Are those fleeing persecution and impoverishment so very different?

Are those fleeing persecution and impoverishment so very different?

by Georgina Ramsay, PhD Candidate in Sociology and Anthropology at University of Newcastle

The Conversation – 28 May 2015

Indonesian officials have reportedly told Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop that of the 7000 people stranded in boats in the South-East Asian migrant crisis, only 30-40% are Rohingya asylum seekers. The officials described the others as “illegal labourers”.

This political rhetoric demarcates these migrants as two distinct categories: persons seeking asylum from persecution and persons seeking to exploit economic opportunity. However, are these motivations to migrate so easily separated?

The difference between “illegal labourers” and “asylum seekers” appears obvious. The former are seeking work, while the latter are seeking protection. One is being “pulled” from their country by better employment opportunities. The other is being “pushed” from their country by persecution.

It is easy to overlook the complex circumstances of insecurity that drive both “types” to migrate.