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Introducing key global development challenges
Introducing key global development challenges

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4.1 Migration and Lesvos

The Greek Island of Lesvos is a small island with a resident population of about 80,000. As shown in the map below, its location is the Aegean Sea close to the coast of Turkey. This makes it an ideal landing and stepping off point for migrants using the route known as the Western Balkans route. From Turkey, migrants land by boat on the north of the island, make their way to the south of the island, from there head for mainland Greece and onward through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia. Final destinations that they aspire to reach include Germany, Austria, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

A map of Lesvos island positioned in relation to mainland Greece and Greece’s neighbouring countries.
Figure 9: A map of Lesvos island

Activity 6: Refugee, asylum-seeker or migrant?

Timing: 15 minutes

Terminology refers to the set of specialised terms and their meanings relating to a particular practice or field of study. It matters because effective communication depends on a shared understanding of specialist terms along with their underlying assumptions. However, in everyday usage, terms are often used interchangeably such as that of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker. For the individuals involved, how they are defined is important because it affects their legal rights.

Take a moment to search for definitions of each term, migrant, refugee and asylum seeker. How do they differ?


Legally, a migrant and a refugee are defined differently, and this has implications for their treatment and rights.

A refugee is someone who has fled their country of origin because their safety and life are at risk. They feel that their government cannot, or will not, protect them and that they have no option but to leave and seek safety outside their country. A refugee is entitled to international protection.

An asylum-seeker is someone who has left their country and is seeking protection from persecution and risk to life. They have not yet been legally recognised as a refugee and are awaiting a decision on their status. Seeking asylum is a human right.

‘A migrant is an umbrella term that is not defined under international law. The everyday understanding is that of someone who has left their country of origin, temporarily or permanently and for a variety of reasons. They are not necessarily refugees or asylum-seekers. Legally defined categories include migrant workers and smuggled migrants. All migrants are entitled to have their human rights protected.’

Source: Amnesty International (2021)