The Problems with a Term: 'European Refugee Crisis'

‘European Refugee Crisis’. It’s a term you’ve probably heard time and time again in the media and from the lips of politicians, but when you take it apart and consider the implications it carries with it, perhaps we shouldn’t be using it so often.



The vast majority of migration takes place outside of Europe, with people in Africa and the Middle East being displaced within their own countries or regions. To label the issues as specifically European directs attention away from the countries that are actually experiencing the problems. The ‘crisis’ then becomes viewed as a problem for Europe instead of a problem for the people making difficult and sometimes lethal journeys.



The process of labelling is an ethical and political issue, particularly in the case of migration. ‘Refugee’ is a term recognised in international law, but it’s also difficult to achieve. Migration involves people moving out of choice, with ‘forced migration’ taking choice out of the equation. Being a refugee involves forced migration, but it not a label that can be held alongside ‘economic migrant’, where people move in order to achieve a better economic position. This might seem simple, but reasons for migrating are never simple and often people might be fleeing both war and poverty, and need to work once they reach their destination country. Labelling people therefore becomes a complicated and problematic process.



By calling an issue a crisis, extraordinary measures are deemed acceptable. From police brutality at Calais to detention centres that hold people from months, actions that would usually be condemnable or illegal are used against migrants in order to find a quick solution to what is wrongly considered a new and immediate ‘crisis’. Speed is key in assigning labels to organise people and, with the complications involving labelling addressed above, this is detrimental to the people involved.

The media also loves the term ‘crisis’, sensationalising the issue and encouraging fear and xenophobia through misunderstanding, and after Brexit we all know how that turns out. When public opinion is so negative, immigration controls get tougher and it becomes more difficult to enter the UK. This makes the life of people travelling even more difficult, and turns the label ‘refugee’ into a commodity. By reducing legal ways to enter the UK, more people are forced to enter illegally, making more dangerous journeys or paying traffickers vast sums of money. Thus the people really experiencing an individual crisis as they’re forced to flee are penalised by the term.


When you break down the familiar term, it becomes clear that it’s further complicating the conversation when it comes to refuges and migration. It draws attention away from the people experiencing problems and onto countries that hold privileged positions already. I don’t have a solution or a better term to use, but even if you continue using ‘European refugee crisis’, make sure to consider the implications of the term.