TIME migration

Which Word Should You Use: Refugee or Migrant?

Legally, there is a crucial distinction

(STOCKHOLM) — Day after day, images of soaked and exhausted parents clutching their glassy-eyed children as they arrive on Europe’s shores make their way around the world.

That they are desperate and vulnerable after a harrowing journey across the Mediterranean on rickety rafts or packed ships is beyond doubt. But does that make them refugees from war or oppression, with a right to protection under international law, or are they better described as migrants, a term that usually refers to people simply seeking a better life in another country?

The scenes of human suffering, resilience, hope and rejection playing out in the Mediterranean have sparked an emotional and politically charged debate about what to call the hundreds of thousands of people from Africa and the Middle East who are entering Europe.

Al-Jazeera last week announced that it will stop using the word migrants in its news coverage, saying it doesn’t describe the “horror unfolding in the Mediterranean,” where almost 2,500 people have died this year after leaving Turkey or North Africa on overcrowded boats.

The word “has evolved from its dictionary definitions into a tool that dehumanizes and distances, a blunt pejorative,” Al-Jazeera online editor Barry Malone said. Going forward, Al-Jazeera will instead say refugee “where appropriate.”

The move was applauded by some human rights advocates worried about a hardening of anti-immigrant attitudes in Europe but criticized by others, who said it implies that only refugees, not migrants, are worthy of compassion.

Legally, there is a crucial distinction.

The U.N. refugee agency says it boils down to whether the person is being pushed or pulled: A migrant is someone who seeks better living conditions in another country; a refugee is someone who flees persecution, conflict or war.

Only members of the latter group are likely to be granted asylum in Europe.

By and large, European leaders refer to the Mediterranean situation as a migrant crisis, not a refugee crisis. British Prime Minister David Cameron in July talked about “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain because Britain has got jobs, it’s got a growing economy, it’s an incredible place to live.”

His choice of words was widely criticized by human rights advocates as offensive and misleading.

U.N. officials say a vast majority of the 137,000 people who crossed the Mediterranean into Europe in the first half of the year were fleeing war, conflict or persecution in countries including Syria, Afghanistan and Eritrea.

“It’s simply inaccurate to talk about Syrian migrants when there’s a war going on in Syria,” said William Spindler, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. “People who flee war deserve sympathy. So by not calling them refugees, you’re depriving them of the sympathy and understanding that the European public has for refugees.”

Still, European officials say using refugees as a blanket term isn’t technically accurate either. Many of the West Africans arriving in Italy, for example, may not be fleeing for their lives but instead be seeking better ones in European countries with much higher standards of living.

“I can sympathize with Al-Jazeera’s approach; I guess what they want to do is put a human face on the situation,” said Fredrik Beijer, legal director of Sweden’s migration authority. “But from our point of view, it’s simple: People who are on the move across the globe but who haven’t yet applied for asylum, to us they are migrants.”

Once a migrant applies for asylum, he or she becomes an asylum-seeker, Beijer said. The agency uses the word refugee only when the claim has been approved and a person receives refugee status.

The Associated Press has no blanket policy governing when to use the terms, but strives to be as specific as possible in describing the circumstances of people included in stories.

The BBC said it judges each story on a case by case basis because “it is not always clear cut whether some migrant groups already have refugee status, are seeking asylum, looking for work, the stage of their journey, or whether they will try to enter a country illegally.”

National Public Radio tries to use “action words rather than labels,” said standards editor Mark Memmott. “But when we felt that a label would help tell the story, the general label of migrant will describe everyone in the group.”

Fusion, an English language TV network that targets Latinos in the U.S., also deals with the issue case-by-case, “just as we do with stories about people seeking to come into the United States,” said Laura Wides-Munoz, director of news practices.

Some experts note that using either term — migrant or refugee — in a blanket manner doesn’t capture the situation of people who don’t fit neatly into either category or who belong in both.

For example, many West Africans moved to Libya for work, but found themselves at the receiving end of violence, threats and extortion by militias, criminals and security forces as the security situation there deteriorated, said Ruben Andersson, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

“So how do we refer to people who may have left their country to look for work, but who end up in a country where they cannot go on living because they are facing all kinds of threats and even repression?” he said.

In the end, it’s important not to be blinded by terminology, he said. “We are talking about people. It astounds me how much time we spend on getting the terminology right, which obscures the fact that people are drowning on the borders of Europe.”

TIME migration

Italian Coast Guard Finds 50 Bodies on Migrant Ship Near Libya

439 surviving migrants were rescued from the same ship

(ROME) — Italy’s coast guard says some 50 bodies have been found in the hull of a migrant boat that was rescued off Libya’s northern coast.

Coast guard Lt. Claudio Bernetti said the Swedish ship Poseiden, which is taking part in the EU’s Triton Mediterranean operation, rescued 439 surviving migrants from the ship Wednesday.

