Narrative Publications


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

Media coverage of the “refugee crisis”: A cross-European perspective

1. European press played a central role in framing refugees’ and migrants’ arrival to
European shores in 2015 as a crisis for Europe. While coverage of “the crisis” is
characterised by significant diversity, overall, new arrivals were seen as outsiders and
different to Europeans: either as vulnerable outsiders or as dangerous outsiders.

2. Regional trends: There are significant differences in the coverage across European
regions. Especially at the beginning of “the crisis”, and to an extent throughout it,
there was a stark contrast between media coverage on the West and the East and
especially, between media in the receiving and non-receiving countries.

3. Temporal trends: the narratives of the coverage changed across Europe during 2015.
The sympathetic and empathetic response of a large proportion of the European
press in the summer and especially early autumn of 2015 was gradually replaced by
suspicion and, in some cases, hostility towards refugees and migrants.

4. Media trends: Press coverage that promoted hate speech and hostility towards
migrants and refugees was systematic and persistent in a proportion of the press.
This was especially the case in some parts of Eastern Europe (esp. Hungary),
throughout “the crisis” and in a significant section of some countries’ right-leaning
press in the East and West Europe alike.

5. Voice: Refugees and migrants were given limited opportunities to speak directly of
their experiences and suffering. Most often they were spoken about and represented
in images as silent actors and victims. There were some significant exceptions, but
these were time and place specific.

6. Gender: Female refugees’ and migrants’ voices were hardly ever heard. In some
countries, they were never given the opportunity to speak (e.g. Hungary) while in
other cases (e.g. Germany) they were only occasionally given this opportunity.

7. Context: Overall, media paid little and scattered attention to the context of refugee
and migrant plight. There was little connection between stories on new arrivals and
war reporting or between stories on refugee plight and international news stories
from their countries of origins. In addition, little and scattered information was made
available to the public about migrants’ and refugees’ individual stories, their lives and
cultures; thus information about who these people actually are was absent or
marginal in much of the press coverage in most European countries.

8. As the “refugee/migration crisis” is entering a new phase, media continue to face
significant challenges in safeguarding the values of independent and fair journalism,
while respecting freedom of expression for all and tackling hate speech in Europe.
Self-regulatory and international bodies and organisations need to support media in
these efforts.

Media coverage of the refugee crisis - A cross-European perspective, Myria Georgiou and Rafal Zaborowski, Council of Europe, 2018.pdf

Beyond the migration and asylum crisis. Options and lessons for Europe

Migration and asylum policies have long been a peripheral and low-priority field in the wider domain of European politics. Since 2015, this has fundamentally changed. The dramatic shortcomings in the management of cross-Mediterranean “mixed migration” flows have triggered a politically devastating governance crisis. The reduction in arrivals brought about by the signature of a controversial deal between the EU and Turkey has temporarily assuaged the sense of emergency. But the structural weaknesses and political contradictions that caused the crisis remain unresolved. Europe’s Achilles’ heel is more exposed than ever: after the Brexit vote and Trump’s victory, migration issues are far from having exhausted their potential to generate political shocks. Future rounds of political elections in France, Germany and elsewhere might bring further evidence.
This ebook approaches this decisive set of issues in a timely way, though not in the spirit of an “instant book”. In Part I, it provides a broad reconstruction of the deep historical roots of the current situation, followed by a critical appraisal of the key drivers in European policy responses, and by some thoughtful recommendations on possible strategic adjustments. Part II brings together the authoritative and forward-looking voices of eleven renowned scholars and experts from different geographical areas (several EU countries, but also the South and East Mediterranean and North America) and disciplinary backgrounds (from political science to sociology and international relations). Each of them adds to our understanding of the complexity of such a multi-faceted crisis. All together, they provide the reader with a rich and original orientation toolkit in a tormented landscape that is changing fast but will not disappear soon.

Beyond the Migration and Asylum Crisis - Options and Lessons for Europe, Aspen Institute Italia, 2017.pdf
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How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?

This Study “How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?” was carried out and prepared by the Ethical Journalism Network and commissioned in the framework of EUROMED Migration IV (EMM4, 2016-2019). The objective of this project, financed by the European Union and implemented by ICMPD, is to support EU Member States and ENI Southern Partner Countries in establishing a comprehensive, constructive and operational dialogue and co-operation framework, with a particular focus on reinforcing instruments and capacities to develop and implement evidence-based and coherent migration and international protection policies. In order to achieve this objective, EMM 4 builds upon the results of the first three phases of the project (2004-2015) and tailors its activities around two pillars: the first pillar facilitates effective North-South and South-South regional dialogues and co-operation in the four main fields of migration and international protection-related matters (legal migration; irregular migration; migration and development; international protection and asylum). The second pillar focuses on capacity-building by applying a new outcome-oriented approach that includes sub-regional activities, tailor-made national training programmes and targeted technical assistance packages for committed partners. Both pillars are supported by a horizontal and cross-cutting thread aimed at accumulating evidence-based knowledge and establishing effective communication in order to contribute to a more balanced narrative on migration.

