Providing migrants and refugees a platform to share their concerns, challenges, and aspirations not only helps them, but also addresses xenophobia and helps build bridges with host communities, participants at a recent conference found.
The presentation, held 16 October, was made by the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) as part of a virtual DW Akademie Conference on “Displacement and Dialogue”.
Daoud Kuttab, director general of the Community Media Network in Jordan, said his organization decided to focus on Syrian refugees because “we wanted to counter hate speech and we thought the best way to do that was to have Syrian people themselves talk about their issues.”
There are about 1.3 million Syrian refugees who reside in Jordan, many of whom arrived during Syria’s civil war in 2011.
“Syrian refugees have no voice. They have no elected representatives; nobody asks for their opinion,” said Kuttab. “Lots of international organizations think they know what they want; nobody asks the refugees what they want.”
The Community Media Network began by issuing an invitation for college-age Syrian refugees to learn journalistic skills, specifically on how to produce a radio show, he said. It later evolved into a radio show, Syrians Among Us, which is supported by international non-governmental organizations, including WACC Global.
“The reason why we did this was we discovered some of the radio stations were using the Syrian refugees as a whipping horse, to attack Syrians, for hate speech,” said Kuttab.
Syrians were being accused of bringing the rents up, even for causing traffic jams, he said. “[These were] things that didn't make sense because they [Syrian refugees] actually helped improve the economy. Many people were working [as a result of] financial aid from international agencies.”
Maria Teresa Cutimbo, project coordinator of the Coordinadora de Medios Comunitarios Populares y Educativos del Ecuador (Ecuadorian Network of Community, Popular and Education Media), also underscored the importance of addressing negative perceptions against migrants and refugees.
Cutimbo shared how negative perceptions of Venezuelan migrants in Ecuador and Colombia exist among citizens, including those in the news media. “There’s a rejection of the migrant population,” she said, adding that they are perceived as people who don’t contribute to the economy, who beg, and who engage in criminal activities.
In an effort to counter these negative stereotypes and address discrimination and xenophobia, the Ecuadorian network launched in July 2020 a WACC-supported project that trained Ecuadorian and Colombian citizen journalists on investigative journalism, media production, migrants’ rights, and human rights, to equip them not just with new skills but a new understanding. It was also aimed at meeting the communication and information needs of migrants and host communities in their midst.
Cutimbo said the COVID-19 pandemic has made things more difficult for refugees, who do not have access to healthcare and were already working in precarious jobs even before governments imposed lockdowns to deal with the coronavirus.
Kuttab said the Community Media Network project provided training for Syrian refugees, many of whom are now working in other media outlets; it also gave refugees a platform to talk about their problems, and it produced “good results.” He cited how an investigative story about undocumented marriages that exploited Syrian refugee women in Zaatari camp prompted the Jordanian government to bring in a religious leader and open an office to register weddings.
The radio program also discovered the existence of an unknown refugee camp, which prompted the UNHCR to come in and provide support.
The radio program gave Syrian refugees the microphone to “speak about their problems, tell themselves what issues and priorities they’re interested in, not what the donor agencies were interested in, I think gave [them] a genuine, authentic voice,” he said.