The rescue was one of 10 requests for assistance that arrived at the coast guard’s operations center as Libya-based smugglers take advantage of calm seas to send boats overloaded with migrants to Europe.

TIME Macedonia

Thousands of Refugees Are Now Expected to Arrive in Macedonia Every Day

The influx has already been described as Europe's worst refugee crisis since World War II

As many as 3,000 refugees, largely from war-torn Syria, will arrive in the small Balkan nation of Macedonia every day in the coming months on a northbound journey deeper into Europe, the UNHCR says.

“They are coming in large groups of 300 to 400 people and then traveling onwards by train or bus to Serbia,” UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said during a press conference, Reuters reports.

Fleming said that the migrants are largely spurred by overcrowded conditions in refugee camps in the Middle East. “People are leaving Turkey, they are leaving Jordan, they are leaving Lebanon and Syrians are fleeing directly out of Syria as the situation continues to be very dire.”

The scale of the migration is already at record-breaking levels, with over 107,500 arriving in Europe in July alone. The numbers for this year so far, at around 340,000, are peaking well above the total number that arrived in Europe last year. Already, at least 2,373 people have died trying to make the precarious cross over the Mediterranean Sea, the International Organization of Migration told Reuters.

E.U. Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos said last week that Europe was now facing its worst refugee crisis since World War II, the Telegraph reported.

The sheer scale of the influx has proved difficult to manage for local authorities. Riots have broken out on the Greek island of Kos and in Macedonia, with Macedonian police firing off tear gas to control crowds.

European officials are hopeful that numbers will be managed effectively in the coming months, as the flow of migrants shows no sign of stopping. A spike in resources and a greater willingness from countries in the European Union to accept more refugees will help mitigate the crisis, Fleming said, according to Reuters.


TIME Macedonia

Macedonian Troops Fire Stun Grenades at Migrants

Macedonia migrants refugees
Alexandros Avramidis—Reuters Migrants confront Macedonian police during clashes at the Greek-Macedonian border, on Aug. 21, 2015.

At least eight people were injured in the melee

(IDOMENI, Greece) — Macedonian special police forces fired stun grenades Friday to disperse thousands of migrants stuck on a no-man’s land with Greece, a day after declaring a state of emergency on its borders to deal with a massive influx of migrants heading north to the European Union.

The crowd of 3,000 migrants who spent the night out in the open made several attempts Friday to charge Macedonian police after the border was shut to crossings the previous day. At least eight people were injured in the melee, according to Greek police. One youngster was bleeding from what appeared to be shrapnel from the stun grenades that were fired directly into the crowd.

Police backed by armored vehicles spread coils of razor wire over rail tracks used by migrants to cross on foot from Greece to Macedonia.

Greece has seen an unprecedented wave of migrants this year, the vast majority fleeing war and conflict in Syria and Afghanistan, crossing clandestinely to its islands from the nearby Turkish coast, with more than 160,000 arriving so far. The influx has overwhelmed Greek authorities, particularly on the islands, many of which are small tourist destinations unequipped to deal with mass arrivals of refugees.

Few, if any, of the migrants arriving want to remain in Greece, a country in the grip of a financial crisis. The vast majority head straight to the country’s northern border with Macedonia, from where they cram onto trains and head north through Serbia and Hungary on their way to the more prosperous European north and countries such Germany, the Netherlands and those in Scandinavia.

Macedonian police spokesman Ivo Kotevski said Thursday that both police and the army would control the 50-kilometer (30 mile) border stretch to stop a “massive” influx of migrants coming from Greece.

“This measure is being introduced for the security of citizens who live in the border areas and for better treatment of the migrants,” he said.

Until now, the border has been porous, with only a few patrols on each side. Sealing it disrupts the Balkan corridor for migrants who start in Turkey, take boats to Greece or walk to Bulgaria, then make their way through Macedonia or Serbia heading north to the EU.

Almost 39,000 migrants, most of them Syrians, have registered as passing through Macedonia over the past month, double the number from the month before.

And hundreds arrive each day on Greek islands. The Greek coast guard said Friday it had picked up 620 people in 15 search-and-rescue operations in the last 24 hours off the islands of Lesbos, Samos, Agathonissi, Leros, Farmakonissi, Kos and Megisti. That doesn’t include the hundreds more migrants who manage to make their own way to the islands in inflatable dinghies.


Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed


Britain and France Boost Security at Channel Tunnel

France Migrants Photo Gallery
Emilio Morenatti—AP Migrants walk a long the train track after crossing a fence as they attempt to access the Channel Tunnel in Calais, France, on Aug. 4, 2015

At least 10 migrants have died trying to sneak through the Channel Tunnel

(CALAIS, France) — Britain and France are fortifying security around the Channel Tunnel and boosting intelligence efforts against traffickers as they try to dissuade thousands of migrants from trying to make the illegal — and sometimes deadly — undersea journey to British shores.

