Posted in Behind the News

Migrants, refugees or both?

, by Tom Kent

Many questions have come up over the best way to describe the thousands of people who have begun entering Europe. Are they migrants? Refugees? Is there some better term that accurately describes them all?

Their stories vary tremendously. Some fled only recently from combat zones in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some came from those countries but have been living for some time in Turkey, Lebanon or other Mideast nations. Some come from areas like the Balkans or West Africa — eager for a better life, but not direct victims of war.

It’s very difficult to find one word to describe everyone. “Migrant” is perhaps the closest. But some critics see “migrants” as an unfeeling term. They feel that it fails to evoke sympathy and obscures the fact that many are truly fleeing for their lives.

Weighing all these complexities, we have advised AP reporters and editors to be as specific as possible in their stories, determining as many details as they can about a given group and reflecting that in the terms they use. This can be difficult when trying to describe crowds of people with many different origins, who all move together. (Complicating the situation is that some people tell reporters that they’re Syrian when they’re really not.) However, we do our best.

We don’t ban “migrant” when a headline or the structure of a sentence allows for just one word. But in many cases we find the most effective word is simply “people” — “Thousands of people seeking entry to West Europe crossed into Germany ...”