The Role of the Media in Europe’s Refugee Crisis

The media serves an important role in society insofar as it helps bring important issues to the attention of the community (Fourie, 2007: 202).  In the case of the ongoing European refugee crisis, the media reporting has given the public insight into the refugees fleeing the Assad regime in Syria.  Media coverage of the issue has, however, been mixed.

There has been some excellent coverage focussing on the harsh reality of the struggles faced by men and women, traversing Syria then Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and beyond, in search of safety in Western Europe, often with young children in tow.  While publications such as The Guardian and The Independent have, predictably, focussed on the human element of the crisis, the right-wing media have in general responded rather differently, focussing on national security.  Publications such as The Daily Mail, The Sun, and The Daily Mirror received widespread criticism on social media for their use of dehumanising language when reporting on the refugee crisis. Instead of referring to the Syrians fleeing Assad as ‘refugees’ the right-wing media invariably referred to them as ‘migrants’. Al Jazeera even went as far as to make the editorial decision to not refer to those fleeing Syria as ‘migrants’.  The difference in these two terms is crucial and the editorial decision to use one term over the other necessarily impacts on the tone of the article or feature that it relates to and therefore on how the public may respond to the report. The United Nations defines refugees as ‘persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution’. In contrast, migrants are defined as people;

who choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons.

The distinction is critical. If the media frame those fleeing Syria as migrants then it follows that the public and politicians is likely to be less inclined to offer their support, financial or otherwise, as they believe that people are moving not out of fear for their lives but rather for better paid work or an easier life.

The Syria crisis is not the only circumstance where the UK’s media has portrayed migrants and refugees in a negative light, so much so that earlier in 2015 the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a statement calling on British authorities, media and regulatory bodies to take steps to curb hate speech against these groups in British tabloids. In contrast, the media in France and Germany have been leading the calls for their countries to do more and criticising the British government for doing so little to help those in dire need.


An example of the contrast in language used in newspaper coverage of the refugee crisis

 Nevertheless, a turning point in the UK tabloid media’s reporting of the refugee crisis followed the death of Aylan Kurdi. The image of the three-year-old Syrian boy pictured lifeless and face-down in the sand in Turkey while fleeing Syria with his family was seen as a turning point in the response to the crisis. Tabloids stopped referring to refugees as ‘cockroaches’ and a ‘swarm’ and began to focus on the human cost of the crisis. Their dramatic u-turn did not go unnoticed with many comparing the coverage conducted only weeks apart.  However, this change of heart has not lasted long and, following the terrorist attacks in Paris in recent days and reports that one of the attackers passed through Greece after disguising themselves as a Syrian refugee. While this naturally raises genuine questions surrounding the refugee policy that ought to be debated openly, the tabloid newspapers reverting to what they know best – fear-mongering – is unhelpful.

The media have provided a wide variety of coverage on the ongoing refugee crisis. Some has been balanced, others not so much. However, what is clear is the privileged position that the media inhabit and that they have a responsibility to provide, clear and unbiased information to the public. A failure to do this is very serious indeed and can have wide-ranging consequences, impacting on public opinion and therefore on our willingness to support those fleeing for their lives.

What is the future of Media and how can they help to deliver solution for the refugee crisis?
Join the conversation at #refugeefdw on Twitter and join us at Refugee Forward event in London on the 26th of November at 7.30 pm


Refugee Forward - Visuals (5)

Picture source : European Movement Ireland

MKS Room – Refugee Forward

Hello – we are very happy to announce the new MKS Room on the 26th of November. Make Sense Uk , Sounds Advice , Chayn and Empower Hack are all very excited to host you at the Newspeak House.

The migration of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria and surrounding countries has been one of this year’s defining, and most complicated stories. With an estimated 9 million Syrians being forced to flee their homes since the outbreak of civil war we are potentially confronting the largest exodus in human history since World War II. Responding humanely and effectively to this  current refugee crisis is arguably one of the most significant problems that our generation is facing.

While the majority of refugees remain displaced in nearby countries such as Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, migration within Europe is being affected by this conflict and conflicts in surrounding areas. The United Nations reports that over than 700,000 migrants, from the Middle East and North Africa, are estimated to have arrived in Europe by sea so far this year.

In response to this reality, the MKS Room aims to gather people and create a meaningful debate around the Refugee Crisis. In conversation with entrepreneurs, artists, musicians and representatives of the NGO sector we will try to analyse to what extent Media today are framing the situation correctly and how citizens can effectively take actions to help the current scenario improve in the short and long term.

At MakeSense, our mission is to mobilise citizens around the social issues that they care about, to enable them to find concrete solutions to solve them. MKS Room Refugee Forward London it is a step into a new journey for our community and everyone that wish to get involved.


Who is joining MKS Room this month?

Paula Schwarz

Paula is a mentor, entrepreneur and social innovator from Germany. She is the co-founder of The Migration Hub Berlin is a coworking space in Berlin-Schöneberg which is open to startups, initiatives and individuals who are committed to social innovation, integration, entrepreneurship and solutions to the refugee crisis. The Migration Hub is working to open a new space in London by Spring 2016.

Antonio Olmos

Antonio Zazueta Olmos is a Photojournalist who has worked covering issues concerning Human Rights, The Environment and Conflict. Antonio is also a dedicated Editorial & Portrait Photographer whose images have appeared in all the UK Broadsheet Weekend Magazines including the Observer Magazine. Antonio has spent weeks documenting the refugee crisis for the Guardian and Observer. He has been in Hungary, Austria, Serbia, Macedonia and Greece recording the effect that the flight from persecution and conflict has had on the mostly Syrian people and the obstacles they have to overcome to reach a better life.

Zarlasht Halaimzai

Zarlasht a former refugee herself has recently come back from Turkey – where she worked on the Syrian border as part of crisis response team for Save the Children.  In the last 2 months she has been organising a grassroots group to collect and distribute essential supplies for refugees in Europe. She has first hand experience of migration and refugee experience – having lived, worked and migrated to and from Afghanistan, Jordan, Ukraine, Turkey and Pakistan, Uzbekistan and the UK among others

Storm the Palace 

Storm the Palace are a London and Edinburgh based outfit performing cinematic, baroque and folk- inflected pop. Their debut EP In Ruins came out in May, receiving a flurry of blog coverage and radio play from the UK to New Zealand. They were featured on Tom Robinson’s BBC 6Music Introducing Playlist and Radio Scotland’s Vic Galloway described their sound as “magnificent” and their song writing as “epic”.


Eastern Barbers

EASTERN BARBERS a 4-piece band recently discovered by BBC Introducing & NME Radar and drawing comparisons with Jamie xx, King Krule and Bombay Bicycle Club. Merging rose-tinted indie vibes with a budget electronic undertone, EB attempt at supplementing a raw SE London sound with ideas and influences picked up from their travels through Latin America, the Middle East, India and East Asia.

Andrea Spisto

Andrea is a London based theatre maker, poet, performer and producer.

A graduate of History of Art and Archeology BA at SOAS (2012) and  a postgraduate degree in Devising Theatre and Performance at LISPA, Andrea is inspired by bridging the arts with social awareness. She uses movement and pens words to open discussion about some of the issues faced by our planet and people, hoping to incite progressive dialogue through the means of performance art. She is currently part of the arts company Infinite Experience, Roundhouse Poetry Collective Spare The Poets and theatre duo Wild Dandelions

Book your ticket here to secure your seat below : 

Eventbrite - MKS Room - Refugee Forward