Sunday, August 2, 2015

Swarming critics have got it wrong

There has been a near-hysterical reaction to comments by British Prime Minister, David Cameron that refugees were “swarming” across the Mediterranean into Europe and, more specifically, the United Kingdom.

Acting UK Opposition Labour Party Leader, Harriet Harman said Mr Cameron should remember he was talking about people, not insects.

Another leading Labour figure, Andy Burnham said use of the world was “a dog whistle – a silent call to those opposing migration”.

Advocacy Manger for the Refugee Council, Lisa Doyle said the use of the word was “dehumanising and shifted the blame away from politicians who have mishandled the crisis”.

Finally the Deputy Mayor of Calais, Philippe Mignonet described Mr Cameron’s words as “racist and extremist.”

Mr Cameron’s use of the word was not racist, extremist, dehumanising, likening people to insects or a dog whistle – whatever that meant.

“Swarm” is a perfectly acceptable word when used in relation to people, as any dictionary definition will inform. I quote but two:

The Concise Oxford Dictionary:  Large numbers or dense groups of insects, birds, small animals or persons moving about in a cluster or irregular body.

The Precise Macquarie Dictionary: A great number of things or people, especially in motion.

Forgive me for not being able to see anything offensive in those definitions. Swarm can indeed apply to many groups of animate objects in motion, including insects, but as Mr Cameron was obviously talking about people, it was ridiculous (or opportunistic) for Ms Harman to pick out insects.
How can it be a dehumanising term when by any definition swarm can apply to people?

As for the Deputy Mayor of Calais…well perhaps M Mignonet should be excused as English is not his first language, but he really should have done better research before sounding off to a British television news reporter.  

Ms Doyle does have a point when she says politicians have mishandled the situation. The refugee crisis has been years in the making (remember the North-South dialogue we were supposed to be having back in the 1970s?).
Exactly what is happening today has been forecast by demographers, refugee advocates, and United Nations Agencies for the past 30 years. There has been at least one novel and popular film on the subject. 

There are two ways to meet this crisis: Let all the refugees in or be really serious about alleviating conditions in the countries they come from – and that does mean serious – not sinking a few wells in villages here and there.
Trying to stem the flow by force accompanied by rhetoric about protecting borders will only lead to more desperation, injury and death. To return to the initial subject of this article – actions do speak louder than words.


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