The importance of reporting on refugee stories: Q+A with British Red Cross
Back in 2015, at the height of the European refugee crisis, One World Media launched it’s Refugee Reporting Award, in partnership with the British Red Cross. The Award was an important opportunity to highlight media that covered refugee and asylum seeker issues with empathy, understanding and accuracy. 5 years on, as refugee stories fade from the headlines, this Award, and the support of informative and accurate refugee reporting, is more crucial than ever before.
For this blog, we spoke to Zoë Abrams, Executive director of Communications and Advocacy at British Red Cross to understand more about the importance of championing journalism on these issues.
Q: Why does it continue to be so important to highlight and celebrate compelling and informative journalism that covers refugee issues?
As the world’s most powerful leaders continue to prioritise the management of their borders, and with news stories that risk fuelling public concern about the impact of immigration on their own society, it is more important than ever that there is accurate journalism that portrays the root causes of migration and which helps to put things in perspective.
We want more people to understand for example, that most of the world’s 68.5million refugees are not hosted in Western Europe but by the neighbouring countries from which they flee in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa.
By supporting informative journalism on this issue, we hope that we can help challenge misconceptions and break down stereotypes surrounding refugees and migrants.
Q: Over your 5 years championing journalism through the Refugee Reporting Award, have you seen any changes in the types of refugee stories that are reported on? If so, why do you think this is?
Since the height of the European refugee crisis in 2015, the volume of coverage on refugee issues has dramatically dropped and it’s much harder than it was to get exposure on the issues that matter.
In Venezuela today, for example, there is now mass displacement within the country and the region of South America on a scale comparable to that of Syria.
Equally there are still around 900,000 people from Myanmar living in precarious circumstances in what is now the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh, having been forced to flee their own country nearly two years ago.
However, neither of these situations have received anything like the attention in the global media that was achieved when Europe was directly impacted by the arrival of people seeking asylum.
It seems as though if it’s not directly impacting ‘us’ in the West, then it’s not as interesting for us to hear about.
Q: From your experience, what are the types of stories within this topic that need more attention from mainstream media?
On a global scale, there could be greater prominence given to the causes of migration, which would help support advocacy to tackle drivers at the root.
In particular, we are seeing the impact that climate change has on exacerbating existing drivers of migration. For example, in places like Syria, climate change may worsen the prevailing impact of conflict on migration. Meanwhile, in places like Bangladesh and the Sahel, recurrent and increasingly extreme episodes of flooding and drought are devastating people’s livelihoods and contributing to mass internal displacement.
We would also like to see more stories in the UK which investigate the real personal impact of our own immigration policies. This year’s nominee, Britain’s Refugee Children from Channel 4, is a great example of this – offering a rich and engaging insight into the refugee experience in the UK.
As it stands, newly recognised refugees in the UK have only 28 days to ‘move-on’ from asylum support and navigate the mainstream benefits system, whilst refugees have no access to legal aid to fund family reunion applications.
We believe that policies like these expose refugees to the risk of exploitation, and it’s an angle we’d like to see given more attention in the mainstream media.
Q: Many of this year’s entries are returning to stories we’ve seen in the media before – going back to see how the situation has (or hasn’t) progressed. Why do you think this is an important aspect to highlight?
Against the backdrop of coverage that we saw during the height of the European refugee crisis, the relative trickle of stories nowadays means it is easy to wrongly assume that the situation for people on the move has dramatically improved.
However, this is far from the case, as thousands of refugees are still stranded on Greek islands and they have remained in a dire state of limbo over the past few years.
Another of this year’s Refugee Reporting Award nominees that highlights this well is, Dangerous Exit: Who Controls How Syrians In Lebanon Go Home from Charlotte Alfred for Refugees Deeply. This is an informative and comprehensive report, beautifully written, which manages to return to the Syrian refugee story whilst also conveying a deep analysis of the complicated, ongoing geopolitical issue.
Fortunately, compassion has no time limit, and by re-visiting stories like these we can highlight what work is left to be done and encourage people to show their kindness by continuing to champion the rights of refugees around the world.
Q: Finally, what characterises excellence in refugee reporting?
When stories are told directly by those affected by the issues being reported on, they are most powerful and more likely to move the public to act. It’s also critical that stories cover different nationalities and backgrounds from those we are more used to hearing about.
It’s always encouraging to see journalists who are covering the less well-known causes of migration, for example, this year’s brilliant nominee, Tanzania granted the largest-ever mass citizenship to refugees. Then what? from Ryan Lenora Brown for The Christian Science Monitor which ambitiously covers the complex fallout from long-term displacement.
It is heartening to see more and more stories of resilience and integration breaking through, as people begin to rebuild their lives in new countries. This offers an important contrast to more negative stories about migration.