Crucial questions for journalists during the refugee crisis

Credit: Nando Sigona

Credit: Nando Sigona

This article first appeared on the 19 Million Project website

“We need to humanize the refugee crisis,” UK-based migration specialist Nando Sigona told the 19 Million Project audience in Rome during a Skype interview on Wednesday.

Sigona, senior lecturer in migration and citizenship at the University of Birmingham in England, challenged journalists to look at the stories behind the stats, rather than treating people as “generic refugees”.

What is it like to spend four years in a refugee camp? What are the issues facing the generation of children born in camps? These are some of the questions that journalists should be asking, said Sigona. “Attempts to humanize are very important.”

Sigona urged journalists to remain inclusive about their coverage of migration stories, given the inter-sectionality of refugees: “There is a risk in the representation of ‘good’ refugees versus ‘bad’ ones,” he said. “Who does deserve our protection? Syrians are not the only ones who do.”

And while data can be a powerful tool, Sigona cautioned users to keep an eye on the bigger picture. “Numbers have power but we need to pay much more attention to how numbers are used,” he said, citing the “complete conflation” of immigration with figures on arrivals by the sea.

Measures to promote integration of refugees in their host countries vary wildly. But Sigona says he is encouraged by positive actions emerging from the Mediterranean crisis, such as Germany translating its constitution into Arabic and offering English as well as German language courses, to assist incoming refugees.

A key issue for journalists to consider over the coming months, says Sigona, is the “economy of the crisis” and its beneficiaries – such as security contractors employed by EU border management agency, Frontex. “Who is making money out of it?”

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