It is important to understand who is trying desperately to get into Europe and exactly why they are.
The latest report from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reveals that the human wave from the Middle East crashing into Europe is made up overwhelmingly of adult males.
As European and American policymakers scramble to articulate policy positions on the spot in the face of a humanitarian disaster, it is important to understand who is trying desperately to get into the West and exactly why they are, even if such analysis will be treated as insensitivity. The fate of millions of human beings as well as the economic burdens for taxpayers in Western countries to assume requires careful thinking and strategizing.
Let’s Define Refugee
First, start with definitions. The UNHCR’s understanding is as good a place to start as any, since they are obligated to operate relief programs according to law.
It matters whether we label those on the move as refugees or as migrants. Refugees are people fleeing persecution and armed conflict, and therefore have status in both national and international law. Signatories of the various United Nations (UN) charters and treaties are obligated to accord special consideration for people fleeing for their lives from aggressors or from the effects of collateral damage during conflicts.
Migrants, on the other hand, are not fleeing physical harm or persecution but are abandoning their homes due to poverty, lack of work, or to reunite with family, and they are subject to national immigration laws. Conflating the two makes for bad policy decisions. To label a migrant a refugee can result in inappropriate pressure on countries to afford the migrant with relief he is not legally entitled to. To call a refugee a migrant can deprive the refugee of the more urgent assistance they need.