Migration and semantics

The words we use, most often unconsciously, are not harmless: they can carry a lot of psycho-socio-emotional weight that we are not aware of in our daily exchanges and everyday life...

For example, starting in the 1970s, without knowing or realising it, civil society – companies and NGOs alike – was found to be "militarised" due to the military vocabulary that invaded its documents and programs: all adopted the objectives and mobilisations, the strategies and targets that are "the populations".

In the same way, within a few years, a new word – or, at least, one that was rarely used until then – was imposed on everyone, the media, politicians and ordinary citizens, to describe a social phenomenon: migration and, more importantly, its subject or object, depending on the point of view: the migrant. This word is on everyone’s lips; we are seeing it everywhere; it is the subject of countless articles, reports, documentaries, national and European legislation. Above all, it preoccupies our rich societies, politicians and citizens alike, who are worried by the invasion of these new nomads.

It is this phenomenon that we should be focusing on. But what about the reality behind the term? And why has this term recently popped up in our society? Perhaps, based on the answers to these two questions, the phenomenon that we are faced with will be better understood. Let's start with the second question which will undoubtedly help us to understand the first one.

In answer to a question from the Atlantico magazine: "Today 'immigrants' have become 'migrants', in any case, that's how they are now called: why?", Jean-Claude Barreau, former director of the National Office of Immigration, replied: "It’s a way to evade the issue. Immigration, like all human realities, has a good and a bad side: today, we optimise everything; the blind are visually impaired... and immigrants are migrants. Immigrants is a term that is more authentic and harsher than migrants. Euphemisms are increasingly present in our society. People are no longer being called by their name. There is nothing wrong with it, but we use a word that does not offend: 'migrant'. In the same way, the Office for Immigration has been replaced by the Office of International Migration; it’s more fashionable. It’s about not offending: we cannot offend". Another Atlantico question: "Isn’t this change of name a way for the European Union to get rid of the problem? Answer: "We are not getting rid of a problem: it’s still there; the intention is to hide it: there is a desire to conceal the problem". We see this terminological shift in other areas: when we talk about tax evasion, we prefer to say "matter", rather than what it is, an offense: it is less aggressive. The fraudster is said to be in trouble with the tax authorities rather than what he actually is, an "offender".

In the same way, let's look at the construction of the words 'emigrant' and 'immigrant'. Dictionaries give the following definition of the verb 'migrate': to move to another place, another region. Preceded by the "origin" prefix 'e' for 'ex' before 'migrated', it indicates a separation, the idea of ​​going out, of leaving a place while moving in space...: the emigrant is the one who left his country of origin to settle permanently in another country; conversely, the prefix 'im' for 'in' expresses the end of the movement and the entrance into another place: the immigrant is the one who resides, permanently, in a country other than his own. The "pilgrims" who left Europe for the New World and built the United States were leaving for good: they were emigrants-immigrants. After the war, we talked about immigrants to designate the workforce that France brought from North Africa for the reconstruction of the country, because they were supposed to stay for a long time. Conversely, the refugee is asked to go back home when the situation of his country allows it: it is his dearest wish and desire.

The status of the migrant, on the other hand, is different: the adjective derived from the verb migrate, without any prefix, simply indicates a movement without a defined origin or destination. The important thing here is what is designated by the term migrant: that was the first question.

According to an article in Mediapart, unlike the term refugee, "the words migrant and migration are not even legally defined. We confuse migrant and refugee and we do not really know what an economic migrant or a working migrant is... or even if it covers anything."

For its part, the Cimade recommends: "the term 'migrant' must be used with caution, because it is not devoid of ideology and ambiguity. It is sometimes used to sort people leaving their country according to the supposed causes of their departure. 'Migrants' would make this choice for economic reasons, while refugees or asylum seekers would be forced to do so for political reasons. But economic and political constraints are often intertwined and the distinction between different categories of 'migrants' is generally arbitrary".

This ill-defined term ends up designating a new category of human beings, kept apart, that is essentialised alongside other categories: blacks, Jews, homosexuals, Romani, peasants..., a kind of vagabond monad that deserves to be treated in a specific manner.

The Josefa Foundation is convinced that the migrant is not someone different from the others, someone who is being held in detention camps, who is being taken in or taken back to the border or expelled, who is endlessly subjected to legislation but that, on the contrary, the migrant represents human nature itself and its history which is migration from our birth to our death and from generation to generation: the Josefa Foundation defines the human being as a migrant. Obviously, this has a radically different effect on an individual’s behaviour as well as on socio-political decisions: on the one hand, we need to welcome each other’s migrations; on the other hand, our aging societies have everything to gain from these fruitful encounters that can regenerate them and open them up to the riches of other worlds. "All of us migrants": that is Josefa's project.

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