Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Twisting words to fit an agenda

Today's Daily Star story Egypt 'flight' to UK claims:

Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain, the leader of Nato has warned.

Paul Robins' article continues:

Many refugees are desperate to escape and head here to milk the benefits system.

Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 58, said the riots will fuel an “illegal migration wave” across the EU.

And the majority will head straight to Britain on the promise of free housing and better jobs.

In the first two sentences, the terms illegal immigrants and refugees are used interchangeably. And the claims about milking benefits and getting jobs and free houses are the usual inflammatory tabloid-fodder.

But did Rasmussen actually say that 'thousands of illegal immigrants' from Egypt were going to 'flood to Britain' in an 'illegal migration wave' as the Star states? Here's NATO's transcript:

Having said that, I do not consider the situation in Egypt or Tunisia, or elsewhere as a direct threat to NATO allies or the Alliance as such. But obviously the evolving situation in the Middle East and North Africa may have an impact on the Middle East peace process, and instability in the region as such may also, in a longer term perspective, have a negative impact on economy, which might lead to illegal immigration in Europe, etc. So of course indirectly there may be a negative impact on Europe caused by the evolving situation in North Africa and the Middle East. But I do not consider the situation as a direct threat to NATO.

Rasmussen didn't mention Britain. It's also clear he's not singling out Egyptians, but saying long-term instability might lead to illegal immigration from the region. He didn't mention any number. He certainly didn't make reference to benefits or jobs or houses. And he did say 'might' rather than 'will'.

So the Star have turned Rasmussen's words from this:

instability in the region...might lead to illegal immigration in Europe

Into this:

Thousands of illegal immigrants will flee riot-torn Egypt and flood to Britain

They were helped in this by yesterday's Mail, which is why the story only appears in the Star today. The Mail's original headline claimed Hosni Mubrarak turmoil 'will fuel illegal wave UK migration' warns Nato - a slightly random collection of some of the paper's favourite words.

This has been changed to Egypt's turmoil 'will fuel illegal migration wave', head of Nato warns. Since NATO's transcript of the press conference contains no mention of the word 'wave' it seems that Star have put it in quote marks simply because the Mail did.


  1. I agree that there is a fundamental difference between an illegal imigrant and a refugee as far as the UK is concerned. However, I have a degree of sympathy for the cynicism that tabloid papers uses when using the terms interchangeably.

    Even if the violence was that bad in Egypt to necessitate flight (which it isn't, and never will be), I'd consider someone to be a refugee when they crossed the border into Libya or Sudan. If they traverse the whole of Europe and arrive in the UK, they have long ago lost the right to claim refugee status, as far as I can see. A refugee is someone who is seeking refuge (in the nearest safe haven) from an immediate threat, and this disqualifies 100% of people who arrive in the UK claiming such status. As such, to describe them as 'illegal immigrants' is entirely appropriate.

    Aside from this (minor) observation, I agree whole-heartedly with everything else you've written.

  2. Anonymous: I don't think it's for you to decide whether a refugee is an illegal immigrant or not. The key word there is "illegal"; we already have systems in place to determine legality. Either somebody is a refugee or they are an illegal immigrant (who may or may not have tried to claim refugee status). Being a refugee does not automatically make you an illegal immigrant; the terms on which you enter a country decides that. Therefore the terms should never be used interchangeably.

    However, your post is irrelevant for one reason: nobody suggested that Egyptians seeking refuge would "traverse the whole of Europe" and arrive in the UK. The UK was not mentioned at all; simply Europe, some of which is arguably close enough to Egypt, especially Greece and Turkey.

  3. Actually if I were fleeing somewhere I don't think I'd go to the nearest place at all: what might be safe today might not be safe tomorrow. I think I'd be very keen indeed to put a large distance indeed between me and whatever I was fleeing.

  4. Dear Anonymous,

    Ever heard of an Aeroplane? A ticket is often cheaper than a trafficker.

  5. Anonymous: sadly for you, its not your personal view which dictates the difference between refugee and illegal immigrant.

  6. Cynical/Realist?9 February 2011 at 17:40

    "Being a refugee does not automatically make you an illegal immigrant; the terms on which you enter a country decides that."

    As I understand it by the actual legal definitions you cannot be both a refugee and an illegal immigrant.

    Upon entering a country you would be an Asylum Seeker. When the authorities decide your case you become either a Refugee, or need to go home, if you don't leave the country quick enough you then become an Illegal Immigrant.

