viewpoint. brett hetherington

Journalist and writer/ www.bretthetherington.net

Carefully mischosen words

I'm a huge fan of the UK's public broadcaster, the BBC. It still produces some of the best TV anywhere in the world but one thing it does tests my affection for it. Even after it's been pointed out to them by several different commentators, BBC news continues to use the word ‘migrant' when they are reporting on people who are clearly refugees.

And this is not a new problem with their use of dishonest language. A few years ago some of the terms they used about the bulldozing of refugees temporary shelter at Calais in France were revealing.

The BBC has repeatedly used the word ‘clear' in its various reports, which I would argue is something done to get rid of rubbish, mess (or possibly to forests.) This was a term also used by other British media figures such as LBC radio's Nick Ferrari. The German press, Deutsche Welle called it “a raid” (something usually done against criminals) and quoted extensively from the British Home Affairs minister and the German Immigration minister.

It was only then that they gave some space to a different perspective: a spokesperson from the UN Refugee Agency. This was done under the heading of “[The] Problem of illegal immigration continues.” So to them the problem is somehow one of illegal immigration, not for example, the substandard living conditions of the mainly refugees, plenty of whom are children.

Unfortunately, the French socialist politician Jack Lang also put it clumsily when he stated that the French government's arrest of the Calais refugees was “simply raking the leaves from one side to another.” His heart might be in the right place, even if his mouth was not. Lang could be correct though in his prediction that other camps will quickly appear along the French coast. “The problem” of the camps will not just go away, as the Guardian's Alan Travis succinctly phrased it.

I suppose those two words “raid” and “cleared” do not actually sound so bad if you believe that the refugees living in the camps were somehow at fault for being there. To me, that does not seem to be the case. I have never been to Afghanistan but my guess is that, as bad as the camp was, many refugees who survived there preferred it to the way that life had turned for them in their former country, as long as there was some hope of a better existence in the UK or anywhere else.

I would think that most - if not all - have already tried claiming asylum or are in the process of doing so. There are many people who genuinely need refuge from tyrannical regimes and war zones like Afghanistan (and more recently Syria) and I cannot see a good reason why any country should be exempted from being (just one) of the nations who should accept those most in need of sanctuary.

It is more than apparent that EU agencies have failed these desperate people - especially in Syria and Afghanistan - who have also been failed by their fanatical countrymen, and the international forces there who together have made the conditions of life in those countries so intolerable.

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