How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?
ICMPD Migration Outlook 2020

ICMPD Migration Outlook 2020 - 10 things to look out for in 2020

Ten things to look out for in 2020 2020 will be another challenging year for EU migration policy. Below is a non-exhaustive list of trends and developments that will be high on the agenda of decision-makers and analysts alike.

1. The situation in main countries and regions of origin As with previous years, 2020 will again see the migration situation in the wider European region shaped by developments in the conflict areas in the Near and Middle East and in African regions. In addition, the major displacement crisis in Latin America, which started to affect Europe in 2019, will continue to do so this year. For 2020, most geopolitical outlooks expect continued or growing instability in these regions. Consequently, there is no reason to believe that migration pressures towards Europe will decrease this year.

2. Irregular migration as the main theme of the European debate Again in 2019, the migration debate in Europe was dominated primarily by issues surrounding irregular migration and asylum and this picture will not change this year. At the same time, the effects of demographic ageing are increasingly felt on European labour markets and employers have started to push for more openings on labour migration. European governments will face the challenge of drawing a clearer distinction between skilled and other types of migration and of communicating more clearly why the former might be needed in the future.

3. Secondary movements towards Europe 2019 has seen an increase in irregular and asylum migration, particularly of Afghan nationals towards Turkey and the EU. Thus, many of these migrants are not moving from their home country but from countries in the region hosting large refugee populations. Iran for instance hosts about 3 million Afghans. Their economic situation has deteriorated significantly due to the sanctions imposed on the country. The Turkish government’s plan to establish a safe zone in Syria to resettle Syrian nationals might also prompt secondary movements to the EU. These trends will continue in 2020 and pose additional challenges for EU asylum and return policies.

4. The prospects of a peace process in Libya The European migration situation always depends on the situation in Libya as a main point of departure for asylum seekers and irregular migrants from African countries but also other regions headed towards Europe. The recently initiated peace process gives some hope to believe that the EU 2 – Libya cooperation on migration control will hold again in 2020, limiting the number of departures to Europe via the Central Mediterranean Route.

5. The Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route as the main hotspot Last year saw a further shift in irregular migration routes towards the Eastern Mediterranean. Given the situation in the main regions of origin of related flows and assuming that cooperation agreements will hold along the Western and Central Mediterranean Routes, the Eastern Mediterranean Migration Route will be the main hotspot for migration management for the EU and its partners in 2020.

6. The migration situation in Turkey and Greece Both countries faced mounting pressures in 2019 linked to the large numbers of refugees and displaced they already host and the increasing numbers of refugees and migrants crossing their territories with the aim of reaching the Northern and Western Member States of the EU. In 2020, the EU will have to provide the greatest possible support at all levels and by all means to Turkey and Greece to prevent them from being overburdened and to preserve the EU – Turkey Statement.

7. Secondary movements within the EU The movement of asylum seekers from the first Member State where they submit their application to others Member States is a general problem for the European system. Last year saw a peak in applications of nationals from Latin American countries in the EU. Thus far, about 90 % of these applications were submitted in Spain. Given the bleak outlook in the Latin American countries of origin, forced migration from these countries to Europe is likely to continue. A saturation of the Spanish labour and housing market could prompt secondary movements of Latin American nationals to other EU Member States.

8. The new EU Pact on Migration and Asylum The new Commission plans to present the outline of the new Pact for the European Summit in March. The Pact envisages ambitious agenda items, amongst others the development of a truly European Asylum System. Member States are, however, far apart on the issues of solidarity, burden sharing and a mechanism for the distribution of asylum seekers. It remains to be seen whether the Commission can overcome the stalemate around these issues and bring Member States closer together again. If this difficult goal can be achieved, the Pact could start showing real effects next year. 3

9. The German proposal on asylum screening at the external borders. Germany has proposed an approach that could re-launch intra-EU cooperation on asylum issues and irregular migration. The idea is to screen asylum applications at the external borders, return inadmissible cases immediately and distribute the remaining applicants among Member States based on a yet to be agreed distribution key. Access to an asylum procedure and to social benefits would be available only in the responsible Member State. If built up gradually, a system of this kind could indeed incentivise EU cooperation and de-incentivise irregular arrivals. 2020 will show whether the plan can gather support from a enough Member States to go beyond declarations of intent and include credible commitments towards the Member States at the external borders.

