By Adam Taylor
This article originally appeared in the Washington Post on July 30, 2015.
In an interview with British news station ITV on Thursday, David Cameron told viewers that the French port of Calais was safe and secure, despite a “swarm” of migrants trying to gain access to Britain. Rival politicians soon rushed to criticize the British prime minister’s language: Even Nigel Farage, leader of the anti-immigration UKIP party, jumped in to say he was not “seeking to use language like that” (though he has in the past).
Cameron clearly chose his words poorly. As Lisa Doyle, head of advocacy for the Refugee Council puts it, the use of the word swarm was “dehumanizing” – migrants are not insects. It was also badly timed, coming as France deployed riot police to Calais after a Sudanese man became the ninth person in less than two months to die while trying to enter the Channel Tunnel, an underground train line that runs from France to Britain.
Much of the outrage over the British leader’s comments misses an important point, however: Cameron is far from alone when it comes to troubling use of language to describe the world’s current migration crisis. Language is inherently political, and the language used to describe migrants and refugees is politicized. The way we talk about migrants in turn influences the way we deal with them, with sometimes worrying consequences.
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