International migration regimes classify and categorise migrants into types, depending on the reason for migration. The reality, however, is much less neat and distinct than the labels and classifications these regimes recognise and apply. What interests me most is the assumption that all forms of migration can be neatly divided into separate and distinct categories. The separation between ‘political’ and ‘economic’ reasons for migration is problematic as it assumes that the two spheres are mutually exclusive. This attempt to neatly categorise people into separate and distinct boxes has serious consequences for millions of people desperate to find a better life, but forced to survive in brutal realities with few rights or resources.
Here I explore the concept of economic refugees (based on a research paper I wrote a few years ago).
In Australia there is a strong and vitriolic reaction by the media, politicians and public to asylum seekers arriving by boat. These asylum seekers are often described as ‘economic migrants’ and not believed to be ‘genuine refugees’ because they have not come through the official channels. This is despite the fact that official channels for seeking asylum are often inaccessible to people caught in conflict or in fear of persecution, or even non-existent in many of these places.