Better fencing, surveillance cameras, flood lighting and infrared detection technology will be installed around the entrance to the Eurotunnel in the French port of Calais, as part of joint efforts being announced Thursday.

Calais has been a flashpoint in a European summer marked by unusually large waves of migrants. Since the start of June, at least 10 migrants have died trying to sneak through the Channel Tunnel in hopes of finding prosperity in Britain. Countless others have slipped through undetected on trucks and one recently on foot.

TIME portfolio

Discover Migrants’ Journey to Europe Through Macedonia

The Greek-Macedonian border offers safer passage for thousands of migrants

The bodies were strewn across the meadow, the grass they lay in glowing gold in the dawn light. “It looked like one of those Renaissance paintings of battlefields, except they were all alive and sleeping,” photographer Rena Effendi tells TIME.

Having documented refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Azerbaijan in the past, Effendi was no stranger to the subject of migration. But in the Greek-Macedonian border town of Idomeni, the mesmerizing scene before her was something new—a slice of the journey itself.

This year, an estimated 2,300 people have died at sea attempting the voyage from Libya across the central Mediterranean to Italy, according to the International Organization for Migration. Refugees escaping war, poverty, or persecution, as well as economic migrants are increasingly opting for the more expensive, but safer land route through the Balkans to Western Europe, where they hope to start their lives afresh.

Once a sleepy, pastoral town, Idomeni has become the most trafficked crossing point for migrants between Greece and Macedonia. Between 300 and 800 people arrive each day, exhausted after crossing from Turkey to Greece by water. They rest in the fields and crouch in the bushes, whispering and waiting for nightfall and an opportunity to slip past the Macedonian police guarding the border.

Balkan migrants refugees Europe
Rena Effendi—InstituteMigrants from Sub-Saharan Africa waiting by the train tracks in Idomeni, a small town by the Greek-Macedonian border, for a chance to cross into Macedonia. There, they would walk through the woods at nightfall and board a bus in Gevgelija to the border point between Macedonia and Serbia. Their final stop on their journey would be Western Europe, where they would claim asylum. Greece, June 2015.

“At this crossing, they’re really on their own,” says Effendi. “I saw a group of young Syrian men armed with kitchen knives to defend themselves.” Though they rely on smugglers for safe passage through the woods, the migrants also fear being robbed clean of the scant money and possessions slung over their shoulders.

It speaks to their desperation that they would take such risks, no matter their physical condition. “I saw a man who had lost both his legs to a land mine. Supported by friends, he was attempting the route on prosthetics and crutches,” Effendi says. “Even young, able-bodied people without children have problems walking for kilometers on end. It’s excruciatingly difficult.”

With a diversity of refugees from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, and Georgia, Effendi was struck by the unlikely connections borne out of trying circumstances. She recalls a young Afghan boy sharing his sandwich with a Somali man, and Muslim men who would take women by the hand to help them over hilly terrain. Even supposed enemy fighters would carry each other’s children and belongings.

“I think in times of crisis, these differences are just not a priority anymore,” says Effendi. “They’re all running away from the police. They’re all trying to cross. They all want their children to have a better life. Nationalities are irrelevant.”

For the migrants and Effendi alike, Idomeni is just another stage of a much longer endeavor. She hopes to photograph more of the Balkan route, telling a fuller story of not only how the refugees travel, but also why they have no choice. “There’s this sense of urgency for finding a new life, of escaping the horror stories back home,” she says. “It’s fascinating to me.”

Rena Effendi is a photographer based in Istanbul.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Jen Tse is a photo editor and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter @jentse and Instagram.

TIME migration

Sicilian City Cancels Annual Fireworks Out of Respect for Recent Migrant Deaths

Italy Europe Migrants
Carmelo Imbesi—AP Migrants disembark from the Norwegian ship Siem Pilot at Catania harbor, Italy, Monday, Aug. 17, 2015

As a replacement ritual, Catania will release a white balloon for each migrant

The Sicilian city of Catania canceled its annual fireworks show after the bodies of 49 migrants were discovered inside the hold of a fishing boat. They had apparently died of fume inhalation.

An additional 300 passengers were also rescued from the fishing boat as part of a larger rescue operation by the Italian navy and were transferred to the Norwegian container ship the Siem Pilot, which was helping with the operation, the Associated Press reports.

Along with the 313 people rescued from the fishing boat and the 49 bodies, the Siem Pilot was also carrying 103 migrants from a separate rescue by a German ship, AFP reports.

Deputy Mayor of Catania Marco Consoli told the AP on Monday that the show would be canceled out of respect for the dead and that a white balloon would be released for each of the victims instead.

