Narrative Publications


Understanding public attitudes towards refugees and migrants

  • Engaging effectively with public attitudes towards refugees and migrants requires understanding the real world concerns, emotions and values around which attitudes are formed.
  • These efforts work best when clearly rooted in national and local contexts, and the nuances of public attitudes within them.
  • Traditional approaches to public engagement, such as ‘myth-busting’, may have exacerbated negativity and are unlikely to resonate beyond those who are already supportive. While evidence remains important in influencing policy debates, strategies must acknowledge its limitations as a persuasive tool.
  • Emotive and value-driven arguments may have more traction than facts and evidence. Successful strategies might highlight the manageability of the situation, while emphasising shared values.

Understanding public attitudes towards refugees and migrants, Helen Dempster and Karen Hargrave, 2017.pdf

Media Coverage of the Migration Crisis in Europe: a Confused and Polarized Narrative

There is no doubt that what has been termed the migration or refugee crisis in Europe has been framed in the public and media discourse as the defining phenomenon of the second decade of the 21st century. And there is no doubt that the media coverage of the mass movement of people escaping continuing violence and wars in the Middle East and persecution elsewhere into Europe has deflected attention from the continuing phenomenon of mass displacement – internal displacement and population movements within nation states due to persecution and natural disasters – and the flight of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey or Lebanon since the Syrian uprising began in March 2011...

Media Coverage of the Migration Crisis in Europe - a Confused and Polarized Narrative, Dina Matar, 2017.pdf


In the current global context of polarized perceptions related to immigration, there is a pressing need to counter harmful and inaccurate narratives about migration and migrants. Yet, evidence-based arguments have often failed to resonate with audiences, while misinformation and myths have spread rapidly with negative implications.

Shaping the public narrative on migration and migrants - A Guide to Promoting a Balanced Dialogue, GFMD, 2020.pdf

Communicating effectively on migration: recommendations and policy options

The debate on migration in Europe continues to polarise attitudes and impact mainstream political discourses. Amidst a changing communication landscape characterised by widespread disinformation, limited space for nuanced and balanced reporting and an increasingly important role for social media, it has become critical for EU policymakers, the media and civil society to understand how to effectively communicate on migration.

Progressive communicators have traditionally countered anti-migrant rhetoric with ad hoc communication activities that tend to focus on myth-busting approaches and the dissemination of facts. However, relevant actors in the communication field urge to shift the way communications is typically handled. In emotionally charged discussions – such as the one on migration – practitioners and researchers argue that there is a need for strategic framing and narrative change to ‘win’ the debate.

The policy recommendations gathered in this ReSOMA Policy Option Brief represent proposals with the highest consensus among a variety of stakeholders – from non-governmental actors, communications consultants, to public opinion scholars, think-tanks and communication researchers. Since literature about how to communicate effectively on migration are recent and limited, the desk research encompassed broader proposals on communicating human rights effectively. To review the effectiveness and feasibility of the proposed recommendations, a ReSOMA Transnational Feedback Meeting was conducted with relevant communications experts, academics and practicitoners.

As such, the brief presents the following recommendations with the highest agreement be-tween stakeholders:

  • Develop a communications strategy and leadership (Section 2.1);
  • Choose credible messengers and embrace partnerships (Section 2.2);
  • Apply value-based and emotive approaches (Section 2.3);
  • Lead with hope-based solutions (Section 2.4);
  • Be visual (Section 2.5);
  • Target a movable audience (Section 2.6);
  • Support fair reporting (Section 2.7).

Communicating effectively on migration - recommendations and policy options, Hind Sharif, ReSOMA, 2019.pdf
Impact des attitudes de l’opinion publique en matière de migration sur l’environnement politique dans la région euro-méditerranéenne

Impact des attitudes de l’opinion publique en matière de migration sur l’environnement politique dans la région euro-méditerranéenne

