It is becoming increasingly common to see the terms 'refugee' and 'migrant' being used interchangeably by media and by politicians. BUT! There is a difference between the two, and it matters.
The two terms have different meanings, and confusing them creates problems for both populations and makes it harder to protect the rights of each.
Refugees are persons who cannot return to their own country because they would be at real risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations. Their situation is so perilous and intolerable at home that they have crossed national borders to seek safety. Precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, they need sanctuary and protection somewhere else.The protection of refugees has some fundamental aspects:
Safety from being returned to the dangers they have fled;
Access to asylum procedures that are fair and efficient;
Measures to ensure that in the country of asylum their human
rights are respected.
States of destination bear the primary responsibility for this protection and representatives should explain this obligation to the local population.
Migrants are persons who move mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, business or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return, even if there is a lack of economic development in their country of origin.
Confusing refugees and migrants can have serious consequences for the lives and safety of both groups. We need to ensure that the human rights of migrants are respected and they are not unfairly treated and that individuals needing international protection, refugees, can access it.
Nowadays, mass movements of people include both refugees and migrants. Both need to have their human rights safeguarded and we need to strive to understand and promote awareness of their distinct circumstances and their human rights.'Irregular' or 'Illegal'
The term ‘illegal’ to describe an asylum seeker, refugee or migrant should not be used. Judicially and ethically, an act can be legal or illegal but a person cannot. Moreover, entering a country in an irregular fashion, or staying with an irregular status, should not be considered a criminal activity but an infraction of administrative regulations. No human being can be illegal!OTHER TERMS THAT MATTER
Asylum is granted by a State to individuals who cannot be returned because they would be at risk of persecution or other serious human rights violations. Asylum encompasses a variety of elements, including non-refoulement, permission to remain on the territory of the asylum country, respect for human rights and eventually a long-term solution. [See also Asylum-Seeker]
An asylum-seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. An asylum-seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum-seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee. [See also Asylum]
Forcibly displaced person
A forcibly displaced person has had to move away from their home or places of habitual residence and occupational activities. The displacement may be caused by a number of factors, the most common being armed conflict. Natural disasters, famine, development and economic changes may also be a cause of displacement.
Internally displaced persons (IDPs)
Internally displaced persons are persons or groups of people who have been forced to leave their homes. They have left as a result of, or in order to avoid, the effects of armed conflicts, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters, and they have not crossed an international border.
The respect, protection and promotion of the rights of refugees, including respect for the principle of non-refoulement; admission to safety; access to fair procedures for the determination of refugee status; the implementation of durable solutions.
(To be continued...)