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Monday 22 April 2013

Breaking: 'Asylum seekers not immigrants' says no one

English: Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia b...
Jewish refugees from Czechoslovakia being marched away by British police at Croydon airport in March 1939 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Seeking asylum from repression, war and horror is a basic human right which almost every country is signed up to. This right was created in the shadow of World War Two and the then recent shameful memory of the treatment of Jewish refugees before that war.

Asylum seekers are not the same group as 'immigrants'. Neither are they the same group as 'refugees'. People apply to a country to allow them to become immigrants. People are given refugee status in one country, usually next to the country they fled from, and some other countries then select them, usually many years later, to come to them.

Anyone can apply for asylum in another country once they're there, whether by plane or by boat or walking over the border, and they do for all sorts of reasons. People apply because they're being persecuted on account of their ethnicity -- like Chechens. Or their sexuality, or, in one American case, because they cannot home school their children in Germany. Americans have applied for asylum in Canada and, famously, many got it in Scandinavia during the Vietnam War.

There are some basic rules, international law, on asylum seekers but different countries regard them in different ways. In Russia they get sent to a camp in Siberia and in Australia they're all automatically detained. Also in Australia asylum applicants get security checked if they're fleeing, for example, Sri Lanka.

In the United States they get security checked too if they're from certain places. One of those places is the Caucuses -- Chechnya, Dagestan. The Boston bombers were the children of parents originally from Chechnya who were accepted as asylum seekers. They claimed asylum after arriving on tourist visas.

So Senator Rand Paul is either ignorant in calling today for something which is already happening -- security checks -- or willfully stirring slash hot button pressing.

There's more of this and they'll be more to come, from all sides.

Media #fail on asylum seekers ≠ immigration

In the Daily Beast a former Bush official bangs on, like Paul, about double checking 'immigrants' and like this doesn't already happen and, sigh, like this would have made any difference when the bombers were teens when they came to America. In the Boston Herald there's the impolitic version, this full-on anti-immigrant/refugee/whatever rant by Howie Carr.

On Twitter I exchanged with an immigrant advocate, Matthew Kolken, who is countering this nativist ranting by pointing out that one of the guys who helped save the life of the guy who identified the bombers is an immigrant (pictured right, with the big hat).

But if America is now going to have a debate on immigration reform informed by the Boston bombings then it ain't going to be very informed if the media track record thus far keeps up. Because I have now seen a series of stories in major media outlets, including ones making the liberal case, which are confusing asylum and immigration and which contain startling inaccuracies. Startling? Yes, because two seconds thought would have spotted the logical flaws.

Like in this CNN story, or this USA Today one which thinks US cities look at asylum applications, or Weigel at Slate who thinks the US accepts Chechen refugees from Kazakhstan (as does Jason Dzubow, who should know better) which short research disproves or the New York Times which repeats that the family "emigrated to the United States from Kyrgyzstan" ...

Here's The Atlantic getting it right and explaining the bombing suspects status via talking to an expert.

America is not going to un-sign the Refugee Convention, not even the looniest are suggesting that, so will continue to accept asylum applications. Thus, the status of the Boston bombers has sod all to do with immigration reform because asylum seekers ≠ immigration.

Kolken tells me this (ignorance) is normal from journalists, but as with the detailed and extensive criticism over other flaws in the media's coverage of Boston ignorance is no excuse. Basic research, heck, bothering to think it through, would produce better coverage on asylum vs immigration than I am seeing.

One other note. Advocates of immigration reform are blasting -- see this editorial 'Terrorist Enablers On The Right' -- those using the bombing and how they are using it. Why don't they point out the complete difference between asylum and immigration?!
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