Ce document constitue le premier des trois chapitres du rapport intitulé « Impact des attitudes de l’opinion publique en matière de migration sur l’environnement politique dans la région euro-méditerranéenne ». Ce rapport fait partie intégrante de l’Étude de phase III d’Euromed Migration en matière de communications.
Ce rapport fait à la suite de l’Étude de phase II d’Euromed Migration en matière de communications, intitulée « Public attitudes on migration : rethinking how people perceive migration » (Attitudes de l’opinion publique en matière de migration : repenser les perceptions de la migration), qui a montré que les attitudes
à l’égard de la migration dans la région euro-méditerranéenne semblent être restées relativement stables au fil des ans, même si l’importance que chacun attribue au phénomène a évolué. Ce chapitre cherche à savoir comment, et pourquoi, l’importance ou la prépondérance de la question migratoire ont radicalement évolué dans les politiques européennes. La prépondérance est ici définie comme l’importance relative et la dimension que les électeurs attribuent à une problématique, dans le cas présent au phénomène migratoire et, plus particulièrement aux fins de ce chapitre, à la question de l’immigration. Ce chapitre s’appuie sur les conclusions de différentes sources scientifiques afin d’élaborer un cadre théorique qui explique comment la prépondérance d’un sujet influe sur l’issue d’une élection, à la fois en termes de résultats et de participation puis, à terme, sur les politiques publiques, par le biais de l’activation émotionnelle, l’exposition aux informations et les jugements portés sur les hommes politiques. De plus, il retrace l’évolution de la prépondérance de la question de l’immigration en Europe entre 2005 et 2018, qui fait ressortir des tendances claires d’un point de vue géographique, politique et économique. Nous présenterons également un second cadre explicatif afin de mieux comprendre l’évolution de la prépondérance de cette problématique. Il s’appuie sur la littérature scientifique existante, et précise les rôles respectifs des politiques publiques, des tendances et des événements migratoires « réels », ainsi que des médias et des hommes politiques.

Impact des attitudes de l’opinion publique en matière de migration sur l’environnement politique dans la région euro-méditerrané

Reversing the Perspective: How European Stakeholders React to Migration Policy Frames of Southern Mediterranean Counterparts

This paper investigates how European institutional and civil society actors frame and assess
EU migration policies in the Mediterranean area. Based on extensive in-depth interviews, the
report analyses how European actors describe the overall EU approach to cooperation with
Mediterranean third countries in the field of migration; how they evaluate the most recent and
relevant EU policies in this field; and which are the actors that they identify as key players in this
policy area. European civil society actors proved to share the critical views expressed by their
civil society counterparts in Lebanon, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. They described the EU’s
discourse as securitizing and Eurocentric, highlighting that it also translates into securitizing,
Eurocentric and conditionality-based policies and practices. They lamented the lack of legal
migration opportunities, but at the same time they praised the European Commission for its
efforts in this field. They also claimed the lack of gender-sensitive or gender-specific policies
in the area of migration and the limited involvement of SEM CSOs in migration policymaking.
The paper also explores possible alternative policy instruments, looking into the pros and cons
of a more participatory governance of migration from the perspective of EU officials and civil
society actors.

Reversing the perspective - How European Stakeholders React to Migration Policy Frames of Southern Mediterranean Counterparts, Emanuela Roman, 2018.pdf

Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: A Content Analysis of Five European Countries

In 2014, more than 200,000 refugees and migrants fled for safety across the Mediterranean Sea. Crammed into overcrowded, unsafe boats, thousands drowned, prompting the Pope to warn that the sea was becoming a mass graveyard. The early months of 2015 saw no respite. In April alone more than 1,300 people drowned. This led to a large public outcry to increase rescue operations.

Throughout this period, UNHCR and other humanitarian organisations, engaged in a series of largescale media advocacy exercises, aiming at convincing European countries to do more to help. It was crucial work, setting the tone for the dramatic rise in attention to the refugee crisis that followed in the second half of 2015.

But the media was far from united in its response. While some outlets joined the call for more assistance, others were unsympathetic, arguing against increasing rescue operations. To learn why, UNHCR commissioned a report by the Cardiff School of Journalism to explore what was driving media coverage in five different European countries: Spain, Italy, Germany, the UK and Sweden.

Researchers combed through thousands of articles written in 2014 and early 2015, revealing a number of important findings for future media advocacy campaigns.

