LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Politicians around the world are ratcheting up the anti-migrant rhetoric during campaigning and to achieve policy goals at the risk of sending humanity into a “moral abyss”, human trafficking experts warned on Thursday.
Anti-immigration language - seen during the midterm U.S. elections this month and the ongoing Brexit talks in Europe- is amplified by increased attacks on journalists’ integrity, said Nazir Afzal, a former British prosecutor.
“Until the midterm elections, we kept hearing about this caravan of refugees traveling through Central America full of smallpox and Muslim jihadis,” he said at the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s annual Trust Conference in London.
“Suddenly, when the election is over, nobody cares, nobody is talking about it ... that tells you everything you need to know about how migration has become the number one political hot topic.”
A caravan of thousands of mostly Honduran migrants who are fleeing violence and poverty set off for the United States in mid-October, with the majority still to arrive at the border. Other large bands of mostly Salvadorans have followed behind.
Meanwhile several boats containing suspected migrants were intercepted off the British coast this month which was used by politicians trying to get the upper hand during talks over Britain’s divorce deal with the European Union, Afzal said.
Prime Minister Theresa May vowed on Thursday to fight for her draft divorce deal with the EU after the resignation of her Brexit secretary and other ministers put her strategy and her job in peril.
“In the UK, (people say) ‘they must have come a long way’ but no, they came from France,” he said.
“Fake news will take over and it will become something sadly where those people who have an agenda will undoubtedly say what they want to say.”
Hundreds of thousands of migrants passed through Serbia on their way to the West in 2015 but the so-called Balkan Route was closed in 2016 when Turkey agreed to stem the flow of people.
Vladimir Bozovic, a state adviser for Serbia, which is home to about 4,000 migrants from Asia and the Middle East, said a pro-migrant stance was not an easy sell for many politicians.
“In Serbia, we see and treat migrants as human beings but it is complicated and difficult to explain this approach to the public when nearby countries are closing their borders,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Francesco Rocca, president of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said political horse-trading over migrants had sent humanity into a “moral abyss”.
“When did helping a human being become a political act?” he told the conference.
Reporting by Matt Blomberg; Editing by Michael Taylor and Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org