Invasion, swarm, influx, threat…

Why words like ‘invasion’, ‘swarm’ or ‘influx’ are often used in conjunction with the movement of people.

From Katie Hopkins’ cockroaches analogy and former PM David Cameron’s ‘swarm’ comments, to the already infamous ‘invasion’ comments by Home Secretary Suella Braverman, this idea is arguably embedded in how we talk about people moving across borders. 

We cannot underestimate just how damaging this narrative is. It detracts from the humanity of the people seeking safety or a new life. 

The language of invasion, swarm and influx is strongly linked to the dangerous construction of migrants as a “threat”. It evokes ideas of a battle or war, insidiously creating the idea of a common enemy, and conjures imagery of insects, animals and sometimes monsters. 

By placing the blame on people seeking safety and minimising their trauma or suffering, it also gives the false impression that the host country would be “overwhelmed” by the presence of migrant communities.  This narrative falls into old, established forms of scapegoating which aims to detract from the real problems affecting the State,  including economic turmoil, poor state infrastructure or even corruption. 

Dehumanising migrants, by referring to them as a ‘swarm’ or ‘invasion’, is a tactic to forget a person’s humanity and a means to seek support for harmful policies or measures, such as deportation, detention or offshoring plans like Rwanda.

We cannot ignore the fact that the idea of a ‘swarm’ or ‘invasion’ is often used in conjunction with images of People of Colour or Muslims. It conjures the ‘clash of civilisations’ arguments and draws on the mythology of what or who can be British, in order to justify the exclusion of those characterised as “Other”. This idea of the West or Europe as something to protected from negative external forces is evident in language used by the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borell. He used language to draw a distinction and reinforce division by referring to Europe as a “garden” while the rest of the world is a “jungle”. 

History shows us the incredibly dangerous consequences that this kind of language can have, and we can see the same patterns appearing now. 

The blame should not be on migrant communities. The blame should be shifted onto the factors that cause people to flee, and onto the inherently flawed asylum and immigration systems across Fortress Europe. 

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