10. Brexit and the status of EU and UK migrants 2020 will preserve the current status quo. The real change will come in 2021 when free movement is slated to end for EU and UK citizens. Nonetheless, the post-Brexit status of these migrants might turn into a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations already this year and divide the EU Member states who attach different levels of significance to the issue. Thus, the new Commission might face some challenges to preserve unity among all Member States over the issue.

ICMPD Migration Outlook 2020 - 10 things to look out for in 2020

Framing migration in the southern Mediterranean: how do civil society actors evaluate EU migration policies? The case of Tunisia

After repeated failed attempts to reform its dysfunctional internal architecture, the external dimension has become the real cornerstone of the EU’s migration strategy, with the Mediterranean as its main geographical priority. In spite of routine rhetorical references to its cooperative and partnership-based nature, the EU external migration policy-making remains essentially unilateral and top-down. Civil societies of sending and transit countries, in particular, tend to be excluded; however, better understanding the policy frames and priorities of “partner” countries’ stakeholders vis-à-vis EU migration policies represents a crucial task. Based on extensive fieldwork carried out in the context of the MEDRESET project, this article contributes to fill this gap by focusing on the case of Tunisia. In a context of much lower salience and politicisation compared to the European context, Tunisian civil society actors are critical about the EU’s security-based framing of migration and mobility. However, rather than displaying a radically antagonistic stance, the most influential Tunisian civil society stakeholders show an overall collaborative attitude towards the EU. This may represent a strategic resource for the EU to promote a more participatory governance of migration, which may lead to more balanced, effective and mutually beneficial migration policies in the Mediterranean region.

Framing Migration in the Southern Mediterranean - How do civil society actors evaluate EU migration policies - The case of Tunisia, Ferruccio Pastore and Emanuela Roman, 2020.pdf
Public attitudes on migration: rethinking how people perceive migration

Public attitudes on migration: rethinking how people perceive migration

The International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) commissioned the Migration Policy Centre (MPC) of the European University Institute to provide this report in early 2018, based on the work of the MPC’s Observatory of Public Attitudes to Migration (OPAM). This built on the insight and recommendations of the first EuroMed Migration Communications Study—‘How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration?' This second study aims to:

  • Offer a better understanding of public attitudes to migration in 17 selected countries on both sides of the Mediterranean;1

  • Attempt to explain why attitudes to migration are what they are — with an emphasis on the role of media. The report both summarises previous findings and provides new analyses;

  • Provide recommendations on how to communicate on migration in a non-polarising manner.

Public attitudes on migration: rethinking how people perceive migration
Migration and Media - A Journalist's Handbook

Migration and Media - A Journalist's Handbook

The worldwide migrant, refugee, and human trafficking crisis has reached such catastrophic and alarming proportions that media often find themselves unprepared to handle the coverage effectively, professionally and ethically.

Reporting on these topics requires good training, knowledge, stamina, physical and financial resources, patience, empathy, various journalistic skills encompassing digital storytelling across multiple platforms, a desire to create awareness about a problem likely to make news for years to come, and the presentation of possible solutions to mitigate the disruption created by migration, asylum seeking and human trafficking.

A serious setback for journalists in the Arab world and beyond is they are not dedicated to the topic – i.e. not beat reporters covering it on a daily basis. Media, faced with regular budget cuts, staff layoffs, a steady diet of ever-changing technology, and competition from “citizen journalists,” social media denizens and activists, are hard- pressed to keep up, notably amid a swirl of xenophobia, hate speech, populism and economic/political unrest.

Moreover, it is difficult to cover a labour-intensive story when one is trying to make ends meet on a shoestring budget, often as a freelancer, juggling multiple assignments with pressing (if not conflicting) deadlines, and at great personal risk.

Based on the findings of the first EuroMed Migration Communications Study “How does the media on both sides of the Mediterranean report on migration,” a mutually reinforcing relationship exists between media, public attitudes and policy making, in regards to migration as an increasingly salient topic of public discourse. In a 2006 report titled “Migration and public perception,” the Bureau of European Policy Advisers (BEPA) of the European Commission already sought to highlight the link between perceptions and policy, arguing that: “... public perceptions of migration may strongly influence the effectiveness with which migration can be managed” and ultimately that “public perception has the capacity to block progress on developing effective policies ...” In the 2015 European Agenda on Migration (COM(2015) 240 final) the Commission notes that: “Misguided and stereotyped narratives often tend to focus only on certain types of flows, overlooking the inherent complexity of this phenomenon, which impacts society in many different ways and calls for a variety of responses.”

Based on the observation of simplified and sensationalist narratives that are currently dominating migration reporting, several organizations, such as ICMPD and the OPEN Media Hub, launched actions such as the Migration Media Award with the aim to promote narratives that are balanced, fair and evidence-based, in line with standard requirements of ethical journalism which in turn would create space for increased evidence- based migration policy development.

Migration and Media - A Journalist's Handbook