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Faculty Blog: Refugees, Migrants, and State Responsibility

Anyone who has followed the recent refugee crisis will notice the interchangeable use of the terms “migrant” and “refugee” to describe the people fleeing Syria, Iraq and North Africa, who are attempting to find safety and a better life in Europe. Depending upon your source of news, you might also hear the almost belligerent use of phrases and words like “economic migrant” and “opening the floodgates.” It was Hannah Arendt who used the term “scum of the earth,” to describe not the refugees fleeing Nazi control during World War II, but the treatment they received as they metaphorically washed up on shores of neighboring countries. She was describing the phenomenon that transpires when one country or regime has designated some people as inferior, and how everyone else then views them that way -- needy, dangerous, and likely to cause a run on resources.