Voices in exile: refugee journalists retrain in UK
The press is full of stories about refugees, now it is time for stories by refugees.
The Refugee Journalism Project – a partnership between London College of Communication and the Migrants Resource Centre – supports refugee journalists to get their voices into the mainstream media, through mentoring, journalism workshops and internships.
Refugee participants from Syria, Sudan, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, amongst others, work with practising journalists to re-establish their careers in the UK. The mentors have worked for the BBC, Channel 4 News, The Telegraph, New Statesman, The Times, The Economist and other major UK outlets.
We wanted to address the negative stereotypes and bias in the media. What better way to do this than to have refugee journalists telling the refugee story?
The year-long project was established in 2016 in a collaboration between Tessa Hughes at the Migrants Resource Centre and Vivienne Francis from London College of Communication.
“We wanted to address the negative stereotypes and bias in the media," says Tessa. "What better way to do this than to have refugee journalists telling the refugee story? Refugee voices are desperately needed in the media.”
At the end of 2015, UNHCR released a report into press coverage of the refugee and migrant ‘crisis’ in Europe, which compared media coverage in five European countries. The report found that compared to Italy, Spain, Sweden and Germany, coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised in its coverage of refugees.
“The Refugee Journalism Project is important because it offers first-hand experience reporting on the issue – this adds real value to the story," explains Tessa. "Refugee journalists bring a range of experiences that UK journalists simply cannot. Having refugees participate in editorial meetings changes perceptions and shapes content.”
The Refugee Journalism Project encourages people to go out there and grab hold of their career again
The project also has personal value for the participants. “The asylum system can be very tough. The Refugee Journalism Project encourages people to go out there and grab hold of their career again,” Tessa explains.
But there are challenges. Some of the participants do not know where they will sleep each night. Others are coping with severe trauma. Many others are managing paid work alongside the project.
“They all work so hard and are so committed in spite of everything else they are dealing with,” Tessa explains.
Abdul is one of the refugee journalists involved in the project.
I was an English teacher in Aleppo, Syria. When the war started I felt strongly that people around the world needed to know what was happening in my country
“I never intended to be a journalist,” Abdul explains. “I was an English teacher in Aleppo, Syria. When the war started I felt strongly that people around the world needed to know what was happening in my country.”
“I started working with a team translating news from Arabic to English, and wrote about what was happening,” says Abdul. “Many of my friends were arrested, tortured and killed for participating in protests. So I was forced to flee.”
Abdul came to the UK in 2013, and, after completing his Master’s degree, he got involved in the Refugee Journalism Project.
“I was so excited when I heard about the project. It’s been great,” says Abdul. “The opportunities to learn and to network have been really important. I am now working as a researcher for a transparency organisation who monitor and assess reports of civilian casualties in Syria and Iraq.”
I am glad to be part of the conversation. We give a voice to the voiceless and advocate on their behalf
“I am glad to be part of the conversation. We give a voice to the voiceless and advocate on their behalf," he explains.
In the future, Tessa holds high hopes that the Refugee Journalists Project will expand across the UK, and make connections with similar projects across Europe to build a strong network of refugee journalists.
“There has been a lot of media interest and a lot of people reaching out to help us," she says. "Our participants are very ambitious. They want to see their work on the BBC and in the Guardian. And I have every confidence that they will.”
Join the Refugee Journalism Project in London on Tuesday 7th March for the Beyond Borders panel debate.
This story is part of a series exploring the incredible ways people across the UK are showing refugees and asylum seekers a #GreatBritishWelcome. Read other amazing stories of innovation and welcome in the UK.