Migrants and refugees: the current need for hospitable narratives
Thousands of people are fleeing their homes every day, leaving everything, starting a long journey, crossing borders and in the majority of the cases, risking their lives. It seems that the situation of millions of migrants and refugees who someday were obligated to flee is far from improving.
According to the last update published by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNCHR), in January 2018, the total population of concern in the world stood at 71,4 million people -without counting the people who are not registered by UNHCR-. As we can see below, the Middle East and East and Horn of Africa are the regions with the most people in need, followed by Latin America.
Figure 1: UNCHR. (2018). People of concern to UNHCR.
If we focus on our region, the statistics of refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) are alarming. For instance, the Syria situation tackles 5.6 million refugees and 6.2 million IDPs and the Iraq situation is dealing with 271,500 refugees and 2.9 million IDPs. As a result, neighbor countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey have become large-hosting countries. Following the recent statistics, in Jordan, there are almost 700.000 refugees and more than 43.000 asylum-seekers. So, to the inequalities that the country has already been suffering before, we have had to add the arrival of more people of concern. Despite some countries as Jordan or Lebanon have made an effort in their borders, the situation of the region is still unsteady.
The statistics are the facts that usually make people draw their own conclusions. In this global situation, we can put a number of questions on the table. Why countries, sometimes the smallest ones, with fewer resources or capacities, are dealing with a large number of arrivals and are the ones who are more open to it? Why a number of what is called as ”developed countries”, are actually applying more restrictive policies around migration issues?
Figure 2: UNCHR. (2018). Major host countries of refugees. Global trends in 2017.
Maybe here we can reflect on some answers and take Europe as a useful example. Unfortunately, the majority of European countries have questioned its own foundational values. Respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, and equality are fundamental values, which in theory, they had to be defended by the European Union (EU) in order to promote peace and the wellbeing of the citizens. As we have seen in the last years, the actions taken by the EU to solve the arrival of refugees to the European coasts have represented neither the values nor the effective practices.
Understanding the complex situation is not an easy task, but there are some pieces of evidence that have led the people to foster narratives against migration and refugees. Inexact facts and inaccurate information about migration and refugees are on the agenda every day. Fake news or interested visions present the migrations in Europe as a serious problem in terms of numbers, calling the phenomenon as an ‘’invasion’’. Moreover, false stories and criminalization reach people and organizations that defend these groups. For instance, in Europe, some Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) that are rescuing people from the Mediterranean Sea have been accused of promoting human trafficking. So, there is a need to oppose erroneous perceptions providing reliable data and contrasting arguments.
Figure 3: #FreeOpenArms. Open Arms. Retrieved from
The second point that we can talk about is the approach based on security. Most of the current speeches are relating migration and refugees with several problems and the truth is that nobody wants a problem. Problems put people in situations of stress and rejection, therefore it is a human reaction to avoid problems. As a consequence, the EU implemented restrictive policies in order to ensure not to have this ‘’problem’’. The thing is that we can agree on we are talking about individuals and as a result, the approach has to be based on the people and their rights. Pretending to classify people in one bag and called it ‘a ’problem’’, in fact, it is a lack of responsibility and trying to escape from guaranteeing rights.
Figure 4: Europe, Till Death Do Us Part. Retrieved from
As we said before, there is a need to change the perception about migrations: instead of seeing it as a problem, we have to see it as a contribution. People’s movements are an opportunity for the countries because migrants and asylum-seekers may have a positive effect on Gross National Product (GNP), taxes and even on employment. Moreover, the cultural exchange that migrations provide is something undeniable. Creation, innovation or dissemination of knowledge are some of the advantages of living in a diverse society.
Figure 5: A group of refugee women from one Community Migrant Resource Centre in Sydney during a cultural exchange. Retrieved from
Finally, most of the media are not interested in showing migrants and refugees as people with name and surnames, backgrounds, resilience, capacity to deal with adversity and energy to build a better life. If people cannot have the chance to understand the causes of migration and empathize with people, it will be more difficult to put yourself in other’s shoes. We have to put faces on people and also, the policies have to count on their opinions, experiences and their participation because nobody knows more of situations that they have to deal with, that themselves. It is essential that a migration policy counts with the active participation of migrants and refugees letting them be involved in decision spaces.
Figure: two people giving support to refugees in a rally in London. Amnesty International. Retrieved from
In conclusion, it is imperative to substitute the hostile narratives by the hospitality narratives based on the protection of the dignity and rights of refugees and migrants. Being a hosting country and giving opportunities to people is to have a reflection about what it means to be a refugee and how I would like to be treated if I were in their place. So, hosting is a responsibility of all countries that are sharing this world and letting just some countries to make the effort is completely unfair. Sometimes, we get carried away and forget the most important thing, which is that we are talking about human beings.
UNHCR. Population statistics. Retrieved from
UNHCR. (2019). Global Appeal 2018-2019. Retrieved from
UNCHR. (2018). Regional summaries: the Middle East and North Africa. Retrieved from
Méndez de Vigo, V. (27 September 2018). Migraciones y refugio: de las narrativas de hostilidad a las narrativas de hospitalidad. Euro EFE.