WACC calls for rights-based approach to migration narratives at GFMD Summit
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Two young women walk along the side of a highway with the sun rising behind them. One is wearing a backpack and the is carrying a bag over each shoulder. They look down at the ground.

WACC calls for rights-based approach to migration narratives at GFMD Summit

The communication rights of people on the move must be advanced in order to promote inclusive, balanced, and democratic narratives around migration, a WACC delegation underlined at the 14th Summit of the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) held in Geneva on 23–25 January.

Lorenzo Vargas, Etaf Roudan, Rey Asis

(l to r) WACC Program Manager Lorenzo Vargas, CMN Deputy Manager Etaf Roudan, APMM Advocacy Director Rey Asis

WACC partner representatives Etaf Roudan of the Community Media Network (CMN) in Jordan and Rey Asis from the Hong Kong–based Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants (APMM) participated together with WACC Program Manager Lorenzo Vargas as part of the GFMD’s civil society mechanism of the State-led, informal, and non-binding space for debate on migration governance.

The WACC delegation focused its advocacy within the context of the GFMD’s Roundtable 5, “Improving the perception of migration in public opinion through narratives, culture, emotion, and rational discourse.” A multisectoral GFMD working group led exploration of the thematic area, which aligns with Objectives 16 and 17 of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration.

During the Summit, the delegation emphasized that communication rights are essential when it comes to advancing inclusive narratives around migration, particularly given the global increase in migration, with the number of migrants and refugees having risen from 173 million in 2000 to 281 million in 2020.

As well as participating in main sessions, Roudan and Asis shared at a Summit side event about initiatives of their respective organizations to change narratives around migration.

Lack of public voice feeds increasingly negative migration narratives

Linguistic, cultural, economic, and political factors curtail the ability of people on the move to make themselves heard in their host societies and to contribute to the public discourse on migration, the delegation noted.

This lack of a public voice is feeding the increasingly negative public perception of migrants and of migration in general, a narrative that creates fears that far-right political movements are increasingly seeking to capitalize on.

“In many host societies, there is growing xenophobic discourse that obscures the contributions of migrants and refugees to their host society, ignores the responsibility of host countries to protect migrants’ rights, and undermines the ability of migrants to exercise their broader human rights,” Vargas said.

Communication barriers prevent migrant voices from being heard

The WACC delegation stressed that these developments are taking place in a context in which both people on the move and vulnerable host communities face structural communication and information deficits that prevent their voices from being heard and taken seriously:

  • limited access to communication platforms due to geographical location and the high cost of connectivity
  • limited opportunities to interact with media organizations to challenge unbalanced representation of migration issues
  • linguistic barriers
  • limited media literacy
  • restricted access to accurate, relevant, and timely information and knowledge
  • shrinking public spaces for migrant-led civil society organizations

Such deficits contribute to a sense of powerlessness that comes from not feeling seen and heard by the broader public. And they also foster a public debate in which migrant and refugee voices are absent from the conversation about migration — despite being the focus of it.

Rights-based approach advances inclusive narratives

In this context, WACC and its partners are calling for “a rights-based approach that recognizes migrants’ communication rights — such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to access to information, and the right to the protection of one’s reputation, all of which are part of the International Bill of Rights — as a way to advance more inclusive, balanced, and democratic narratives.”

WACC’s participation in the GFMD took place under our Communication Rights and Migration Program and was made possible by support from Bread for the World-Germany and ELCA (USA).

Two young women walk at dawn with a migrant caravan in the Mexican state of Chiapas on their way towards U.S. southern border. Photo: Sean Hawkey/Life on Earth

Learn More

“Migrant Rights Are Human Rights”
The human rights — in particular the communication rights — of people on the move are in the spotlight in the most recent issue of WACC’s quarterly journal Media Development.
“Migrants are not just there to be spoken about; they have a voice”

WACC program manager Lorenzo Vargas speaks with GFMD Civil Society about WACC’s communication rights–based approach to migration governance.

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