learning pages / Themes and topics

5.6 : Migration and minorities.

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.

In Sengwer minority community. Author: Anna Alboth, Kenya, 2018

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.

Vulnerable position.

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.

Intersectional discrimination.

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.

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5.1 : Migration as a global phenomenon.

Migration is not a new phenomenon: people have been on the move since the dawn of humankind. Indeed, the history of humanity is a history of migration – some have even argued that movement is our natural state. Migration has always been an essential part of our adaptation to environmental stress, social upheaval and other challenges. The same is true today, even though it has now become global in scale.

5.2 : What is migration?

Simply put, migration is human movement from one place to another. It may involve a single individual or an entire community, internal resettlement within a country or a journey spanning multiple continents, forced flight from the threat of violence or a voluntary search for opportunities elsewhere. Indeed, in many cases it can involve a mixture of patterns and motivations: for instance, migrants may have to flee very real dangers to themselves and their families, while at the same time actively plan for a better life elsewhere. Migration has a variety of facets and there are plenty of reasons – some even seemingly contradictory – why people decide to leave or stay.

5.3 : Terminology matters: From ‘economic migrants’ to refugees.

'Migrant' is an overarching term for anyone (with the exception of tourists) who moves from one country to another for a significant period of time. A refugee is a person who flees from conflict, persecution of a natural disaster and seeks sanctuary in another country. (In many situations of insecurity, many or even most of those forced to move may in fact remain within their country: these internally displaced people, also called IDPs, rarely receive the same amount of attention in international media, despite often facing considerable challenges). An economic migrant is a person who moves in search of education, employment and other opportunities outside his or her country. Asylum-seekers are people who have applied for asylum in another country. Finally, stateless people are those who have either been deprived of or were born without citizenship.

5.4 : Transnationals.

Technologies have not only enabled people to move across the world far more easily than before, but also to keep in close contact with families back home. In particular, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have facilitated the development of complex social connections, crossing national borders and spanning the globe. As a result, a growing number of migrants are now ‘transnational’.

5.5 : Migration and development.

Migration is often closely linked to processes related to development. There is no single definition of development, but in broad terms it can be understood as the potential for individuals and communities within a society to access services, employment and other opportunities on an equitable basis. If people do not have a chance to develop their potential, if they are excluded from participating in development, they might decide to move.

5.7 : Smuggling.

According to the UN definition smuggling "is a crime involving the procurement for financial or other material benefit of illegal entry of a person into a State of which that person is not a national or resident." In principle, it implies a level of consent among those being smuggled – as opposed to those subjected to human trafficking, who are effectively captive to their traffickers. Once a migrant is smuggled through a border to their agreed destination, the relationship is usually over, while human trafficking generally involves the continued coercion of victims, often over a period of many years.

5.8 : Fortress Europe.

Since the EU was established, the borders between its member states have been dissolving. Yet at the same time, its external borders have hardened – an approach widely known as ‘Fortress Europe’. Even for those fleeing persecution, entering the EU has become increasingly impossible for most refugees. As a result, many have been forced to take more dangerous routes, with a corresponding rise in the number of dead or missing people as desperation leads them to seek out smugglers and puts them at risk of human trafficking. Fortress Europe does not stop at its actual borders, but goes deep into neighbouring countries or even further in some cases in an attempt to create a buffer zone through a web of agreements, funding, detention centres and naval patrols.

5.9 : Misinterpreted facts on migration.

Migration is an important issue in public debate and policy-making – across Europe and worldwide. And the media are part of it. Sometimes they build their narratives around migration on pure myths or speculation. At other times, however, they may reply on more subtle distortions and misconceptions: these may be, strictly speaking, factually correct but presented or interpreted out of context or misleadingly.

5.10 : Migration causes.

Migration is typically caused by a variety of factors, both ‘push’ and ‘pull’. People might decide to move because of a range of factors, be it employment, security, opportunities, education, even love, unavailable to them in their home country and ‘pulling’ them elsewhere. On the other hand, there can be compelling drivers of displacement such as conflict, persecution, natural disasters and other immediate threats, that push them to migrate. In this post we focus on the latter – push factors related to forced migration.

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