‘Do not oppress a foreigner; you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt.’ (Exodus 23:9)
Earlier this month on June 20 we celebrated World Refugee Day. A day to reflect and respond to the forcible displacement of millions across the globe – 65.3 million to be precise. 21 million of whom are classed as refugees, while another 10 million are stateless. Although migration has been around since the dawn of mankind, this humanitarian crisis has been cited as the worst in history. And politics and people are getting increasingly interlinked.
Breaking the news
I want to explore the relationship between refugees and the media. For better or for worse, the media is one of the most powerful weapons at our disposal. At its best, it changes public opinion, reports on situations occurring in the world we would never otherwise hear about and increases understanding. At its worst, it is full to the brim with fake news, biased opinions and used as a political tool to bolster people and parties.
I took a browse through recent UK media snippets from the European Migrant Crisis of 2015. What I found was disturbing. The extreme views of certain newspapers label migrants in a derogatory and dehumanising way. It’s fascinating how much power words hold. Phrases like ‘swarming our streets’, ‘grabbing our jobs’ and ‘out of control’ is more than a headline grab, it creates a full-circle of public opinion. Contrary to common belief, actually 86% of refugees currently live in developing countries.
A picture is worth a thousand words
On the other hand, there’s also the presentation of migration as an issue to be purely pitied. This too, is an overcomplication of a highly complex situation. Reports start with pictures of oversized boats, precariously balanced atop dangerous waters. We hear of the deaths, the notorious abuse of human rights, the war and atrocities occurring in lands far away. This is important, and journalism must never shy away from reality. But reality must be tempered with sustainable change.
The tragic drowning of three-year old Aylan Kurdi in September 2015 was the turning-point that provoked an international response. Donations surged, and politicians were scrutinised over their actions. The image of Aylan’s tiny, lifeless body has since become one of the most influential images of all time. It’s gutting that it took such an image to change popular opinion and incite change. But it also shows how much potential the media has in this regard. Far from the ‘good cop, bad cop’ scenario, instead raising awareness away from newsworthiness and profit is far more positive.
All too often, we fail to see the autonomy or agency of migrants. It seems to be only a recent development that shows any success stories. Rarely are words like ‘brave’, ‘resourceful’ and ‘sacrificial’ deployed. Instead when words are chosen that reduce to an object-like status, we struggle to envision the human aspect. People are viewed in terms of their worth – whether they attract or repel others in their country of destination. What deems a person worthy from another country?
We’re so lost in the vast figures; we forget the person behind the number. It’s just another statistic. It’s rare that we are presented with a story that celebrates achievement. An assimilation into culture and a new way of life. A job created, a business booming, a family forged. You can check out some incredible stories from refugees and get sharing!
As the saying goes, ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.’ How we choose to represent the refugee crisis lies with us. The words crafted, the images selected, the platforms shared have consequences. If we were to use the media in a radically different way, I wonder what the change could be. Let’s recognise this global injustice, then consider how we best share both the devastation and resilience the stories of humans across the globe.
To learn more about how issues like the refugee crisis emerge, check out our Peace Together Group.