Saturday, 17 June 2017

How to tell the refugee story?

Khalid's story/PositiveNegatives


Migration and the refugee story are one of the most important issues of our age and will be there for a long time. Migration, the movement of people, has always existed. “The current crisis isn’t about people being refugees and migrants, the crisis is that we think of such movement of people as a crisis,” said Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist in this issue (June 2017) of New Internationalist. He is right.
  
The way the media reports on migration and the refugee story has a huge impact on how people react to them and on public policies. So, as a journalist, I keep asking myself how to best report migration. How to produce fair and balanced pieces that counter the stereotypes and misinformation, but also how to keep telling these stories in ways that are engaging and innovative.

These are so many stories about refugees and migrants out there that people become numb and turn away from them.  Yet, it is our job as journalists to keep telling those stories again and again, and to keep telling them in ways that cut through the compassion fatigue and reach our readers.

Over the past months, I’ve been looking at examples of various creative ways  to do that - some are journalism, others not.

Here are just a few, illustrating or responding to three different issues in reporting migration:

• Most refugee stories have been told in Europe in two ways: one that instills fear with unfactual or biased reporting; the other that shakes the public awake through sorrow and shock. But there is a middle ground: stories that put a face on the numbers, that humanize the immigration statistics, that show that refugees are just people like us, thrown into exceptional circumstances. And the best stories are those told by refugees themselves.
- My favourite is “A Perilous Journey: Stories of Migration” an exhibition of literary comics based on testimonies from refugees. They were created by PositiveNegatives, a wonderful non-profit, which produces literary comics, animations and podcasts about contemporary social and human rights issues, including conflict, racism, migration, trafficking and asylum.  Concentrating on contemporary real-life stories from Syria and Iraq, we follow two men and two women on their long difficult journeys fleeing conflict and persecution.  Nadia’s Story, for example, tells of a pregnant Yazidi mother, fleeing ISIS controlled Iraq with her two young children. The last panel of each story is a real photograph of the refugee, reminding us that these are real people and real stories. It is very effective and moving.  The exhibition is at SOAS’ Brunei Gallery Room: 1st Floor Gallery until June 24. Really worth a visit!

Hasko'story/PositiveNegatives

- Then there is the series of short radio episodes produced by BBC Radio 4’s The World at One, following a Syrian family from the Jordan refugee camp where they had lived for two years to Greece, then across Europe to Germany. Reporter Manveen Rana documented the twists and turns of their journey in a series of short reports – showing the good and the bad, the hopes and the challenges.  Her reports are honest, fascinating, moving, though provoking and surprising.
- Last summer, short hand-written messages were left in public places - inside coffee shops, in between the pages of books in libraries, on benches in parks and tied to lampposts and railings - or written on white boards in tube stations. They were messages of hope for a better life, written by refugees from Nigeria, South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq and other countries - part of a campaign by humanitarian aid agency Mercy Corps, aimed at changing the attitudes and perspectives of people around Syrian refugees and the migrant crisis in general. The campaign was particularly effective with young people, who shared the messages on Instagram and Twitter. 
 
“Sometimes it is really hard to put yourselves in the shoes of these people because it seems so distant but when I read the note it really made it sink in that this girl was not any different from me,” said Rebecca Alexander, a 21-year-old student, who saw the note of a 15-year-old Syrian refugee, hanging from a tree in London's Regent’s Park.






• People are tired of refugee stories because stories of suffering are exhausting. Stories of empathy are empowering. As are those who show refugees not just as “victims”.

- For example, millions of people shared the image of Syrian refugee Alex Assali feeding homeless people on the streets of Berlin, but very few might have read his story in a newspaper.  

When Assali, 38, woke up in his small Berlin flat one autumn morning two years ago, and checked his email, 1,000 messages waiting for him. The day before, a friend had uploaded a photograph to Facebook of Assali feeding homeless people on the streets of Berlin. The caption below read: “Acts of kindness: A Syrian refugee mans a food stand for the homeless, to ‘give something back to the German people’.”   The image went viral - it was shared more than 3,000 times on Facebook and nearly three million times on Imgur. Al Jazeera produced this interactive story, giving Assali’s backstory, and that story got no trolls, according to Yasir Khan, senior editor of digital video at Al Jazeera English.

- Then there was the “Iam a refugee" campaign, launched last summer to celebrate the contribution refugees have made, and continue to make, to life in the UK. Plaques, inspired by the English Heritage blue plaques, were placed on buildings across the UK, where selected refugees have worked or studied. The idea was to show the diversity of the refugee population and the experiences they have had, as well as the creativity, skills and knowledge that they bring to the UK.
• Stories on refugees should try to portray a range of backgrounds and experiences, even contradictory, to help the audience get a fuller picture. And it's a good idea to let refugees tell their own stories.

