SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

The Migrant and the Refugee: Debunking the Distinction

Dr Nadine El-Enany (Birkbeck School of Law)

Date: 9 December 2015Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 9 December 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G52

Type of Event: Seminar

This paper examines the discourse of the “migrant” and the “refugee”. It seeks in particular to legally contextualise the media portrayal of people seeking entry into Europe and popular understandings of the distinction between migrants and refugees. Despite the law’s claim to neutrality, legal categories are artificial and historically contingent in that they do not represent natural or predefined groups of people, but instead construct them. The terms “refugee”, “asylum seeker” and “migrant” are arbitrary categories, some of which are given meaning and consequence through the force of the law, whilst others are not. So long as the law draws a significant distinction between one group and another, for immigration lawyers working on a daily basis within the confines of the law, there is instrumental and practical justification from refraining from conflating categories. However, there is much to be gained from conflation if we are seeking to understand what these categories signify in actuality, not merely in legal terms. In reality all those moving are migrants: people moving out of a desire to better their existence, whether in flight from extreme poverty or persecution. It is merely that the law grants some of them rights, at least in theory, and others not. This paper will argue that the distinction drawn between migrants and refugees is both false and dangerous in reinforcing the idea that some migrants are worthy of humanisation, while others are not.

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Dr Nadine El-Enany The Migrant and the Refugee: Debunking the Distinction

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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