New Age Islam Edit Bureau
10 September 2015
• They Are Refugees, Not Migrants
Jay Manoj Sanklecha
• Germany's Response to the Migrant Crisis Heart-warming
By Siddharth Bhatia
They Are Refugees, Not Migrants
By Jay Manoj Sanklecha
September 10, 2015
By referring to those reaching Europe’s shores as migrants, the European Union’s leaders are trying to mislead the public about the real nature of the crisis.
Europe is witnessing probably the greatest movement of people since the Second World War. Over the last several months, hundreds of thousands of men, women and children from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Sub-Saharan Africa have been risking their lives each day in a bid to reach Europe. Thousands have perished in the attempt. The harrowing image of the body of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi washed ashore on the Turkish coastline has become the defining image of the humanitarian crisis that is presently unfolding. The crisis is only expected to worsen, with the United Nations forecasting that over 3,000 people a day will try to reach Western Europe alone in the next few months. The number of fatalities is also expected to rise. The increasing public attention being given to the situation in Europe has thrown into sharp focus the policies of several prominent European governments towards such displaced persons.
Consequence of Terminology
As the crisis in the Mediterranean has unfolded, a number of European politicians and media houses have chosen to consistently refer it as a ‘migrant’ crisis. The majority of the men, women and children trying to reach European shores have been portrayed as economic migrants in search of a better life. In a bid to incite nationalistic tendencies, the displaced persons have been compared to marauders posing a threat to the standard of living and social structure of a privileged European society. The choice in terminology and the rhetoric that follows suit is not wholly without consequence, both legal and otherwise.
In law, the distinction between a refugee and a migrant is of great significance. First and foremost, refugees enjoy a distinct and unique standard of protection under international law. A refugee has been defined under the 1951 Refugee Convention of the UNHCR and its 1967 Protocol as any person who, “owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside of the country of his nationality and is unable, or is owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself the protection of that country”. With the evolution of international refugee law, this definition of convention refugees has been expanded to cover persons who have fled their countries due to armed conflicts, internal turmoil and situations involving gross and systematic violation of human rights. Such persons are typically referred to as humanitarian refugees. Refugees enjoy certain special protections under law, such as safety from deportation to the country where they face persecution; protection of basic human rights without racial or religious discrimination, or of national origin; access to fair and efficient asylum procedures; provision of administrative assistance, and so on.
On the other hand, migrants (persons who choose to leave their home state, principally in search of a better life, as opposed to escaping some form of persecution, internal strife or armed conflict) do not enjoy any protection and/or privileges under international law. Countries are therefore at liberty to deal with migrants under their own immigration laws and processes.
Outside of the law, the choice of terminology is of critical importance in shaping the perception, attitudes and behaviour of the public at large and can impact the lives and safety of displaced persons. Being a migrant implies a choice, exercised voluntarily, to seek a better life from that offered in the home country, and not an involuntary act, brought on by the instinct of self-preservation — from the threat of persecution, internal strife or armed conflict in the home country. The latter is perceived, rightly or wrongly, to be a legitimate reason for movement across borders — one in which the world community has a shared collective interest. Therefore, the conflation of refugees with migrants can seriously undermine and prejudice the public support available to such displaced persons, one that is critical to the protection of such displaced persons.
Contrary to what some European leaders and media houses would have us believe, the crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean is mostly about refugees. The majority of the men, women and children are reportedly from Syria, Eritrea and Afghanistan — countries plagued by civil war, gross human rights violations and religious insurgency. This is not to suggest that no migrants are trying to reach Europe in search of a better life than that offered in their home country. Indeed, much of the displaced populations from Sub-Saharan Africa are migrants. Nevertheless, by using the expression ‘migrant crisis’ to broadly refer to the entire spectrum of the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean, European leaders and media houses are trying to desensitise the public at large by misleading them about the real nature of the crisis unfolding therein.
Jay Manoj Sanklecha is a graduate of the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata, and is working with a law firm in Mumbai.
