Immigrant or Refugee; Does it matter?

The following article is employed for ICRC Blog Competition #70thICRCid


the photo is taken from

The whole world within these days is shaken with a magnitude human crisis in Western Asia. Our attention is virtually dragged onto the Syria impasse. Daily media headlines are full of heartbreaking mourning news for the tragedy of lost Syrian’s young lives. Member-based social media are more wildly blowing up the plight in Syria. Within this rigorous massive reaction emerging worldwide, we might discursively have missed how we label those people seeking for a life. Are they immigrants or refuges? Both are literally aiming to escape from their current place in Syria which is a deadly place to inhabit and they battle hopefully to find another better place somewhere else outside Syria. This is not the case that this article is going to address; what does matter is how world see those people as immigrant or refugee either? If politicians (or any other group people including religious scholars) label them as refugees, it definitely will have different meaning and implication as immigrants. Media convey different message once they write immigrant as opposed to refugee. Unlike refugee, we associate different degree of feeling when we use immigrant. These signifying words, in fact, are discursively used overlapped, and I assume for those in power, these terms are used interchangeably by no accident.

In these notions, word using to articulate those innocent Syrian people, who fleeing from persecution, does bring about implications in many senses. Putting this in academic domain, words are not simply passive objects and stable and as the central bearer of its own meaning. Instead, words have complex relationships that exist between words, their social contexts, power, and the role that words play in constructing reality (read Discourse Analysis). In the eyes of Cambridge-based philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein who argues that ‘there is no intrinsic meaning in any of the words we use’ (in Jacobs, 2010, p. 253). For post-structuralism, immigrant-or-refugee overlapping use definitely create ambiguity in that they are often deployed with the effect of blurring meaning to the ‘users’ ideological ends.

Under this ‘ideology’, refugee may be viewed in different ways. Refugee, by definition, is literally applied to a person who is outside their home country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution; hence, they have protected rights to grant asylum and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum (1951 Refugee Convention). In the case of Syria plight, war is the main cause to set within this interpretation in that no reason for the countries ratifying the convention to refuse their arrival. Despite the fact that many countries ignore this calamity, refugee falls mainly with humanity state. People recognize it as human tragedy, thereby; the entire world should take responsibility. Just before this drowned boy Alan Kurdi effect’s is widespread around the world, everyone is well-informed that is the war happening in Syria is brutally killing millions ‘bonehead’ people. Yet, why people were hands-off?

Seeing this in the notion of how language is used in that we employ to give shape and meaning to our thoughts, simply to answer the question is because the conflict was seen for power and regime greediness, international security and the ISIS threats, western-eastern hegemony, political game between America-and-the allies versus Russia-and-Iran interest, KSA and Iran power domination and so on. Once Syria civil war is seen through these lenses, then nothing occurs from outsiders in a sense of shared-responsibility.

The case is different now; people using different glasses to look into Syria war. Alan’s guilt-free body is apparently becoming the turning point causing an outpouring of sympathy worldwide. It wakes up people around the world to take actions to save millions Syrians’ live. Now we are treating them differently—together we gather power and resources to save those people. We currently perceive them as the human who must be treated as human without exception. They are refugees whom are obviously the victims of the war. They are human who sake for a life outside of Syria, therewith, other countries should welcome them warmly. This is what 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees declared.

Given this mindset, people power around the world are moving to fight against those regimes to take responsibility because they are the one who create this mess. The results are protests voicing worldwide both virtually and physically. Social media users are crazily showing their emphatic actions to this tragedy by posting photos, status, and enormous aspirations. Some visuals and texts became world viral just in a second such as Alan Kurdy’s tiny photograph. Many people curse gulf countries leaders due to their hands-off politic reaction to this catastrophic human crisis. Additionally, virtual petition are created to embracing millions of internet users to give their signature to attack the world political leaders ignorance. Some are doing fund-raising campaigns to help emergency needs of those refugees. Likewise, people do protests conventionally by gathering in particular public spots worldwide. In South Australia, for instance, an extensive number of people gathered in the downtown of Adelaide on 7 of September by lighting candle to remember Aylan Kurdi and to give people forces onto Australian government to take part helping those people.

Seeing these sudden movements around the world including from religion leaders and groups, why are people moving? Why people are aroused to protest? What value lying behind this global maneuver? My one word answer for such questions is humanity. We are forced by humanity sense—sense of belonging on behalf of humanity—we are brothers. That’s it. For this, Michel Foucault (1971) calls Regimes of truth—the basis from which we assert our understandings of the social world.

In contrast, the story might be totally different once we view those ‘live’ seekers as immigrants. It does not involve any humanity sake. Immigration is more likely attributed within government arena. Therefore, issues like illegal immigrants, prosperity, employment, money and sorts of things are main meaning associated with the word Immigrant. Consequently, it is not surprising that the world seems silent when thousands people from developing countries are sank on their way to reach to other countries to find for better life in terms of materiality.

Although there are thousands people died because they used people smuggling cheap ‘rides’ to travel, people almost doing no protest to the policy makers. It has less world ‘emotionalization’ of communities feeling embedded within. For example, once hundreds of Bangladesh people were rescued and accommodated in Aceh in the middle of this year, they were treated differently to Rohingya people in terms of foods, clothes, and other donation from local people in particular. Why both groups are treated significantly different, in fact they were rescued from the same boats? For many critical discourse analysts, it is clearly because they are valued differently by local inhabitants. People from Myanmar fled from persecution because of conflict and that’s why they are granted refugees privileges. On the contrary, hundreds of rescued adult Bangladesh men get out from their country for economical reason. They leave to find a better life in the other countries. For this reason, they are immigrants, therefor, there were sent home. To conclude, it does matter on how immigrants and refugees are perceived clearly different because we treat them differently depending on the way we see them. For this, Witgenstein (1958) said that ‘a meaning of a word is its use in […] language’ (p.60).