IATE Term of the Week: Refugee Quota

September 4, 2015 2:34 pm

According to reports published recently by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), during the first six months of 2015, more than 300,000 refugees made perilous sea journeys across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. These journeys resulted from the refugees’ need to flee from war, conflict and persecution in their home countries, principally in Syria, followed by Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and Somalia. Two thirds of them have landed on the shores of Greek islands, such as Kos and Lesbos, while the rest has reached the shores of Italy. In several incidents, an unprecedented 2,500 refugees are estimated to have drowned or gone missing in the dangerous Mediterranean waters.

This influx of refugees into Europe is growing rapidly, as every day thousands of people attempt, risking their lives, to reach Greece in the hope of a better life. The majority of them continue their journey crossing the Balkans and heading towards richer northern European countries, such as Germany, France, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Given the high numbers of asylum applications received by these countries and the high numbers of positive asylum decisions they reach (Eurostat), as well as the insufficient reception conditions for new arrivals due to limited infrastructure in Greece and the struggling economy of the country, the European Commission decided that a solution should be offered. A proposal was, thus, submitted that imposes refugee quotas on all the Member States of the European Union as a response to what has been called a “maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions“.

Because of the fact that the topic is current and crucial, TermCoord has chosen “refugee quota” as the IATE term of the week. According to the Cambridge English Dictionary, the word “quota” stands for “a fixed, limited amount or number that is officially allowed”.


Each of the EU’s Member States is supposed to admit a certain portion of refugees based on a distribution key scheme. As mentioned in the European schemes for relocation and resettlement, “the distribution key will be based on objective, quantifiable and verifiable criteria that reflect the capacity of the Member States to absorb and integrate refugees”, such as the unemployment rate, the number of refugees already accepted, the wealth levels and the population of each country. These imposed quotas aim at a fairer distribution of asylum seekers within the EU, as well as the reduction of the burden on EU countries that are the main recipients of refugees. So far, the European governments have expressed opposing opinions on the topic. Brian Hansford, a spokesperson for UNHCR, claimed that “this is a regional problem that needs a regional response and regional solidarity”, while referring to the combined efforts of all 28 EU countries in order to deal with the refugee crisis effectively.

Refugee Quota



Spiegel Online

UNHCR – The UN Refugee Agency


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Written by Evangelia Antoniou,
Communication Trainee at TermCoord
Student at the University of Luxembourg

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  • http://blog.terminologiaetc.it/ Licia

    I think it is important to bear in mind that refugee and migrant identify different concepts in EU and UNHCR terminology, but most media reporting the current humanitarian crisis do not seem to be aware of the difference, and this has led to some misunderstandings.

    EU terminology

    As defined in the European Migration Network glossary, a migrant is “a person who is outside the territory of the State of which they are nationals or citizens […] irrespective of the causes, voluntary or involuntary, and the means, regular or irregular, used to migrate”.

    The migrant concept includes as hyponyms
    economic migrant (seeking material improvements in their livelihood) and
    forced migrant (an elementof coercion exists, including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes).

    The forced migrant concept has further hyponyms:
    displaced person (who has had to leave their country or has been evacuated, “particularly in response to an appeal by international organisations, and is unable to return in safe and durable conditions because of the situation prevailing in that country”)
    refugee (a person who “owing to a wellfounded fear of persecution” […]is outside the country of nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country”). In EU terminology, a refugee is a migrant.


    UNHCR terminology is less granular (cf glossary):
    – migrant is a person whose decision to migrate is “taken freely by the individual concerned for reasons of ‘personal convenience’ and without intervention of any coercive external factors”. In its current usage, UNHCR migrant is roughy equivalent to EU economic migrant and as such it does not include refugee as an hyponym
    – refugee has a similar definition as the one used by the UE, however, in its current usage it is more similar to EU forced migrant. In UNHCR terminology, a refugee is not a migrant.