Why Al Jazeera stopped using the word migrant (and we probably should too)

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Friday 21 August 2015 14:00

In a post on Al Jazeera's website on Thursday, the news organisation said that it would no longer use the word 'migrant' to refer to people trying to cross the Mediterranean.

"The word migrant has become a largely inaccurate umbrella term for this complex story," online editor Barry Malone wrote.

The UN says that the majority of people drowning trying to get to Europe are escaping war and persecution in their home countries of Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Eritrea and Somalia, and they should be recognised as valid candidates for asylum.

Malone was one of the first people to tweet a picture by German photojournalist Daniel Etter of a Syrian family arriving in Greece last week, which subsequently went viral:

In the article, Malone wrote that the word 'migrant' "has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanises and distances, a blunt pejorative" and from now on Al Jazeera will use the words 'people', 'families' and 'refugees'.

It is not hundreds of people who drown when a boat goes down in the Mediterranean, nor even hundreds of refugees. It is hundreds of migrants. It is not a person – like you, filled with thoughts and history and hopes – who is on the tracks delaying a train. It is a migrant. A nuisance.

Pointing out Al Jazeera's mandate to give a voice to people in the world who don't have one, Malone wrote that the editorial team has decided to stop using the word 'migrant' altogether.

When we in the media do this, we help to create an environment in which a British foreign minister can refer to "marauding migrants," and in which hate speech and thinly veiled racism can fester.

We become the enablers of governments who have political reasons for not calling those drowning in the Mediterranean what the majority of them are: refugees.

Malone writes as an Ipsos Mori poll found that Britons are more concerned about immigration than ever before, with a third (32 per cent) of voters believing it is the single most important issue facing the country. At the same time, the situation in Calais continues to dominate the media narrative.

Read the powerful post in full here.

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