The world is witnessing an escalation in the number of people forced to flee from conflict, wars and persecution. Populations are on the move around the globe, escaping oppression and violence and searching for a better life.
We hear about immigrants, refugees, fugitives and exiles. What are the implications of these terms? And how do people in these categories differ from migrants and itinerants?
Let’s start with the verbs, the action:
To emigrate is to leave your home country and reside elsewhere, likely permanently.
To immigrate is to enter and reside in a new country, often with intentions of permanent residency.
What about the people?
Emigrant and immigrant are self-explanatory from the above definitions. Refugees are people who have left their country to escape war, persecution, or the aftermath of natural disaster. They could be considered fugitives if they are eluding persecution or are being pursued because they escaped from custody, whether or not they were held justly.
Persecution because of race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group or holding a particular political position can compel people to become refugees or fugitives. If their government cannot protect them — or maybe is the persecutor — they seek safety in other countries.
People ordered to leave their native land by decree of the government or another authoritative body are considered exiles. They are said to be seeking asylum, whether temporary or permanent. When large numbers of people leave their country, it is sometimes called an exodus.
A migrant is a worker who moves from place to place to get work, often seasonally to harvest crops.
An itinerant also travels from place to place, alternately working and then moving on.
It’s heart-wrenching to see people abandon whatever homes they knew in search of safety, often with just the clothes on their backs. Nearly half are estimated to be children and youth.
This is a grammar blog, not a charity. However, I would be remiss not to mention that there are numerous aid agencies helping traumatized refugee families. If you are so moved, Google can help you find an organization that would welcome your donation.
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