Mind your language: Could rappers and poets help reshape the migration debate?

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 November 2017 18:16 GMT

Sudanese migrants walk along the bank, as a cargo ship makes its way along the Caen channel to the sea in Ouistreham, France, October 31, 2017. REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Image Caption and Rights Information
"I am tired of the word skilled immigrants which implies everybody else is unskilled"

By Umberto Bacchi

LONDON, Nov 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Loaded words like hordes, swarms and waves have poisoned the global discourse on migrants, fuelling fears instead of highlighting potential economic benefits, experts said on Tuesday, calling for an overhaul of the migration narrative.

Migrants contribute to the prosperity of countries they work in as well as to development of those they left behind with money sent home, said Louise Arbour, the United Nation's special representative for international migration.

But the positives are often lost amid false perceptions and stereotypes that affect national policies - with many wealthy countries focusing on security more than development, she told a conference at the Overseas Development Institute in London.

"It's quite shocking to see how the use of language in a very invidious way has sometimes really poisoned the public debate," said Arbour, who is leading U.N. efforts for a global agreement on safe and orderly migration.

"We have to be alive (to it)... and push back," she said.

Canadian senator Ratna Omidvar said negotiations for a U.N. global accord on migration provided an opportunity to shape a new vocabulary.

Anthropologists, musicians, rappers and poets should be asked to contribute with ideas, said Omidvar, who is a co-chair of a World Economic Forum council on migration.

"I am tired of the word skilled immigrants which implies everybody else is unskilled. That is not true," she told the conference, suggesting the term "global talent" could be used instead.

World leaders are due to commit to two global initiatives, one on refugees and the other on migrants, by the end of 2018 under the auspices of the United Nations.

Former Italian foreign minister Emma Bonino said Italy needed some 150,000 more migrants a year to cope with an ageing population, declining birthrate and young people's aversion to working in agriculture, construction and social care.

Yet, undocumented migrants were disparaged as "clandestines" and the political debate ahead of national elections next year was mostly focused on keeping migrants out.

"Without migrants these sectors of the economy will simply close," she said via video link." This is the reality but the perception is different."

More than 170,000 migrants reached Europe, mostly by sea, so far this year, down from about 380,000 in 2016 and more than a million in 2015, according to the United Nations.

Migrants working in rich countries sent home almost half a trillion dollars in 2016, helping to lift families out of poverty by providing financial stability, access to education, housing and healthcare.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Ros Russell.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.