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Grassroots voices in the media

Jacob Warn – Europe must act
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So European Must Act began as a campaigning  organization in about March 2020 um but   this is several years after the crisis on the  Aegean islands had really started and over the   previous years a lot of grassroots organizations  have been working here they’ve been providing   education and legal support and and health as well  and during that time the focus was on providing   immediate relief. Conditions got so bad in March  that there seemed suddenly an urgent need for   coordinated advocacy and coordinated campaigning  to really address the underlying causes that were   creating this situation here.
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Europe Must Act’s main  aim as a campaigning organization is to advocate   for the decongestion of the Aegean islands and for  the end to the hotspot system that leaves tens of   thousands of people to suffer in in capacity  cancer we do that by advocating on an EU level   but also working across the European Union in  small cities where we encourage local populations   to take action on their own national level.
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So  we’re putting a lot of effort into challenging   and problematizing the mainstream conversation  around migration in Europe and we’re doing that   very specifically in a few ways one way is we’re  encouraging people not to talk about relocation   of migrants to other camps other hot spots we’re  saying there should be effective burden sharing   across the European Union so that asylum seekers  can actually live and process their applications   in dignity.
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Over the past months it’s become harder  and harder to share information from the ground   and to actually create media stories because  of increased restrictions on the access that   journalists and activists have we’ve seen  that very recently on Lesbos where there were   coordinated attempts to stop journalists coming to  scenes where refugees were in need.
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In our social   media we’re also really trying to spotlight and  put the focus on the voices of refugees and asylum   seekers themselves one way in which we do that  is a long-term video series called raising voices   where we encourage and collect video testimonies  from inside the camps and this is all the more   important in periods of lockdown and COVID19 and  then we share these video messages across the   world and that immediately provides a connection  to specific individuals it humanizes and provides   a real form of connection.
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One of the strategies  we’re really using is to bring together audiences   that different grassroots organizations have  across the Aegean and across Europe to mobilize   as many people as possible to share collective  messages and this is one really powerful way of   actually getting in to the mainstream media  and having the change that we hope to see.

If refugees are, by and large, denied a voice in mainstream news reporting, then digital media platforms and technologies create opportunities—albeit highly constrained—through which they can assert themselves as active participants.

For individuals inside camps and detention centres, mobile phones allow them to document everyday life, expose human rights violations, and to connect with networks of support on the outside. Through such acts of ‘self-representation’ they can amplify the voices of refugees and thereby challenge dominant media representations that underpin Europe’s increasingly hostile, often violent border and asylum regimes.

However, their reach is often very limited, confined to small circles of online audiences. Thus, while such ‘bottom-up’ media practices constitute “an inherently powerful form of communication” (Rae et al., 2018), are they really able to disrupt the ‘top-down’ narratives produced by large media organisations?

Watch the video above about the Europe Must Act campaign to find out how grassroots volunteers are working with refugees trapped in camps on the Greek islands to change the public conversation and some of the challenges they encounter.

  • What potential do campaigns like Europe Must Act’s #RaisingVoices and acts of ‘self-representation’ practices by refugees have for challenging dominant media narratives? What obstacles do they face?

  • Do you think such grassroots attempts can change the way people think about refugees and migration more generally?

Share your views on these questions below.

For more examples of the creative uses of digital media by refugees and grassroots civil society organisations in Greece see:

Questions:

  • What potential do campaigns like Europe Must Act’s #RaisingVoices and acts of ‘self-representation’ practices by refugees have for challenging dominant media narratives? What obstacles do they face?

  • Do you think such grassroots attempts can change the way people think about refugees and migration more generally?

References:

Rae, M., Holman, R. & Nethery, A. (2018). Self-represented witnessing: The use of social media by asylum seekers in Australia’s offshore immigration detention centres. Media, Culture & Society, 40(4), 479–495. 

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