Most importantly, they found major differences between countries, in terms of the sources journalists used (domestic politicians, foreign politicians, citizens, or NGOs), the language they employed, the reasons they gave for the rise in refugee flows, and the solutions they suggested. Germany and Sweden, for example, overwhelmingly used the terms ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum seeker’, while Italy and the UK press preferred the word ‘migrant’. In Spain, the dominant term was ‘immigrant’. These terms had an important impact on the tenor of each country’s debate.

Media also differed widely in terms of the predominant themes to their coverage. For instance, humanitarian themes were more common in Italian coverage than in British, German or Spanish press. Threat themes (such as to the welfare system, or cultural threats) were the most prevalent in Italy, Spain and Britain.

Overall, the Swedish press was the most positive towards refugees and migrants, while coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised. Amongst those countries surveyed, Britain’s right-wing media was uniquely aggressively in its campaigns against refugees and migrants.

This report provides important insights into each country’s press culture during a crucial period of agenda-setting for today’s refugee and migrant crisis. It also offers invaluable insights into historical trends. What emerges is a clear message that for media work on refugees, one size does not fit all. Effective media advocacy in different European nations requires targeted, tailored campaigns, which takes into account their unique cultures and political context.

Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU - A Content Analysis of Five European Countries, Mike Berry, Inaki Garcia-Blanco, Kerry Moore, December 2015.pdf

Moving beyond the ‘crisis’: Recommendations for the European Commission’s communication on migration

The year 2015 marked the arrival of an unprecedented number of migrants and refugees in the EU. Soon politicians, policymakers and the press dubbed these events a ‘migration crisis’. With the steep increase in public attention putting migration at the very top of the political agenda, right-wing populist parties saw their chance to capitalise on voters’ concerns in a vast majority of EU member states.

It also led to migration becoming an even more ‘emotional’ topic that is not easily communicated yet strongly resonates with audiences across the continent. The European Commission, as the institution responsible for proposing policies to tackle the ‘crisis’ and for communicating them to the public, is of special significance in this context. Its role in contributing to and reinforcing the ‘migration crisis’ narrative through its communications should therefore be subject to scrutiny. It is clear that the Commission has strategically applied the crisis narrative over the course of the past five years, as it developed from a rather unstructured use of several words and phrases, to a coherent story about the ‘crisis’ as a stand-alone and historically unprecedented phenomenon. In response to the ‘crisis’, the Commission’s approach gradually morphed from a humanitarian framing (2015-16) into one focused on border management (circa 2017) and cooperation with third countries to manage migration (2018 onwards). In 2019 the Commission declared the ‘crisis’ to be over.

The Commission communicated about the so-called crisis, including its supposed end, on the basis of two factors: (i) numbers and (ii) the uncontrolled nature of arrivals. However, this Discussion Paper argues that, overall, the Commission’s use of the crisis narrative has not been accurate, neither as a description of past phenomena nor as way to address citizens’ concerns. Rather, it served the purpose of framing migration as a security issue and legitimised restrictive policy measures meant to ‘tackle the crisis’. These included, for instance, ramped up border controls or increased cooperation with third countries to curb migration.
More specifically, the Commission’s continued reliance on and application of this narrative is flawed for three reasons:

  • first, it does not take into account the far larger numbers of refugees hosted in third countries and other ongoing humanitarian crises, which in comparison, did not receive the same amount of attention;
  • second, conceptualising the ‘crisis’ in terms of numbers misses the mark in addressing citizens’ main concerns about migration;
  • third, this narrative ignores the fact that a significant part of the ‘crisis’ is related to the mismanaged policy responses, rather than the number or nature of arrivals.

More problematic, however, is that this narrative has contributed to an environment wherein right-wing populists are given ample room to spread their message. They have been able to legitimise control-oriented measures as a way to tackle the ‘crisis’. Mainstream politicians have also increasingly adopted a security-oriented discourse on migration, in the hope of appealing to voters in favour of more restrictive measures.

