A minority may be a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population but also in some cases larger in number, but in a non-dominant position. Minorities usually possess certain ethnic, religious, linguistic and other characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population. Due to their marginalized position within society, they are vulnerable to discrimination, and are unable to secure an equal share of development opportunities. This all makes these communities more exposed to various challenges that they may attempt to resolve by deciding to move.
Many migrants to Europe and elsewhere belong to minorities of various kinds (for example, ethnic, religious, linguistic or sexual) or indigenous peoples. Members of these communities already face persecution and discrimination in their homelands, which can play a role in their migration.
Developmental processes in their countries are often bypassing minorities rather than including them. At the same time, they face additional barriers upon arrival in their destination countries.
Responsible reporting on these aspects and perspectives of migration can build a deeper understanding of the issues, reduce tensions and help migrant communities to overcome the barriers they face at every stage – before their actual departure, during the journey itself as well as after their arrival in their destination countries.
Members of minorities often live in fear of persecution on account of their race, religion or nationality. Already marginalized in their societies, they are often the first people to be affected by conflict, resource shortages and other crises.
All of this means that minorities are often displaced (i.e. forced to migrate) from their homes, either internally or beyond the borders of the country where they live. They flee persecution and seek sanctuary elsewhere. Discrimination may also drive many members of minorities to voluntarily migrate in search of a better life.
The vulnerable position of minorities in many countries and their inability to secure an equal share of development opportunities can leave them more exposed to various challenges, which they often may attempt to resolve by moving. The numbers speak for themselves: for instance, according to UNHCR data, most of the world’s internally displaced persons belong to minorities, a trend that is even more pronounced among stateless people.
According to the UN, these are the criteria to identify a minority:
- a group numerically inferior to the rest of the population of a state;
- a group in a non-dominant position;
- a group whose members – being nationals of the State – possess ethnic, religious or linguistic characteristics differing from those of the rest of the population;
- a group that shows, perhaps only implicitly, a sense of solidarity, directed towards preserving their culture, traditions, religion or language.
(This definition was offered in 1977 by Francesco Capotorti, Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.)
So for example, a minority might consist of:
- people of a particular nationality or ethnic group;
- people who belong to a particular religion;
- people who speak a particular language.
But being in a non-dominant position is perhaps the most crucial part of this definition. Lacking power in their society, members of minorities are often unable to change their own situation or to participate fully in their society.
This dimension is not always even correlated with numbers. For example, across the world, women possess less power even though they actually outnumber men.
Discrimination against minorities.
Members of minorities are often prone to different treatment in the countries and societies where they live. This might take the form of direct discrimination against individuals who are perceived to belong to a minority or it might be indirect, where members of minorities are denied access to services and resources which are available to other communities. This discrimination is often reinforced by statelessness.
Individuals who belong to minorities may face further challenges due to other aspects of their identity. For example, children, women, LGBTQ+ people or people with disabilities may suffer additional discrimination, not only by majorities and official power structures, but also within their own community. This intersectional discrimination makes people particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Minorities, migration… and discrimination.
Members of minorities also face particular challenges during the process of migration itself. They may be persecuted and discriminated against while in transit – for example, exploited by people traffickers, or mistreated by majority groups in the countries they pass through. They also face additional barriers when they arrive at their destination country. For example, they may be discriminated against in reception centres and while applying for asylum.
In many cases, they will still be minorities within the new countries where they settle – and continue to experience the persecution and discrimination they were trying to escape.