If you Google the definition of the word 'migrant' the first entry has nothing to do with human beings. Instead, the Google result shows that definition 1, generally understood as the primary definition, is 'an animal that migrates.' Definition 2 is the adjective, 'tending to migrate or having migrated.'
The people who are immigrating to Europe are not animals, though Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban might treat them as though they are.
The people who have been crossing the Mediterranean, the people who have drowned in the sea, those trapped in Hungary now that the nation refuses them transit, they are not threats. They are not enemies. They are not wild beasts to be feared though, again, Orban suggests that Hungarians and Europeans are afraid of them.
They are people who are seeking refuge from violence, war, conflict, and what seems to be unending sorrow and death.
They are human beings who have lost hope and who are looking for help.
Deutsche Welle, the German international broadcaster, has been running a live blog with updates on the situation in Europe. It's sometimes frustrating reading.
Mixed in with discussions of what every day Europeans are doing to help, announcements from officials on who will be allowed in, who will be allowed succor, and stories of refugees finding their way to Germany are stories of chaos at train stations, are stories of refugees blocked from boarding trains, and Hungary's Viktor Orban blaming Germany, and its openness to the refugees, for the crisis Europe faces.
The death of little Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old whose body washed up on a Turkish beach, has caught the attention of so many. News outlets in the United States are turning the tragedy of his drowning into the hook on which they hang their stories about the crisis in Europe.
The death of a toddler should not be the thing that makes us care. It should not be the thing that causes us to feel empathy for these refugees.
If you've been following news out of the Middle East, where so many of the refugees come from, you've seen images of cities destroyed, communities ripped apart, families shredded. You've consumed stories of such vast destruction it is, at times, almost incomprehensible.
We should have been feeling empathy for those suffering through such tragedy long ago.
I am frustrated. I am frustrated by what has felt like a lack of attention to this situation and the crisis that has been brewing for some time. I'm frustrated that the drowning of a toddler and the images of his body on the beach seem to have been the thing to make American media begin to see the refugees as human beings, not as some mass of unwashed bodies overtaking Europe's shores.
Still, there are headlines about 'squalid' camps going up in Budapest and about how this influx of immigrants might challenge European identity.
To use words like 'migrate' to describe the plight of these refugees is to suggest they had some sort of choice in the matter. It suggests that one day they woke up and thought, 'You know, Europe sure seems like a good place to be, let's go steal jobs and resources from Europeans.'
When your choices are possible starvation, likely injury and death on one hand and safety and refuge on the other, how is there even a choice? How do you not jump in a boat and pray you make it to land if it means you and your family might go to sleep at night not fearing your home, your village, your community, all you love might be gone when you wake the next morning?
I refuse to use the word 'migrant' in relation to what's happening in Europe because this is not a choice -- this is a last desperate act of traumatized people.
There is also the issue of the racist and colonialist connotations associated with the word migrant.
If you think that word doesn't have racist undertones (or overtones) I want you to think of the people who are classified as 'migrants' in media and in political discourse. Who gets branded a 'migrant' and who is allowed to move about the world and gets labeled as, simply, 'mobile?'
The people who are stuck in transit in Hungary, and those that are being given shelter in Germany and Iceland and other countries, are not a threat that has washed up unexpectedly upon Europe's southern shores.
These refugees are the very embodiment of humanitarian crisis.
They are human beings and I refuse to refer to them as or see them as anything other than that.