An urgent need to turn down rhetoric against migrants & refugees


Sub Saharan Africans – Israel Female African asylum-seekers during a protest march where they called on the government to recognise African migrants as refugees, and for the release of Africans who are held in detention facilities.

Migration has become a focus of debate in recent years. From United States President Donald Trump’s vehemently anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric to Denmark’s new ‘ghetto laws’, the language has become increasingly heated.

The Danish government adopted these measures in 2018, specifically targeting low-income immigrant districts and including compulsory education on ‘Danish values’ for children starting at the age of one. In the United Kingdom, while still Home Secretary, Prime Minister Theresa May instituted a ‘hostile environment’ policy in 2012 that was intended to catch undocumented migrants whenever they came into contact with public services.

The policy particularly affected members of the so-called ‘Windrush generation’, the tens of thousands of Afro-Caribbean men, women and children who came over to the UK after World War Two and settled there legally. It is thought that the number of those deported runs into the hundreds, while many thousands more have had to live for several years in considerable uncertainty.

While a public outcry led to an official apology by the UK government, other leaders and governments have been resolutely unapologetic. Indeed, Trump’s travel ban for citizens of several Muslim-majority countries was approved as constitutional by the US Supreme Court in June 2018.

Such policies – and the often vitriolic language accompanying them – have had a direct and negative impact on migrant and refugee communities. According to data released by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the annual number of hate crimes against US Muslims recorded by the organization rose 15 per cent in 2017, following on from a 44 per cent increase the previous year – an increase it attributed in part to Trump’s divisive language and the discriminatory measures put forward by his administration.

On 11 September 2018, Minority Rights Group International launched its annual Minority and Indigenous Trends report by hosting a seminar for journalists in Krakow, Poland. This year, we focused the report on migration and displacement. We chose the theme for two reasons.

One is what I have outlined above – the casual disregard that we have repeatedly witnessed by people in power for the immediate impact of their actions and their words on minority and indigenous communities. Whenever politicians chase voters or news outlets seek to increase their readerships and advertising revenues by targeting migrants, they ignore the very real consequences in terms of increased hatred towards those same communities.

The other reason is that we sought to reflect the lived realities of migrants and refugees themselves – in particular, how discrimination and exclusion drive many people to make the very hard choice to leave their homes. It remains very difficult to arrive at a total percentage of minorities and indigenous peoples among the world’s migrants and refugees.

This is partly due to lack of interest – after all, much of the reporting on migration remains fixated on overall numbers rather than on the individual stories. More particularly, migrants and refugees who belong to minorities or indigenous peoples may well feel a need to remain silent about their ethnicity or religious faith, for fear of further persecution in transit or upon arrival in their new homes.

However, there are many clear indicators from around the world of an immediate causal link between marginalization and movement. The horrifying targeting of Yezidis by ISIS in Iraq and Syria, as well as more recently of Rohingya by the military and its allies in Myanmar, are by now well-documented. In both cases, the overwhelming majority of the communities have been displaced.

Inter Press Servicde for more

Comments are closed.