For this year’s Refugee Week 2017, the Higgins Bedford Art Gallery and Museum is launching ‘Voices - Different Pasts, Shared Future’, an exhibition featuring oral histories from refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants from Syria, Iraq, Rwanda and Palestine. Some of the stories are from women who are detained at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre. The exhibition also includes a wonderful tapestry of objects which people have brought from their countries of origin. The objects are printed, then partly stitched by volunteers from the community and women from Yarl’s Wood. “These Voices transform personal memories into collective memories impossible to ignore,” says Josepa Munoz, the artist behind the project. 



There are too many interesting and innovative projects and ways to report on the refugee story to feature here, but feel free to add those you like…






















Monday, 22 May 2017

Imprisoning the victims – Jordan places abused women in “protective custody”


Credit: Equal Rights Trust


In Jordan, a country with a reputation of being progressive, women and girls who go to the police to report abuse or honour crimes, often end up being the ones thrown in jail.  Instead of prosecuting their abusers, the police place them in “protective custody” – a common practice in the country, seemingly to protect women from gender-based violence.

The practice not only fails to protect women, but further exacerbates the harm they experience and allows perpetrators to act with impunity, according to a damning new report by the Equal Rights Trust, which urges civil society and the Jordanian authorities to end the practice.

The report, Shouting Through the Walls, documents instances where women were detained for up to 10 years and only released with the support of a male relative or husband, an extremely dangerous practice in domestic violence cases.  Indeed, the report cites cases of women being killed upon release by male relatives, despite guarantees of their safety. And women who don’t have a husband are kept until they can find one. “The Governor is insisting I need to have a husband [to be released], but where am I supposed to find a one when I am locked up?” one women in protective custody said.

The practice is also used to detain foreign women who have been trafficked or who have left their employer’s home because the employer abused them.

Women in “protective" custody's situation is grim: they are detained without having committed any crime, often following significant violence or threats of violence. They have no prospect of release nor any real ability to influence their release. Not surprisingly, they are more likely to experience psychological problems than women in judicial detention. According to a 2014 Penal Reform International survey undertaken at Jordan’s Juweida prison, 62% of women in “protective custody” suffered form depression and a quarter have self harmed and had suicidal thoughts.

The report also paints a bleak picture of the conditions in jail, including overcrowding, a lack of access to healthcare, poor hygiene and few opportunities for work.

There are very little data about this practice, which exists also in other countries, but figures from the National Centre for Human Rights (2015) showed that nearly half of women prisoners in Jordan are administrative detainees.  Despite its reputation as a progressive state, Jordan ranks low on gender equality and women’s rights amongst world’s countries. 


 

Friday, 5 May 2017

Rodrigue Katembo - the Congo's park ranger who risks his life to protect wildlife


Rodrigue Katembo/Credit: Goldman Environmental Prize


The best part of my job as a journalist is to spend time with amazing people whom I would never have a chance to meet otherwise.

One of them is Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo, a former child soldier who has become one of the most passionate defenders of Congo’s natural heritage, first as head ranger at Virunga National Park and now as the director of Upemba National Park, one of Congo’s most spectacular, but also most pillaged, neglected and dangerous parks. 


I’ve met Katembo on one of his rare forays away from Upemba. He spoke in French, in a measured way, sounding more like the civil servant he always wanted to be than the brave ranger who has risked his life many times to protect Congo’s iconic parks. He wants to fight corruption and illegality – a dangerous mission in a country like the Congo.

Katembo was in London last month on his was to San Francisco to receive the 2017 Goldman Environmental Prize for Africa (a sort of Nobel for environmental activists), for exposing illegal oil exploration in Virunga - a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to one quarter of the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas. 

He paid a heavy price: during his investigation, he has been kidnapped, tortured and faced mock executions. You might have seen “Virunga,” the 2014 Netflix documentary which recalls that story. 

A year later, he was transferred to Upemba for his own safety. There he is trying to slowly stabilise wildlife. The elephants, which were emblematic of the park, had been poached on a massive scale by the rangers themselves, the military, the police, the locals and the brutal Mai Mai militia- and those who escaped the slaughter had left the protected area.

He has already reintroduced one population of 68 elephants and another larger one is approaching the park’s borders.  Under his watch, no elephants have been poached in Upemba since 2016.  But it’s no easy job.

Since starting work at Upemba, Katembo has fought off armed militia, faced death threats and refused to accept multiple bribes to gain access to the park for illegal mining. He now lives apart from his wife and children for their safety.

“I am not special, ” Katembo simply said. “Yes, I was imprisoned and tortured, but many guards have died doing their jobs.”   Protecting Congo’s national parks is widely recognized as one of the most dangerous jobs in conservation. Over the past 20 years, more than 160 of Katembo’s park ranger colleagues have been killed - and they still continue to get killed today.

“We need to respect their work. We need to be willing to defend what they have died to protect. By protecting the park, we are protecting unique wildlife, local populations’ livelihood and Congo’s natural heritage – which is also the heritage of the whole world.”

Here is my full story on Katembo for Positive News. There are some great photos too! 



Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Do It Yourself Online Safety for Women




Does someone have pictures of you and you don’t know how? Do they keep showing up unexpectedly to places where you are?  Do they know things about your life that you haven’t told many people? 

