There is a lot to clarify in this debate where sometimes people wrongly apply some odd definitions which do not fit the reality on the ground and circumstances that led people to leave their home countries at the first place. Most of these definitions are inaccurately used as stereotypes to divide and mislead public opinions.
"Migrants" are no different to "refugees" as there are all human beings in search of a better place to survive in safety and dignity.
The argument that some people use is that "migrants" are moving across borders in search of a better life and that movement is perceived as a "free choice", while "refugees" are forced to leave (flee) because of of risks of persecution.
In my opinion, "migrants" and "refugees" are all forced to leave their country of origins because of circumstances beyond their control, whether one calls that economic reasons or persecutions because, they are fundamentally all in need of dignity and safety.
If you take the current "Syrian" crisis in context, it is not a "refugee" or "migrant" crisis as politicians and the media want people to believe, but rather war mongers and powerful nations' geopolitics involvement resulting to mass killing and displacement, what other choices/ alternatives do these people have?
Yes, they are risking their lives on their perilous journeys to a place of safety where they are hoping to live a better life in peace and dignity. Yes, they are desperate to reach Europe. Staying in Syria is unlikely an option as they would end up getting killed or facing inhuman and degrading treatment.Staying in Syria is an unlikely option as they would end up getting killed or face inhuman and degrading treatment.
"Migrants" generally face similar situations as they also leave their country of origins because of circumstances beyond their control (natural disasters, human exploitation, injustice, corrupt greedy leaders, etc), and therefore risk everything to reach Europe, solely because some Western countries support the dictators at the head of those states by negotiating profitable contracts to exploit their natural resources and helping them to deposit in European banks or invest the money taken from their people in Europe. As a result, people from these countries face hopeless future, widespread corruption, total injustice and no freedom of expression. What choice do they have?
They either die trying to make it to Europe to help their families and relatives back home or remain in their country of origin to get humiliated, watch their loved ones malnourished or starving, missing educational opportunities, unable to get medical treatment as they would have no money to pay for a ticket to help them to see a doctor.
Between two evils, they chose the lesser one to sacrifice their lives in search of dignity and a second chance. This is one of the fundamental reasons why voluntary return programs are not successful because of Western countries' lack of tackling the roots of these issues.
As far as I am concerned, the real debate is not about who should be called "migrant" or "refugee" but how to restore the balance that will give the same rights to anyone as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to eliminate discriminatory legislations that pick and choose, divide and rule.
The world has evolved to a global village thanks to new technologies and transport facilities, and it’s too late to go backwards. In the same way the "Wall of shame", the Berlin Wall, is no more because of people's power and little political will. The same way Europe is no longer in a position to stop people from crossing their borders. No fortress will stop desperate people and neither will highly militarised border controls. Thousands will get killed but more will still come.
The Dublin Convention is technically not fit for purpose anymore as there is no way that people who crossed first European port of entry will be deported back to the Romania, Hungary, Croatia or Italia for example. Calais will end up being a "Refugee/ Resettlement Camp" like in Darfur, Jordan or Afghanistan if nothing is done to absorb the influx of people.
My last point is related to the people already in the UK who have been living in limbo for years because of the Home Office's inefficiency in processing their cases. It is complex and highly impossible to clear out the stock of delayed cases and remove them from the UK. The UK government has tried everything possible to deliberately starve them, force them into destitution, arrest and detain many of them on tax payers expenses, stereotype and humiliate them but none of these degrading and inhumane methods has resulted in a successful strategy.
The solution is then to give these individuals an amnesty, and the economy, NHS and wider communities would benefit from that.
Almamy Taal is a human rights advocate, Migrant Voice member, Hope Projects & also chair of Migrants Union, believes injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, and that when a law is unjust, we have the moral obligation to fight against it.