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Resettled Syrian Says She's A Migrant, Not A Refugee


And as we report on desperate people fleeing to Europe, many listeners have written to ask about a word choice. They ask why we often say the word migrant instead of refugee. Roughly speaking, a migrant is anyone on the move. A refugee is commonly defined as someone forced to be on the move by natural disaster or armed conflict.


So we put this question to NPR's standards editor, Mark Memmott. He has been arguing that the more general term migrant is, not always, but quite often a better fit.

MARK MEMMOTT, BYLINE: Certainly many of the people who we've been hearing or reading about are refugees.



MEMMOTT: But they've been coming from more than a dozen countries, and they've been coming for many different reasons, some of them, maybe, just to seek better lives. The word migrants fits for them all.

MONTAGNE: People on social media have insisted that the media only say refugees. They've even accused news organizations of minimizing the crisis. Apparently some asylum-seekers do not agree. The International Organization for Migration, or IOM, works with migrants.

INSKEEP: That group has found that some people fleeing their home countries toward Europe do not want to be called refugees. Leonard Doyle, with the IOM, believes people should be able to choose how they are labeled.

LEONARD DOYLE: Sometimes people may feel that to be a refugee is somebody who's somehow diminished, but we certainly don't believe that.

INSKEEP: The International Organization for Migration has launched a social media campaign called "I Am A Migrant." It tries to show migrants as individuals and to let them tell their own stories.

DOYLE: What we can certainly say is the issue of migration is a very hot one, and it's often quite a toxic one. And what we are very keen to do is to change the narrative, make people realize you may have a perception of what migrants and refugees are, but it's probably not what you think.

MONTAGNE: The U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Samantha Power, explains that the concept of refugee status first arose in Europe more than half a century ago.

SAMANTHA POWER: The Refugee Convention, which was forged after the Second World War, creates a series of legal obligations when someone is fleeing conflict and when their life is on the line or that of their family.

INSKEEP: That roughly describes the case of Tahla Deiry. She left Damascus two years ago after bombs were dropped on her neighborhood as part of Syria's civil war. She fled Syria with her parents and siblings to Beirut, Lebanon and then to Iraq. But she says she does not want to be labeled a refugee.

TAHLA DEIRY: We made the decision to leave, and we had many options. My home wasn't destroyed. Bombs fell around the area where I lived. So I had a home. I could have lived in danger. But some people, they can't go back to their city or place or wherever. They are forced to leave.

MONTAGNE: And while Tahla Deiry may not like being called a refugee, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, because she fled armed conflict, she is one by definition. You can see why there's so much confusion.

INSKEEP: Whatever the label, Tahla Deiry's tale is not yet finished. She and her family plan to move once again out of Iraq back to Beirut where, she says, she will feel safer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.