More than 2,300 migrants have died at sea so far this year as they sought to escape violence or persecution. More than 100,000 migrants have been rescued and brought to Italy this year, the AP reports.


TIME France

France Sends Extra Police to Port City as Migrant Crisis Worsens

More than 2,000 migrants tried to rush the Eurotunnel which leads to Britain in just one night

CALAIS, France — Police beefed up security in this port city at the center of Europe’s escalating migrant crisis, seeking to stem a flood of illegal border crossings from France into the U.K.

France dispatched 120 extra police to Calais after officials said Wednesday that more than 2,000 migrants tried to rush the Eurotunnel which leads to Britain in just one night. One migrant was killed — the ninth since June. Around 37,000 have been blocked at the Channel Tunnel this year.

When night fell on Wednesday, flashing police lights dotted the horizon. Officers patrolled on foot and formed lines near the fences…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Australia

Australian Leader Urged to Reveal What Happened to Vietnamese Refugee Boat

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture on "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore
Edgar Su — REUTERS Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott delivers a lecture titled "Our Common Challenges: Strengthening Security in the Region" in Singapore on June 29, 2015

A significant number of children were thought to have been aboard

Australian officials are being accused of breaking international law after 42 Vietnamese asylum seekers were allegedly sent back to Vietnam after arriving in Australian waters by boat.

A small wooden vessel was spotted off of Australia’s northwest coast last week, the BBC reports. It was apparently carrying the asylum seekers, whose status is currently unknown.

Australia’s Prime Minister Tony Abbott has refused to reveal what happened to the migrants, simply stating that the Australian government stance was to “do what we have always done, and that is to act in accordance with Australia’s interest.” Canberra has recently adopted a policy of “tow-backs,” forcing migrant boats away when they enter national waters.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, who belongs to the Australia Greens party, has called for greater transparency in the case, the BBC reports.

“Handing these people directly over to the Vietnamese Government constitutes refoulement, which is a breach of the Refugee Convention,” she said in a statement.

Australia courted controversy recently with allegations that officials paid people smugglers bound for its shores to turn around. Abbott has refused to comment on the claims, which if confirmed would amount to participation in human trafficking, say human-rights activists.


TIME Research

There’s a New Theory About Native Americans’ Origins

Chlaus Lotscher / Getty Images An Eskimo harpoons a whale in the Bering Sea off Alaskan shores.

The question at hand: Did Native Americans come to the Americas in one migratory wave or two?

New research is turning a centuries-old hypothesis about Native Americans’ origins on its head. A team of geneticists and anthropologists published an article in Science on Tuesday that traces Native Americans to a single group that settled in what’s now America far later than what scientists previously thought.

The researchers looked at sequenced DNA from bones as well as the sequenced genomes of Native American volunteers with heritage from not only the Americas but also Siberia and Oceania, says according to Rasmus Nielsen, a computational geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, and one of the authors of the study. The researchers contacted people whose heritage indicated they were of Amerindian or Athanbascan—the two ethnic derivations of Native Americans—descent. Specifically, they looked at their mitochondrial DNA (mDNA), which is passed from mother to child.

What they found fundamentally changes what scientists previously thought. The team found that Native Americans most likely had a common Siberian origin, contradicting theories that an earlier migration from Europe occurred.

The timeline Rasmus and his colleagues propose goes something like this: About 23,000 years ago, a single group splintered off from an East Asian population. The group, hailing from northeast Asia, crossed the Bering Land Bridge between northeast Asia and Alaska, eventually making their way to the rest of the Americas. About 13,000 years ago—much more recent than previous theories—Native Americans started to split into different groups, creating the genetic and cultural diversity that exists today.

“We can refute that people moved into Alaska 35,000 years ago,” Rasmus says. “They came much more recently, and it all happened relatively fast.”

Rasmus’ team’s theory contradicts another line of thought, which points to two different populations coming from Siberia, settling in the Americas more than 15,000 years ago.

David Reich, a senior author of a different Nature paper detailing the competing theory and a professor at Harvard, told the New York Times that their results were “surprising”: “We have overwhelming evidence of two founding populations in the Americas,” he said. Reich’s group divides the migration groups into two: one is the First Americans, and another they identify as Population Y, which “carried ancestry more closely related to indigenous Australians, New Guineans and Andaman Islanders than to any present-day Eurasians or Native Americans.”

Despite their differences, both groups agree on the notion that Native Americans can trace their ancestry to Eurasian migrants with Australasian ancestry.

Rasmus emphasizes that their team’s new findings don’t close the case. But as simple as the finding seems to be, Rasmus says it is truly astonishing. “The original hypothesis isn’t true,” he says. “All Native Americans are descendants of one migration wave.”

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