International Migrants Day: Narratives On Migration

18 December 2018

Countries: Worldwide

InternationalMigrantsDayToday, there are more than 258 people on the move around the world. While many move freely, taking jobs or pursuing other opportunities in foreign countries, others take dangerous journeys across seas or deserts, in search of a better life for themselves and their families.

Many are quick to point out the legal differences between a migrant and a refugee—the latter is fleeing persecution, and typically eligible for protection, while the former is moving for a better life or economic circumstances—the reality is far more complicated. In Honduras, many flee after they are displaced by multinational corporations, which use their land and exploit their labor. Legally they are migrants, but are they actually refugees? In the South Pacific, inhabitants of island nations like Fiji and Palau are already preparing to have to migrate due to climate change. However, according to current international legislation, they would be processed as migrants—not refugees.Journalists play a critical role in communicating both these nuances and the human stories behind migration. In some cases, their work has sparked outraged and inspired action. Turkish photographer Nilüfer Demir’s photograph of three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed up on the beach shone a spotlight on the enormous human suffering in Syria and magnitude of the refugee crisis, pushing some nations, like Germany, to open their borders and a route to asylum.

Just recently, investigative reporter Ginger Thompson published a recording from inside a US Customs and Border Protection facility where children separated from their parents were being held. The recording was played on the floor of the US Senate, and the next day Trump reversed the policy.


However, the media has also pushed dangerous narratives about migrants. Part of why Trump gets away with separating migrant children from their parents, and teargassing asylum seekers at the border is because of decades of US media coverage that has depicted the US/Mexico border as a war zone, and migrants as threats to US citizens. In Europe, the rise of the rightwing has had a disastrous impact on the media narrative surrounding migrants and refugees, closing some of the very borders that sympathetic coverage opened just a few years ago. Around the world, journalists have fallen into the trap of referring to the refugee or migration “crisis”

In honor of International Migrant Day, Media Diversity Institute has created a video of myths and facts about migration and curated a list of both resources for investigative journalists covering the migration beat, and ethically cover migration. If you have any additional resources, please share them with us!

United States:

Migratory Notes (a newsletter run by Elizabeth Aguilera and Daniele Gerson two immigration reporters living in the United States) recently published a list of resources for investigating the US immigration system. It includes a database of immigration data sources, resources for investigating visa issues, and practical advice for journalists covering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) activities in the United States.


For journalists covering migration across the Mediterranean Sea, Open Migration has several useful infographics made from UNHCR data. The International Organization for Migration has an open data project tracking migrant deaths. The Ethical Journalism Network has tips on how to combat compassion fatigue, and discuss migration on social media—a haven for right wing, anti-immigrant trolls. In the UK, immigration advocates started the Free Movement website as a means to spread accurate, legally-based information about changes to immigration law.