Theresa May didn’t say ‘send Med migrants back to Africa’ – the Daily Mail did

The Mail knows perfectly well it's evoking racist sentiment

Syrian refugees in Lebanon


The act of summarising what a person has said in a headline or a story is standard journalistic practice. How this is done depends on the writer and the publication.

When the Daily Mail decides to run the headline, ‘Send Med migrants back to Africa – May’, it knows perfectly well what it’s doing.

Send Med migrants back to Africa, May, Daily Mail 17 6 15

For one thing, home secretary Theresa May did not say this. Here’s the quote:

“We need to go after the criminal gangs plying a terrible, callous trade in human lives. We also need to break the link between people getting into the boats and reaching Europe.

That means returning people to north Africa or elsewhere, or their home countries, so they see there is no merit in this journey.”

This is bad enough. She might as well have said ‘send them anywhere but Blighty’.

But she did not say ‘send Med migrants back to Africa’.

Again, the paper chose to run this headline. They could have written ‘north Africa’, which would have been more accurate, if incomplete.

But the racist history of the term ‘send them back to Africa’ would have been lost.

Not only is this an appalling choice morally, (why would the paper want to evoke racist sentiment?), it’s very poor reporting.

Quite a lot of the people on these boats are from Syria, which, as you will have noticed, is in the Middle East. Should we ‘send them back to Africa’ too?

If they’ve travelled via northern Africa, where should they be ‘sent back’ to? The civil war in Libya, the dictatorship in Egypt, or the civil war and dictatorship double whammy in Syria itself?

But ‘send them back to the Middle East’ doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

Neither does ‘send them back to Syria’, which also could potentially raise the thorny issue of how moral it is to ‘send them back’, why they’ve left, and other subjects that make it harder to dismiss them out of hand.

This sort of thing needs to stop. But it won’t until the public demands it.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer at Left Foot Forward. Follow MediaWatch on Twitter

Read more: 

Memo to the press on Med crisis: UK rejected 72 per cent of asylum claims this year

Daily Mail says Syrian refugees turn Greek holiday town into ‘disgusting hellhole’

Sign up for our weekly email by clicking here.

3 Responses to “Theresa May didn’t say ‘send Med migrants back to Africa’ – the Daily Mail did”

  1. Keith Parkins

    This is shoddy journalism.

    Theresa May said send them back, she was reported on the BBC verbatim, send them back.

    Fish them out and send them back, or at least establish an enclave in north Africa in a demilitarised zone.

    Otherwise we encourage more to make the journey, line the pockets of the traffickers.

    If you know you risk your life, to no avail if sent back, there is no point in risking the journey.

    We also need to address our actions in Africa.

    It is not acceptable, British Aid going to multinational companies to rape and pillage Africa.

    Solutions are needed both ends.

    We also need to target the traffickers.

    At least $1000 a head hundreds on a bota. That is a cool quarter of a million each boat trip.

  2. damon

    More nit picking by Adam Barnett. It’s the first I’ve heard of this but sending most of the migrants back will have to be done or it will become a flood. The economic migrants are mixed up with people genuinely seeking asylum, but even Syrians should not be making journeys out into the sea on unseaworthy boats. They have come right through Jordan and Egypt to get to Libya, so were safe from the war, even if life was really difficult.
    I heard Lord West last night saying we need to build refugee camps in north Africa and the would-be migrants need to be assessed there. Who has a problem with that?
    Also, are all Eritrean young men eligible for asylum? Why? They are not facing war and death, they are just facing conscription. As unpleasant as that might be. Maybe they should be encouraged to go elsewhere if they want out of their country so badly. I heard one on the radio this morning say he wanted to go to England and study. Are we obliged to take him? Who will pay for his studies?

    I understand why people don’t like Daily Mail headlines though.

  3. Jon Jones.

    Well as one of the most popular readers comments, just today (about a story about a “Great White – probably just a regular shark- spotted in the Med) was a sick joke about about sharks having “a new, plentiful source food” in the Med area, I can’t see anything changing.

Leave a Reply