Refugees shouldn’t be called ‘migrants’, Al Jazeera English online editor Barry Malone says. The umbrella term dehumanizes refugees and can serve to make politicians and population indifferent to the suffering these ‘migrants’ are undergoing.

‘The umbrella term migrant is no longer fit for purpose when it comes to describing the horror unfolding in the Mediterranean. It has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative,’ Malone wrote last August in a blog post explaining why Al Jazeera stopped using the term.

‘It already feels like we are putting a value on the word,’ Malone continues. ‘Migrant deaths are not worth as much to the media as the deaths of others – which means that their lives are not. Drowning disasters drop further and further down news bulletins. We rarely talk about the dead as individuals anymore. They are numbers.’

No economic migrants

Malone opposes the viewpoint that many of the refugees are actually economic migrants. This notion is often used by rightist politicians and media but their claims are not supported by the numbers.

Malone states that an easy answer to the refugee crisis is nonexistent given the fact that receiving and harboring large numbers of refugees is always a challenge. For Europe to be able to find a solution, an honest conversation is critical. This conversation is shaped by media should consider its choice of wording more carefully. Al Jazeera, in August 2015, decided to stop the use of the term migrant.

Malone: ‘Migrant is a word that strips suffering people of voice. Substituting refugee for it is – in the smallest way – an attempt to give some back.’

Research by Laurens Peek