People Urged To Alter Language When Describing English Channel Drowning Victims

by : Shola Lee on : 25 Nov 2021 13:54
People Urged To Alter Language When Describing English Channel Drowning VictimsAlamy

Media outlets and the public have been urged to change how they describe those who tragically died attempting to cross the English Channel.

The recommendation comes after 27 people drowned yesterday, November 24, when an inflatable dinghy capsized on the way to the UK.


Following the tragedy, PM Boris Johnson and French president Emmanuel Macron pledged to prevent any further deaths. However, the incident sparked a debate around the language used when referring to the tragedy.

Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the Labour Party, took to Twitter to urge that ‘language matters’ when speaking about those who lost their lives.

The politician said: 


The poor souls who died in the Channel deserve the dignity of being described as who they were. Human beings. Men, women, children. Mothers, fathers, daughters, sons. They loved and were loved. In other words they were just like us. An unconscionable tragedy.

Journalist Tobi Thomas echoed a similar view, writing:

Headline should be five “people” rather than “migrants” – research shows that when the word migrant is used in headlines it can often be dehumanising as the term is often used as a pejorative by tabloids especially.


Explaining that the word migrant is ‘widely used in a pejorative way that dehumanised people and presents them as a threat’, The Guardian journalist stated the word ‘is not banned but we should use only when necessary; the alternatives are often preferable.’

There has been an ongoing debate surrounding this topic for a while. For instance, Emma Briant, the author of Bad News for Refugees, spoke to the BBC in 2015 to note the discrepancies in how we refer to migrants from the UK compared to other countries.


‘Very often when we talk about British people who migrate we tend to talk of them as expats or expatriates. They are not immigrants’, she said.

In 2016, a UN Refugee Agency blog made a similar observation:

We say ‘refugees’ when we mean people fleeing war or persecution across an international border. And we say ‘migrants’ when we mean people moving for reasons not included in the legal definition of a refugee. We hope that others will give thought to doing the same. Choices about words do matter.

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677

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Shola Lee

Shola Lee began her journalism career while studying for her undergraduate degree at Queen Mary, University of London and Columbia University in New York. She has written for the Columbia Spectator, QM Global Bloggers, CUB Magazine, UniDays, and Warner Brothers' Wizarding World Digital. Recently, Shola took part in the 2021 BAFTA Crew and BBC New Creatives programme before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news, trending stories, and features.

Topics: News, Boris Johnson, debate, Now


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