Why are most caravan immigrants male

Where there is language, there is also subtext. Especially where language becomes political. To analyze these sub-texts, the concept of framing has been established in research in recent years. Framing means an association and thus an interpretation framework for terms: if you hear "lemon", for example, you think of "sour" or "yellow". Associations can be used politically. Frames often define problems - and sometimes even implicitly deliver the right solution. With a term like "refugee stream", for example, you can see large crowds rushing up in your mind's eye. A force of nature and within it a threat scenario. What the supposed solution suggests: Foreclosure.

In a loose series, the SZ analyzes the framing of politically or socially relevant terms. Today: Refugee caravan.

Who uses the term:

It started with a tweet on Easter Sunday. Donald Trump railed against a "caravan" of migrants from Central America who were on their way to the USA. Trump responded to a Fox News post. The station had a report from BuzzFeed picked up in which a refugee group was referred to as a "caravan".

For two weeks now, initiated by an activist's Facebook post, another group of asylum-seekers from Central America has been on their way north to the USA. They too have become the target of attacks by the US President and have thus come into the media focus.

First of all, the English-language reporting in the spring put the term "caravan" in quotation marks. Meanwhile, the expression migrant caravan but as an established term in the American media from Fox News to New York Times established.

And in the German-speaking discourse, too, the literal translation of "refugee caravan" has prevailed over the past two weeks. The term is used by news agencies, newspapers, and television stations. Occasionally, it already fell in 2015 in the course of reporting on the refugees arriving in Europe.

What the term suggests:

Historically, the term referred to the "caravan", which etymologically refers to the Persian kārvān (کاروان), a mounted group of merchants or pilgrims who traveled through uninhabited areas in Asia and Africa. The Silk Road was one of the most important trade routes; Caravans of pilgrims moved from Cairo to Mecca. There were rest stops along the routes - so-called caravanserais.

Nowadays the term caravan refers primarily to a romanticized image of those regions that are called "Orient" in the West. He suggests, for example, the idea of ​​camels walking through deserts. In this transfigured sense, there are tour operators who have the term "caravan" in their name. Camel tours are popular with western tourists.

All of these connotations are symptoms of the phenomenon for which the influential literary scholar Edward Said coined the term "orientalism". Orientalism describes a Eurocentric view of Asia and Africa. It delimits the "Orient" from the West as the inferior other and uses this construction to define its own group and to dominate the foreign.

How this controls perception:

There is something in common between the group of Central American refugees and the historic caravans: In both cases, people move in groups for protection. For merchants there was a risk of being attacked. And along the route taken by people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, many migrants have been kidnapped by gangs and people smugglers in the past.

But beyond the protective function of the group, the two phenomena are not comparable. The term "caravan" plays down the living conditions and motivations of the people who made their way to the north. They flee from poverty, unemployment, persecution, violence, crime and the consequences of a drought. It is an ad hoc union born out of necessity and not a professionally planned tour.

Refugees are not traveling salesmen. You are not transporting valuable goods. The most precious good they carry with them is their life and the hope of a more worthy existence. They walk, sleep on the street, are exposed to sunburn and dehydration - and are not on a long-distance journey like western tourists on a camel tour. Anyone who speaks of a "refugee caravan" denies the refugees that their motives are existential.

In addition, the word composition "refugee caravan" follows the rhetorical exclusion mechanisms of orientalism. By referring to a group of Central American migrants as a "caravan", people are marked as the other and foreign to be marginalized. In this way, they become a foil of contrast, on the basis of which Trumpism confirms and defines itself. In this orientalizing sense, Donald Trump claimed that there were unknown "Middle Easterners" in the refugee train: people from the Middle East - from the other side of the globe. He had no evidence of this. But there is no doubt about ideological intentions. Semantically, it brings asylum seekers closer to terrorists.

Which would be a less framing term:

The fact that migrants move in groups for security reasons in Central America is not a new phenomenon and dates back to the 1990s. The extent of the current case alone is unusual. In Honduras, thousands of people set out on October 12th, followed by several thousand more, some of whom have already turned back. For comparison: an average of 200 to 300 Hondurans leave their country - every day. In other words, as many people leave Honduras every four to five days as on October 12th. So one could speak neutrally of a large group of migrants and specify them with a number depending on the point in time.

Note d. Editor: Contrary to what is shown here, the term "caravan" does not go back to Donald Trump's tweet. The migrants use the term to describe themselves. We apologize for this inaccuracy.