Germany's Response to the Migrant Crisis Heart-warming
By Siddharth Bhatia
Sep 10, 2015
In a world beset with hatred and violence, the scenes emerging from Germany have been heart-warming to say the least. Not only has the country’s Chancellor Angela Merkel — till recently seen as a bully trying to cow down a broke Greece — personally made it clear that her country will welcome tens of thousands of refugees from Syria and other places, the citizens have opened up their hearts and wallets to the hapless migrants. This is humanity at its best.
Will Germany’s decision solve the problem of refugees? Hardly. The numbers emerging from Syria are overwhelming. Add to those refugees from other war-torn countries in Africa and those who are escaping for a better economic future in the West and whose countries may not be in the middle of a crisis.
It is important to note that the Syrians who will now enter Germany are Muslims, about whom rabble-rousers around the world are warning us. The conflation of being Muslim with terrorism is a common refrain even among perfectly sane people, who do so in casual conversations and in “civilised” settings.
I thought of this while reading reports of an article written by Pravin Togadia in the weekly magazine of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Organiser. Togadia is a man of many parts — he is a surgeon, he heads the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, he gives speeches — in one which he suggested how Muslims could be barred from buying houses in Hindu areas — and he writes too.
In an article titled Time to Act before Too Late! he has suggested that Muslims should not be allowed to have more than two children. According to him, Hindus have shrunk in number because Muslims have driven Hindus out from Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Kashmir.
“Bharat is at a weak ground as it is surrounded by the countries that are supported by the Muslim Umma that is over 80 countries,” he said. Apart from this, he suggests India “kick out” 300,000 Bangladeshis who do not belong here. Bharat has reached these “dire straits” because of ‘Population Jihad’, he once declared.
Publications like Organiser also reflect the worldview, if not the agenda, of the owners. It gives a good idea of not just the concerns but also the schema of the RSS, which calls itself a cultural body, but has largely unfolded itself as being a political organisation.
It is a myth that politics means standing for elections (though RSS-trained workers frequently do that too). Politics is often played in other ways too, and as we are increasingly seeing, the RSS wants to involve itself in the country’s political management.
Organiser, which began publishing in 1947, is a must read to get a sense of the organisation’s weltanschauung. The August 30 issue of the magazine is a fairly fitting example. It has a cover story on the economy, another on start-ups (called Upstart Bharat), a piece by Mridula Sinha, governor of Goa, on how yoga can help women and another on respecting our teachers. It is worth to note that Organiser refers to India as Bharat everywhere in its writing.
The current issue’s editorial is on the census figures, wherein it is suggested that the growth of Muslims in the country is leading to an imbalance for the last three decades. It poses several questions, including whether this is a “larger conspiracy to Islamicise Bharat”.
Togadia’s article made a bit of noise, but only from the inside pages. The nightly outrage-wallahs also seem to have given it a miss.
Perhaps Togadia’s incendiary statement is not seen as much newsworthy. We have been inoculated against hatred. Giriraj Singh, Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, Yogi Adityanath, they all have said so much more; Togadia is just another in that list.
This is no longer front-page news as the space is now taken by more important updates like cricket or even a high society scandal. What is worrying is that a Togadia is not warned off, much less arrested under the hate laws. He knows no power can touch him. Scarier still, he may be reflecting the views of many others.
Germany has a terrible legacy; it has done everything in its power to eliminate. It’s not that the country has no traces of racism, but with this one gesture it has managed to display its expansive heart. Other countries in Europe will now have to step up, or risk being seen as cold-hearted.
India too has a long tradition of taking in refugees — during World War 2 refugees came from Poland and other European countries. In recent years, they have come from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. We have always been a welcoming society. But today, in the prevailing climate of open communalism, would we have taken in Syrian refugees if they landed up on our doorstep? Perhaps not.
It seems that slogans like ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ (the guest is equivalent to god) is now limited for the right kind of people. Besides, Togadia may never allow it.
Sidharth Bhatia is the Founder Editor of Thewire.in.