This Paper puts forward a number of recommendations to counter these dynamics and create a more forward-looking narrative on migration. It argues that the Commission should abandon the crisis narrative and develop a more proactive and diversified communication strategy instead, which would include the following elements:

  • Issue salience: The Commission should be aware of the impact of frequently communicating about migration on public opinion, political decision-making and the rising influence of anti-immigration forces. This awareness, however, should not stop the Commission from communicating all together. Clearly, not communicating about migration is not a viable option and could actually play into the hands of right-wing populist forces that have no qualms about using the subject as a tool to stir fear and distrust. Rather than the frequency, it is the tone and content of communication on migration that should be adjusted.
  • More diverse frames: It is important to abandon narratives that present refugees and migrants, and in particular their numbers, as an issue that needs to be addressed in the framework of crisis management. This discourse can easily be co-opted by right-wing populist actors and used to blame the EU for not doing enough. To adequately pre-empt these dynamics, the Commission should diversify the frames it uses when communicating about migration. Instead of employing a security frame by default, a greater range of frames that draw on economic or humanitarian aspects and are adaptable to different contexts and situations would lead to a more balanced discussion on migration.
  • Storytelling: Communication about migration should find a healthier balance between data and stories. Personal testimonies and storytelling are very effective in raising an audience’s empathy levels and giving a face to complex processes. Conversely, numbers and statistics are more difficult to convey to an audience and can complicate direct communication as they almost always require further explanation. However, evidence and facts should remain the foundation of all EU communications on migration.
  • Targeting of audience groups: The Commission should gain a better understanding of the diverse audiences in EU member states and shape its communications to better target them. In this respect, it is helpful to take note of research that has studied audiences at the national level and to differentiate between society groups that are specific to EU member states. With respect to audience segmentation, it is important to focus more on the so-called movable middle, which seems to be more open to positive messages about migration than previously assumed. At the same time, other audience segments must not be ignored. It is important for the content of the Commission’s messages to be consistent and coherent throughout. However, the delivery could still be tailored by taking into account the values of the targeted audience group.
  • More relatable and digestible messages: The Commission should put a greater focus on making the style and tone of its communications more relatable, for instance by clarifying the impact of its policies on individuals’ lives. In addition, messages on migration should be presented in a more digestible manner. This could be done, for instance, by empowering Commission staff to become ‘ambassadors’ who communicate directly to their national audiences, both online and offline. Moreover, translating all communications into the EU’s official 24 languages is key in building a better rapport with citizens.
  • Migration issues correctly contextualised: Often, migration issues are wrongly linked to particular problems that would find a more accurate answer in other policy areas, such as labour market reforms. The Commission should take this into account to avoid migration being used as a scapegoat for other issues.

Moving beyond the 'crisis' - Recommendations for the European Commission's communication on migration, Katharina Bamberg, 2019.pdf
Impact of Public Attitudes to migration on the political environment in the Euro-Mediterranean Region

Impact of Public Attitudes to migration on the political environment in the Euro-Mediterranean Region

This is the second of three chapters for the report entitled ‘Impact of Public Attitudes to migration on the political environment in the Euro-Mediterranean Region. The report forms part of the Phase III EUROMED Migration Communications Study. This report follows Phase II EUROMED Migration Communications Study, entitled “Public attitudes on migration: rethinking how people perceive migration”, which demonstrated that attitudes to migration in the Euro Mediterranean region seem to have remained fairly constant over time, while the importance of the issue to individuals has changed.
This chapter overviews public attitudes to migration in Southern Partner Countries (SPCs) and considers their effects on migration politics and policies in the region over the past 20 to 30 years.

Impact of Public Attitudes to migration on the political environment in the Euro-Mediterranean Region

Migration and the EU Global Strategy: Narratives and Dilemmas

Migration did not figure in the European Security Strategy of 2003. Never
mentioned as a threat, it was not even mentioned as a risk. Thirteen years later,
migration is widely cited in the new European Union Global Strategy. Much richer
than the previous security document and global in aspiration, the Global Strategy
treats migration as a challenge and an opportunity, recognising the key role it plays
in a rapidly changing security landscape. However, this multi-faceted perspective on
migration uncovers starkly different political and normative claims, all of which
legitimate in principle. The different narratives on migration present in the new
strategic document attest to the Union’s comprehensive approach to the issue but
also to critical and possibly competing normative dilemmas.

Migration and the EU Global Strategy - Narratives and Dilemmas, Michela Ceccorulli and Sonia Lucarelli, 2017.pdf