This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mrs Lizzy Morgan. The writer is the Medsin-UK’s director of finance. She is affiliated to the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA). However, the opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.
The recent refugee crisis, the largest since World War II, has triggered a lot of debate (Unicef 2016). Media outlets in the West were particularly vocal, as were politicians and humanitarian workers. These actors framed the crisis as a security problem, a phenomenon which I found particularly interesting. A situation such as this should surely be interpreted as a humanitarian emergency, but instead was manipulated to become a threat.
A report by the Cardiff School of Journalism was commissioned by UNHCR in order to explore the difference of media coverage between the UK, Spain, Italy, Germany and Sweden (Berry et al 2015). It found that UK media focussed on threat themes, for example to the welfare system, or cultural threats. In addition, out of all five countries, the UK media coverage was the most negative, and the most polarised, with right-wing media being particularly aggressive.
We can see this trend with politicians too, as they portrayed migrants as dangerous and suspicious. Conservative MP David Davies has been advocating for dental tests to prove migrants are under 18, despite arguments that such tests are inconclusive and unreliable (BBC News 2016). David Cameron, the then Prime Minister, referred to migrants as a “swarm”, before reassuring Britons that he would ensure they had a “safe and secure holiday” (The Independent 2015).
By posing the situation as a security threat, the general public of the UK are made to feel frightened about a common enemy. This common enemy therefore serves to unite the nation as very few other things can and we can see politicians taking advantage of this rare unity. The materialisations of this fear and unity are stark. They range from an increase in racially-motivated attacks, to the political result of Brexit as politicians capitalise on the national common fear to be exploited (Anon 2016).
This situation and the presentation of it as a security problem is just one sign of a much larger theme. We can see similar securitisation of the recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the implications of such a trend need to be seriously considered. By viewing people as a threat, they are separated from ourselves and viewed as threatening, lesser beings, which is extremely dangerous.
These ideas can easily and rapidly morph into sinister actions of racism and hate-crime, some of which has already materialised for example with the murder of Arkadiusz Jozwik, a Polish national, on August 31st 2016 in Harlow, Essex (Anon 2016).
The migrant crisis has shown us how easy it is for humans to lose their humanity. By forgetting that migrants are desperate people who need humanitarian assistance, we have allowed them to die at our borders, and live in camps in terrible conditions.
The problem of ignoring them is only growing, with 4,690 people drowning in the Mediterranean sea in 2016, the largest number ever recorded (Ghannam 2016).The situation desperately calls for us all to see through these claims of a security threat and instead see the situation for what it is- a humanitarian disaster.
About the author
Lizzy Morgan is a Medsin-UK’s director of finance. She is currently undertaking an MA in Humanitarian and Conflict Response in Manchester, taking a break from her medical degree at the University of Leeds. She is an avid global health and running enthusiast.
BBC News. (2016). How do you verify the age of child asylum seekers?. [online]. Available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37687916 [Accessed December 29, 2016].
Anon. (2016). Hate crime: the facts behind the headlines. Civitas.
Berry M, Garcia-Blanco I, Moore K. (2015). Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: A Content Analysis of Five European Countries. Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies.
Ghannam M. (2016). Search and rescue: Fear and joy on the Mediterranean. Msf.org.uk. [online]. Available from: https://www.msf.org.uk/article/search-and-rescue-fear-and-joy-mediterranean [Accessed December 29, 2016].
The Independent. (2015). David Cameron description of migrant ‘swarm’ condemned as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘extremely inflamatory’ by human rights group. [online]. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/calais-crisis-live-david-cameron-says-swarm-of-illegal-migrants-will-not-be-offered-safe-haven-10426083.html [Accessed December 29, 2016].
Unicef. (2016). UNICEF CEE/CIS – Resources – Latest on the refugee and migrant crisis. Unicef.org. [online]. Available from: https://www.unicef.org/ceecis/resources_28329.html [Accessed December 29, 2016].