The language of migration
The words we use shape our understanding of the world. Through language, we construct our perceptions of complex realities and position ourselves toward them: we relate, we reach out, we reclaim, and we reject. When it comes to the language used to define, represent or discuss migration and (im)mobility, there are multiple actors that develop sometimes competing narratives and vocabularies. Migrants, institutions, policymakers, the media, advocacy groups and academics all participate in creating diverse languages of migration, with various effects, which over time change, spill over, adapt, and keep redrawing the lines of inclusion and exclusion.
This issue is the product of a collaboration between Routed Magazine and Discussing Displacement. Both publications share the common goals of facilitating access to knowledge in the field of migration and mobility, and making critical perspectives and diverse voices more approachable to our readers, one article at a time. With this aim of openness and proximity, we have also taken this special joint issue as an opportunity to reflect on our own use and production of mobility-related language and narratives.
In this issue, we examine the origins, implications and shortcomings of concepts from ‘internally displaced person’ and ‘climate refugee’, to ‘expatriate’ and ‘remittances’. Discrimination against migrants and even criminalisation can stem from the connotations and meanings of the words used to refer to migrants in host societies, as well as institutional discourses on ‘safe migration’ seeking to enforce immobility. At the same time, linguistic innovation at the institutional level has the potential to create more inclusive societies.
Reflecting on the self-perceptions of receiving societies, we also examine the legal roots and implications of being a ‘guest’ in Jordan, the role of previously arrived migrants in hosting newcomers, and the Turkish concept of ‘God’s Guest’.
Academia, in conversation with policy, understands migration through theoretical and empirical frameworks in constant development, from migrancy to transnationalism. Academic perspectives, however, also have to fight their own biases, such as the methodological nationalism that often impregnates integration research and the gender bias behind concepts such as ‘care drain’.
Migrants create, share and advocate for a vocabulary that fits their own experiences, as a form of community-building, heritage, or resistance. Latinx migrants in the US and sub-Saharan migrants in Morocco have their own vocabulary to name and describe their experiences with law enforcement and their migration journeys, while Cameroonian aspiring migrants and returnees frame their migration as an adventure. Terms such as ‘migrant domestic worker’ make a difference for migrants’ claims to labour rights in Hong Kong. Migrant voices often go unheard, but they are key to understanding their needs and accomplishments, from Filipina migrants in Bangkok and Manila during the pandemic to Indonesian LGBTQ+ migrants in France.
Through literature, migrant authors such as Behrouz Boochani contest mainstream narratives of migration, challenging refugee detention systems and exposing how differently time works during prolonged experiences of mobility and immobility.
This issue also brings you three pieces that go beyond the language of migration: an insight into the current migration of Indian Jews to Israel, the testimony of an Indian student living in Japan through the pandemic, and a recollection of best practices in integration policy from the Brazilian city of São Paulo.
We would like to thank the director of Discussing Displacement, Imogen Dobie, who is the guest editor for this issue and has contributed her expert pencil and attentive eye to every step of this project between our two publications. As always, thank you to all the writers who have shared their research and experiences; and to you, our readers. We wish you a pleasant reading!