Today the world is home to more displaced persons than at any time in recorded history, leading to complex challenges for many countries as they try to manage these flows and successfully welcome these new citizens.
Yet these challenges are made even harder by a lack of accurate, accessible information in the media, where myth and misinformation are prevalent. At best, coverage concentrates on refugees as victims and the wider humanitarian implications, and at worst focuses on the challenges involved or the imagined threat of a sudden influx of outsiders. Almost completely missing from media coverage are the multiple benefits for the host countries, and the countless stories of individuals, often highly educated and eager to work, seeking a new life and contributing positively to their new societies.
UNESCO has created a course curriculum for journalism and media training institutions on Reporting Migration with a Focus on Refugees. The curriculum focuses on the fostering of partnerships to allow a more balanced view of the situation.
Here are some of the most common and damaging media myths surrounding the issue of refugees:
MYTH: Refugees are a European problem
Actually, Europe is home to just 6% of global refugees, compared with 39% in the Middle East and North Africa, and 29% in the rest of Africa. Among Syrian refugees, the vast majority are in the bordering countries of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. While more than one million refugees arrived in Europe by sea in 2015, this represents just 0.3% of the continent’s total population. (Source)
MYTH: Refugees are not desperate – they are choosing to migrate
By definition, refugees are people that flee across borders to escape violent conflict or persecution. They are making use of their legal right to asylum, something included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a right that you also share if you were to ever need it in the future. The great personal risks refugees take in fleeing are testament to the seriousness of the situation they face.
Migrants are a broader category which does include those moving for economic reasons, but also people fleeing environmental disasters, starvation and famine.(Source)
MYTH: Most refugees are young, able-bodied men
MYTH: Refugees steal jobs from their host country
Refugees create jobs. According to OECD research, refugees expand the domestic market and create a job for every one they occupy. In some countries, they were responsible for nearly one third of economic growth in the period from 2007 to 2013. (Source 1, Source 2)
MYTH: Refugees are welfare cheats
Most refugees pay much more into the public purse than they take from it. Research in the UK, Canada, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Spain shows that refugees are less or equally dependent on public funds than locals. (Source)
MYTH: Refugees and migrants bring terrorism
Of the major terrorist attacks worldwide in recent years, the vast majority have been perpetrated by citizens born in the countries involved. In the words of UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, “it is not the refugee outflows that cause terrorism, it is terrorism, tyranny and war that create refugees.” Creating divisions between people and fostering hatred between groups is part of the strategy of terrorism in the first place. (Source)
MYTH: Developed countries are overcrowded and cannot take any more people
The growth in native population in most developed countries is actually in decline, something that migration can be key to addressing. Refugees and migrants can sustain population levels and provide a base of working age people to support a growing number of retirees. (Source)
For more information about the upcoming UNESCO event on Migration for Sustainable Development: Social Transformations, Media Narratives and Education, to be held on Wednesday 6 July, 2016 at UNESCO HQ in Paris, France, please visit the event website.