PICUM: Why words matter

Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants: Calling a certain group of people ‘illegal’ denies them their humanity. There is no such thing as an ‘illegal’ person.

‘Illegality’ as a form of status has been deliberately assigned to undocumented migrants to justify a category of people who are undeserving of rights.

Language shapes people’s perceptions. Discriminatory language in reference to undocumented migrants leads to perceptions and actions which negatively impact the daily realities of undocumented migrants.

PICUM therefore uses the terms ‘undocumented’ or ‘irregular’ migrant. The term ‘illegal migrant’ should never be used because:

  • it implies criminality. A person can never be illegal. Migration is not a crime.
  • it is discriminatory. Illegality as a status is only applied to migrants and used to deny them their rights.
  • it has real impacts on policy and public perception. Inaccurate language leads society to accept that people should be prosecuted and punished

Similarly, PICUM uses the term ‘irregular entry’ and never ‘illegal entry’ to describe people who cross the borders without required documentation.

Everyone has a right to seek protection but the term ‘illegal entry’ automatically implies that certain people have no right to seek protection.


This is the leaflet produced by PICUM and you will find a link to this online, here