As much as we read about global issues in the paper, it’s not always easy to understand the ins and outs of what’s going on. Add to that the language and terminology that’s thrown around and it’s no wonder we can get a little confused.

Take the term ‘immigrant’ for example. What’s the difference between an immigrant, an emigrant and a migrant? And what makes an immigrant different to a refugee or an asylum seeker?

We thought it would be helpful to break it down. Here goes:

Emigrant – a person who leaves their own country in order to settle permanently in another.

Immigrant – a person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.

Migrant – Often used interchangeably with emigrant / immigrant. There is no internationally accepted legal definition of a migrant. The Migrant Observatory for example, defines migrants as foreign-born.  

These terms are typically used when someone is moving to better their life experience and create better opportunities, whether that be through work or living conditions. It’s the expat life, but they’re still essentially a migrant. Most importantly – they are free to return home when they choose.

Sometimes, however, a person feels like they have no choice but to leave their country

Refugee – “a person who flees their home country because of armed conflicts or persecution. They look for safety in nearby countries and get help from states and aid organisations. Refugees are protected by international law”.

Asylum Seeker – “someone who flees their country out of necessity and who claims to be a refugee, but whose claim hasn’t been evaluated. This person applies for asylum on the basis that going back to their own country would lead to persecution either because of their race, religion, nationality or political beliefs”.

A migrant only becomes an illegal immigrant in situations where they do not have a right to be in the UK: for example if they fail to return home when their visa expires, or stay in the country after a claim for asylum has been rejected.

Buildings destroyed by bombing
Image credit: Tasnim News Agency [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Why should we help?

Because there are real people behind the labels. Here are just a few of those people who desperately need our help:

19-year old Abdul left Syria in 2014 when a bomb destroyed his town and home. After working stints in Lebanon and Greece to save money, Abdul spent 4 weeks in the “Jungle” – a makeshift camp for migrants and asylum-seekers just outside of Calais. Abdul had to experience horrific conditions and finally found his way to the UK after the Jungle was demolished by the French authorities.

Ingrid Van Loo Plowman, a volunteer and former doctor, hosts three refugees in her home in Epsom, near London. © UNHCR/Aubrey Wade

Sana and Yasmine were forced to leave Syria after their house was bombed. They were short on food and were confined to just a single room with 13 others for 2 weeks to try and stay safe. Yasmine had to go through the tragedy of seeing her father being shot.

Melody lost her parents when she was just 10. She was sent to the UK from Nigeria to live with a ‘family friend’ but was treated as a slave, beaten and sexually abused. At only 12-years old, Melody was then forced to live on the streets for 9 months.

How to help

Support Refugee Action

Emad and Rana had to flee their home country of Syria. They were exposed to brutal violence and forced to leave everything they knew behind. Thanks to Refugee Action, Emad and Rana are safe and now finally have stability in Hereford. The local community have welcomed them, they’re taking English lessons and their son has been able to find work.

There are not 1, not 2, but 9 different ways you can help Refugee Action here.

Help a refugee find employment  

Sam was forced to leave Syria when he was 12. His school was bombed, he saw many of his friends killed and couldn’t continue his education. When arriving in the UK, Sam was helped by the Refugee Council. He was enrolled in their Starbucks Employment Support programme and now helps train new staff, is studying coffee art and getting back on his feet with more independence.  

Find out how to get involved with the Refugee Council here.

Offer a refugee a home

Mohammed lived in Syria, Iraq, Egypt and Libya before fleeing to the UK. He has no family and was sleeping on the streets before he was housed with Joanne MacInnes through Positive Action in Housing. Could you house someone in desperate need of a home?

We delve deeper into this topic in our article: Your spare room could save a life.