Modern technology makes it very easy for people to stalk, intimidate and threaten their targets both online and offline. The good news is that there are lots of measures we can take to protect ourselves.  The DIY Online Security Guide for Every Woman, an easy-to-understand guide about online security launched earlier this month, shows some of most important ones.

The Security Guide was designed with women dealing with domestic abuse or stalking in mind, but its principles can be used irrespective of gender, location or situation. It is written in simple language and teach us everything we need to know about how we can be tracked – and how to hide our tracks on email, browsers, Facebook and other platforms.  

The guide, available in English, Russian, Spanish, Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Pashto and French, was developed over two years by CHAYN, an open-source volunteer-led project using technology to address problems women face today. 

CHAYN volunteers got the idea, while listening and speaking to women on Facebook groups for survivors of abuse. They noted that women didn’t know basic security measures they could take to stop the most common forms of online stalking or abuse. 

 “We started showing how their partners were keeping tabs on them by doing simple things like monitoring the check-ins of their best friends whose privacy settings were lax or looking at their Amazon account or browsing history,” says Hera Hussein, a CHAYN volunteer who worked on the guide.  “When we answered their questions, women were so relieved and kept asking why there wasn’t a resource like this.”

For somebody experiencing abuse from a controlling partner, their online activities are often a vital way to reach out for support and guidance. Yet, according to CHAYN research, almost half of women in abusive relationships surveyed in the UK reported that their online activities were monitored in some way by an abusive partner. “This seriously hinders their abilities to communicate freely without having to censor or conceal themselves. In many cases, this has a direct effect on their physical safety and ultimately puts them at risk,” says Aliya Bakheit, another CHAYN volunteer.  “It is important to know what information you may be inadvertently making available to harassers or abusers,” adds CHAYN’s Lee Ball. 
  
When the first draft was completed, CHAYN volunteers asked organizations working with survivors of abuse and stalking, as well as security experts, activists and members of the general public from all over the world to review the guide. 

This guide is not a bullet-proof solution as it cannot include all of the ways abusers can track someone, but it is a collection of useful steps, tips and instructions for women to protect themselves whilst staying connected. The group aims to update the guide regularly so women can receive the latest information on apps and privacy options on social media sites.
The guide has been published on Gitbooks under a Creative Commons Share Alike license, so everyone can remix, share and redistribute contents honouring the same license.

So, go ahead and share it!

 


Saturday, 11 February 2017

Bosnia to America - how lies can kill



More than half of Donald Trump' supporters think a made-up massacre actually happened, even after the fabricated story was widely debunked.

According to a recent poll, 51% of Trump' supporters say the Bowling Green Massacre – an event fabricated by Kellyanne Conway – justifies Trump's Executive Order of 27 January suspending refugee admission to the US and barring entry to citizens from seven majority Muslim countries.

Please watch and share this short video by my friend Kemal Pervanic, a Bosnian concentration camp survivor, who explains how such lies about violence can kill – creating the conditions for neighbours and even friends to turn on one another.  


Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Africa’s Bitter Sugar – Cash Crops Harm Smallholders


Faridah Nangobi and her family on their sugarcane farm in Kamuli, Uganda/Credit: Send a Cow


From coffee in Vietnam to sugar in Uganda, governments in developing countries have over the past decades pushed farmers to grow cash crops: they are important to the national economy and they provide jobs. This might be a good idea for farmers who have enough land to grow a variety of crops, but it actually harms smallholders.

Many farmers in developing countries own just a few acres of land, which means that most of their plot, often all of it, is dominated by the cash crop. This dependency on just one crop leaves them vulnerable to crop failures and any fall in the price of commodities. The lack of biodiversity also has a negative impact on the environment.

In addition, because smallholder farmers are no longer growing their own food, the region faces severe shortages and food has to be brought in from other parts of the country at high prices. The money the farmers do make from the cash crop is often not enough to feed their families.

"My children have nothing to eat. My baby just cries and cries. I’m forced to give her vodka so she can sleep,’’ says Faridah Nangobi, cradling her one-year-old baby inside her thatched hut.  Like most farmers in Uganda’s Kamuli district, she is growing sugarcane with her husband on their small plot.  Outside, her other children stand under a mango tree gnawing on sugarcane. The desperation with which they crush the canes shows that they are not chewing for pleasure: it is their only meal of the day.

 “Uganda must enact a policy to limit smallholder farmers from growing sugarcane as it has been shown not improve their lives,” says Patrick Sambaga, Uganda Country Director for Send a Cow, a small international development charity, working with farmers to strengthen the local economy and help them grow nutritious food and build greater gender equality.

 “Smallholder farmers must concern themselves with crops that bring in regular income for health care, school fees and food security,” Sambaga adds. “We encourage farmers to grow high value crops like citrus fruits, mangoes, kale, tomatoes, amaranth, garlic, potatoes, passion fruits, and at all times, keep small livestock such as ducks, chicken, rabbits and goats if they cannot keep cows.” 

Here is a story I’ve written for the Financial Times’ This is Africa examining how the sugar business system is operating in Kamuli, a major sugar hub in Uganda, and its human toll.