Guest Post: The effect of negative labelling – Why are we still talking about ‘migrants’?

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MIGRANTS AT SEA

By Dr Melissa Phillips

As the number of people arriving by boat to Europe continues to rise, so does the rhetoric about an influx of ‘illegal migrants’, ‘boat migrants’ , ‘migrant boats’ and just plain ‘illegals’. Academics have long written about the impact of press reporting on asylum issues and the effect of labelling on refugees and asylum seekers.(1) Their findings show the way predominantly negative labels are repeated and entrenched having a detrimental consequence for how we understand asylum issues and perceive asylum seekers. Perhaps the most pernicious of these labels has been ‘illegal’ which human rights groups, refugee advocates and media organisations have been campaigning against as inaccurate and legally incorrect.(2)

More recently commentators have been at pains to distinguish between groups of migrants and refugees arriving in Europe by boat, noting that there are technical legal arguments to guide terminology as well as familiar tropes that we…

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