The Calais Migrant crisis is dominating the news at the moment, so there’s no way that you will have failed to see something about it. What we’re constantly told is that there is a swarm (to quote the Prime Minister) of threatening migrants trying to force their way into the UK, and that if they make it across the channel that they could seriously damage our way of life. As I’ve done plenty of research about refugees I’ve found this coverage worrying. In particular, I’m concerned about the lack of talk about what refugees are fleeing from, the myth that all refugees want to reach the UK, and the way in which these people are being described.
Calais migrants are fleeing persecution
We don’t often hear these people referred to as refugees, but many of the people currently trying to reach the UK are exactly that – people fleeing from some terrible situations. We’ve all heard about the appalling things that are going on in Syria and the Middle East. Many people would rather flee their homes than live under the rule of IS. What would you do if they took over your home? Refugees that I’ve spoken to who are now living in the UK have experienced terrible things, in fact I was shocked to find that one of the most common experiences for refugees was the murder of family members. We need to be careful about how we treat such vulnerable people.
Not all refugees want to reach the UK
It is true that there are a huge number of refugees in the world. The UNHCR estimates that there are 19.5 million in the world, which highlights how much instability and suffering there is in the world. Of these refugees, 86% are in the developing world and only an estimated 126,000 live in the UK (or 0.65% of all the refugees in the world). The UK is not the ultimate aim for most refugees. Refugees in the UK did not know anything about our benefits system before they arrived, and indeed many were not aiming to reach the UK anyway. Most assumed that they would work for their living and never imagined that they would be forced to live off benefits instead of working.
We are dehumanising people
Whatever our fears about migrants trying to reach the UK, it is important to remember that these are real people who only want to live safe and normal lives like those we have. Referring to them as cockroaches, swarms, marauders, invaders does much more than simply describe people in Calais; it helps to present them as less than human, and in turn undeserving of sympathy or help. This recent experiment where the word ‘Jew’ is replaced with ‘migrant’ has shown that actual Nazi propaganda is finding support in internet discussions. This is extremely dangerous, as once we strip away migrants’ humanity we can treat them as less than human, and this can only lead to more suffering.
This blog post was written by Dr Simon Goodman, a research fellow in the Centre for Research in Psychology, Behaviour and Achievement.