Are we actually under siege? Is Europe overwhelmed by refugees?

If we look at figures, they will tell us the opposite. Nevertheless, the current mainstream narrative about migration (from politicians to media) is partly telling us that we are somehow under siege.

By Daniela Sala

united conference

It is of course a simplistic and sometimes racist narrative. But let’s be honest to ourselves, it works. And even better than the so called ‘counter-narrative’ that is focusing on positive messages, like how important multiculturalism and integration are.

Figures are not a very useful tool in order to deconstruct such a narrative. We couldn’t put the blame to the audience for being ignorant: most of the people to whom this narrative is appealing are actually well-educated. A conference organized by UNITED Against Racism near Turin, which gathered together around 70 activists and media makers from all over Europe, was a unique opportunity to discuss and problematize the current narrative about migrants and refugees in Europe. And even more, to debate on how human rights activists, but also journalists and media makers, should deal with it.

For me, as a journalist, it was an important insight into activism communication strategy and it also made me questioning my daily work when reporting on migrants and refugees. We all agreed that we have some concerns about the current mainstream narrative. The answer why, and how we would like to reshape it was the hardest part.



In a first step, why does this narrative work? “Because we need it”: this is what one panelist pointed out. As simple as that. And usually the simpler a narrative is, the better it works. We also discussed how, when it comes to migrants, the narrative is usually swinging between threat and pity. And be careful, because when we refer to refugees as ‘desperate people’ we might imply that they are dangerous, as they have nothing to lose.

Below you will find some remarks from the conference I would like to share:

Words matter
It’s better to speak about ‘mobility’, rather than ‘migration’.  ‘Mobility’ is a more neutral word. Also, it is a word we, as Europeans, can more easily identify with.

Stop counter-acting and start acting
We should move from a narrative to a discourse. We should start building something instead of trying to directly contradict the mainstream narrative.

Deal with the people
For sure, individual positive stories of integration are not enough. Still, we should get rid of our paternalistic/post-colonialist attitude and keep in mind that people from country such us Eritrea, Afghanistan, Mali or Sudan can tell us so much about a country and a culture we mostly know very little about. Also, most of the time labelling a person as a ‘refugee’ means depriving them from their complex identity: let’s then find ways to allow them telling their own stories. Let’s work with them so that they can be subjects rather objects of stories.

Be honest to ourselves
At some point, during the week-long conference, we had an exercise about how to respond to the narrative that followed what happened in Koln on New Years’s Eve. Women’s right, integration, refugees’ rights, fears, denial: a lot of issues were raised. It was very interesting to see how, even months after the episode, extremely difficult it was to put things into a shared perspective and to find a common ground that allowed us to defend refugees’ rights as well as women’s rights.

There is no such a thing as an easy answer
We can’t write a recipe on how to properly narrate about migration.  Neither we can rely on slogans to fight a racist narrative. Reality, most of the times is not simple at all: we have to deal with complexity and, to me, the only way we have to do it is to be loyal to our ethic and honestly.

About the author: Daniela Sala is an Italian journalist and holds an MA in Journalism.  Currently based in Rome, where she works as a contributor for Radio Radicale, Daniela has been reporting as a videodaniela and radio journalist from the Middle East and across Europe. She currently focuses on refugees, migrants and civil rights and speaks a bit of Arabic. Daniela is a data and multi-media reporting lover.


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