


Illustration/Joyce Wong

It is estimated that by the end of this year over a million people will have flooded into Europe. However, it’s unclear as to what labels we should assign to these people: are they refugees or migrants? This difference fundamentally changes the nature of the moral and humanitarian questions surrounding these people.

A refugee is one who is fleeing war or persecution in their home country. Under European Union laws, asylum is considered a human right, and anyone who seeks asylum in Europe will be granted it.

Under the laws of many European nations, refugees are entitled to certain benefits.Those who seek resettlement in countries like Germany and Sweden are given social welfare, child benefits, child-raising benefits, integration allowances and language courses as well as other forms of integration assistance. With this in mind, it makes sense that a disproportionate number of refugees are seeking asylum in places like Germany and Sweden, ie those countries are rich. In fact, Margaret Wente from The Globe and Mail reported that refugees arriving in Denmark refused asylum and demanded to be sent to Sweden or Germany. Many refugees who’ve arrived in Hungary and Eastern-Europe declined asylum by those nations for the same reason.

This is where the distinction between refugee and migrant dissolves. If the refugees have successfully escaped danger but are now demanding to be shipped to a richer country with better social services, then they aren’t a refugee anymore. They’re a migrant.

The process of immigration in Europe takes into account all of these factors. Those who seek asylum make their claim and wait for a response from the country they have sought asylum in. If we adopt an open-border policy, as Germany had done up until two weeks ago, then how can we have stability to host them?

This is not to say that migrants are not worthy of our sympathy—they are. Any human who is suffering is worthy of the sympathy and support of the international community. However, this makes the moral stance that much more unclear. Are we willing to throw aside an immigration system, albeit an imperfect one, in favour of receiving those who can wash up or walk to European shores? If our answer is yes, then we should be conscious of the lifeless bodies that will wash up on European shores as a result.

We are trading ordered bureaucracy for a system which is reminiscent of a Hunger Games dystopia, where the physically and financially capable are rewarded and the incapable are left to drown like Alan Kurdi. The adoption of an open heart policy is a system not based on rationality and logic, but a system based on the irrationality of emotion.

Although our hearts may bleed for our Syrian brothers and sisters, this current system is both immoral and unsustainable for both the European nations and migrants.

This article was originally published on our old website at https://thenewspaper.ca/the-opinion/when-refugees-become-migrants/.