    Of course there are more types of Illegal Immigrants than just failed asylum cases, but it illustrates how these rags mix and match the terms, making everyone tarred with the same brush and ruining any chance at the public understanding the difference.

    The article seems blatent enough to be considered almost fradulent. Its too our shame that the press is allowed to print such nasty lies, as the PPC is too weak to even consider a case like this.

  7. It's no surprise this was in the Star, a paper which today announced on thier front page that the EDL will be forming a political party. Of course they included a prominant image of a Muslim holding up a "British Soliders go to hell" sign to go with the story. The article online of course doesn't say they actually are forming one, merely considering it, but it's good of them to give these thugs some free publicity again!

    While I also don't think there will suddenly be an increase in Eyptians coming to the UK, It is sensible to presume there will be some who wish to come to Europe. Like others have said, Southern Europe is likely to have a bigger pull, Turkey especially. The countries surrounding Egypt; Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Sudan are not exactly big on human rights, personal safety or political freedom and will unlikely be the first port of call for people wishing to escape a country where these things are being demanded!

  8. Would have been good if they would have substantiated their claims with a quote from a potential illegal Egyptian immigrant drooling at the chance to invade our sacred shores and violently squeeze the udder of the state until it can produce no more but a bloody trickle for us indigenous Brits.

    God, I know it's The Star but how can they day in, day out, get away with printing this utter shit. I have to say I absolutely love this website but checking it on a daily basis does tend to get my blood pressure up. As a journalist myself the disillusionment I have with my career plummets into deeper and deeper lows. There seems to be no other career where lying and distortion exists, is accepted and goes unchallenged on a daily basis.

    There are of course still good and honest journalists out there, but dross like this ruins it for everyone.

  9. Hannah - repectfully, your post is guff. I wasn't defending the interchangeability of terms, merely noting a degree of sympathy with the labels in this case. My sense of humour is cynical/sarcastic, and the article appealed to that.

    Lol - yeah, of course no Egyptian will traverse Europe. The same way all those Kosovans/Iraqis/Afghans didn't traverse Europe to set up camp in Calais before Channel-hopping to the UK, right?

    Furthermore, whatever system the UK has to determine legality is well and truly broken. I'd prefer a system to firstly maintain control over entry and secondly to enforce the decisions that the'system' makes. It doesn't take a Home Office Inspector to conclude that there are hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants in the UK right now, and indeed those that came and claimed asylum.

    //what might be safe today might not be safe tomorrow.//

    Quite right, but that's not the point. A refugee's immediate concern is getting out of the firing line. I would hardly choose Libya or Sudan as permanent residences after fleeing Egypt. But, that Libya/Sudan MAY kick off in, say, six months is neither here nor there.

    //Ever heard of an Aeroplane? A ticket is often cheaper than a trafficker.//

    Yeah, right. How many refugees do you see escaping my plane? Generally, a refugee is one that barely has his shirt on his back, let alone money for a plane ticket. And one hardly needs a trafficker to get across to Libya/Sudan from Egypt.

    //Upon entering a country you would be an Asylum Seeker//

    True, but key words there are 'a country'. One cannot expect to travel through every country in Western Europe then pitch up in the UK claiming 'asylum'. If you were a genuine asylum seeker you'd have claimed it in, say, Turkey. It is this fact alone that allows me to accept the cynicism/sarcasm attached by the tabloids to the whole concept of immigration/asylum/refugee definition.

    Anyway, ultimately, I agree with you all. The terms are not interchangeable, no, and Mr. MacGuffin's dissection above is typically well-presented.

  10. Anonymous, you claim that if they travel through a certain number of countries, or perhaps over a certain distance, refugees should lose their status as such. What then do you make of all those Jewish refugees who fled Germany in the 30s and didn't just cross Europe, but the Atlantic Ocean as well?

  11. Actually Cynical/Realist? the PCC no longer has jurisdiction over the Star at all.

  12. @Ben. I think give practically the whole of Europe was at war and the entire region unstable, I think the nearest safe haven for many Jews was the United States and so I consider it perfectly proper that they fled to the US.

    If however, it was just, say, Germany, that was at war and the Jews were being indiscriminantly slaughtered, then I'd consider any of the 8 (?) surrounding countries to be perfectly acceptable as safe havens.


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