No home, no hope? Media analysis of the European refugee crisis

01 Jan 1970 1:00 am by Leela Bozonelis

More than a million migrants and refugees crossed the European border in 2015, sparking a continent-wide crisis.  The winter weather has not reduced the flow of people – with 135,711 people reaching Europe by sea since the beginning of 2016.  This is now the biggest refugee crisis since World War Two, but are British citizens and the mainstream media paying enough attention?

The migrant effect

The migrant crisis in the European Union (EU) is driving deep divisions across the continent.  Some EU countries have been hit harder by the influx of migrants than others.  Germany has received the highest number of new asylum applications - more than 476,000 in 2015 - but German officials claim more than a million people have already been counted and distributed.  Hungary also faces a high number of asylum applications as more migrants make the journey through the Western Balkans and Greece, receiving 177,130 applications in 2015.

Turkey and the refugee crisis

The tenacity of Turkey's illegal people traffickers – who charge extortionate amounts of money to move refugees across the Aegean Sea – has meant improving cooperation between Turkey and the EU is crucial if progress is to be made on the migrant crisis.  Turkey is reluctant to readmit large migrant numbers, but is under pressure from EU leadership to do so.  Turkey has demanded a high price for its co-operation, claiming it has already spent €8 billion helping refugees to escape from Syrian warfare.  The country is struggling to house the influx of people, with 2.5 million already in camps.  

EU leaders met with the Turkish government on March 18 to conclude a deal which will see migrants returned to Turkey in exchange for aid and political concessions.  Analysis of the coverage of the refugee crisis over this time using LexisNexis Newsdesk shows that although online media coverage peaked, little related to Turkey.  This suggests that while Turkey may be an important factor politically, concerns about the wider landscape of the migrant crisis are given far more credence online.

chart 1

Sentiment sells a story?

The migrant crisis has not been positively represented online.  Both traditional and social media coverage in the UK over the March discussions between EU and Turkey has been overwhelmingly negative.  Analysis of the crisis using LexisNexis Newsdesk shows 50.6 per cent of mentions were negative and only 4.55 per cent were positive.  
chart 2
The traditional media's approach was summarised in a recent report published by the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), which stated: "There is a tendency, in sections of the mainstream media, to lump migrants together and present them as a seemingly endless tide of people who will steal jobs, become a burden on the state and ultimately threaten the native way of life.  Migrants often bring enormous benefits to their adopted countries."

The negative sentiment given to the crisis has been linked by several journalists to the lack of coverage of recent terror attacks in Turkey.  After the 2015 attacks in Paris, and more recently still in Belgium, social and online media's reaction was one of outspoken shock and sympathy.  However last week a terrorist attack devastated Turkey's capital - three people died and 36 were injured.  Writing for the Independent, Yasmin Ahmed commented: "There seems to be limits to our solidarity and these boundaries look uncomfortably like the map of Western Europe.  Turkey remains just outside of our realm of care, not close enough in proximity to afford our grief."

The UK government's lack or response was summed up by one commentator: "Why didn't Downing Street raise the Turkish flag after the atrocities in Ankara?

The UK's role in resettling – an 'In or Out' question?

Prime Minister David Cameron has said the UK will accept up to 20,000 refugees from Syria over the next five years, however, his response to the refugee crisis has been labelled as "clearly inadequate" by leading aid and refugee agencies.  In a letter to David Cameron, a group of charities - including Oxfam and Amnesty International - praised the commitment to resettle 20,000 but insisted the UK should take a "proportionate" share of refugees.

The disparity amongst EU members and the lack of an EU-wide solution to the migrant crisis will surely affect attitudes towards the UK's membership of the EU.  What this will mean for the upcoming referendum is still unclear.  The rise in Europe's migration crisis has had a marked effect on public opinion, with British voters concerned about the effects of immigration.  Turkey – now seen as a bridge between migrants and the EU – is a candidate to join the Union.  The possibility of this is unsettling referendum voters, as allowing Turkey into the EU would mean extending its borders to Syria, Iran and Iraq.

Prior to the crisis, British citizens tended to be supportive of remaining in the EU but public support for Brexit has been steadily rising.  The LexisNexis Newsdesk EU Referendum Tracker analyses traditional and social media to follow the in/out campaign, and currently shows the out campaign gaining momentum.

Three million migrants are expected to arrive in Europe by the end of 2017 and the media is expected to highlight the issues this will cause for European politics and economic growth.

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