Doaa Fathy, here with her 4-year-old son, Hozaifa, signs up for basic computing courses at the ReDI school for digital integration in Berlin. As Germany currently faces a need for as many as 100,000 jobs for programmers, the school is designed to teach newcomers at every level digital integration skills. Photo: UNU/Gregory Beals

Addressing Xenophobia

Representations of Migration and the Role of the Media

New recommendations have been launched by the United Nations University (UNU) to outline best practices for newsmakers, media regulators, United Nations entities and Member State governments when reporting on issues of migration. These recommendations aim to facilitate a better, fairer, and more balanced representation of migrants and refugees in the media.

Growing support for right-wing political parties and increases in racist hate crime are evidence of the rise of xenophobia. Numerous studies attribute this in part to news coverage, details the UNU policy report, Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration, and the media have a responsibility to shape positive discourses and narratives around migrants and refugees.

Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration

Representatives from international news media networks, academia and the United Nations (UN) analysed the role of the media in shaping public opinion on migration.

• How do the international news media represent migrants and refugees?

• How do the media’s choices of representation influence public opinion about who migrants are, what they want, and the rights they should or should not have?

Numerous studies attribute this in part to news coverage, details the UNU policy report, Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration. It outlines the responsibilities of the media to disseminate ethical and positive perceptions of migrants and refugees, while safeguarding the values of independent journalism.


A series of policy recommendations to foster best practices were outlined and launched in the report, giving guidance for key sub-groups with a role and responsibility in shaping public attitudes on migration: Newsmakers, Media Regulators, UN entities, and Member State governments.


Surges and Swarms: A Conversation on Responsible Coverage of Migration (656KB PDF)

Addressing Xenophobia

In 2017, one person was displaced every two seconds. A record number of 68.5 million people have been forced from their homes. Some of those who cross international borders are among the most vulnerable people on the planet.

Migration has been shown to benefit economic and social inclusion. Yet, it is often understood to be a threat to national identity, public safety, and the domestic job market.

In a tense political climate marked by Islamophobia, fear spread by terrorism, and the rise of anti-immigrant parties, migrants are especially prone to acts of hatred and intolerance.

The United Nations is working at pace to ensure safe, regular and orderly international migration, in line with the commitment framing the Sustainable Development Goals to ‘leave no one behind’.

Key Facts

1. “Migration reporting is one of the biggest challenges facing the news media and will be for years to come. It is essential that media rise to the challenge of covering migration and put ethics at the centre of their coverage.” Tom Law, Ethical Journalism Network

2. The rise in news media coverage of migration in 2015 was accompanied by a rise in xenophobia and anti-immigration feeling in Europe and other common migrant destination countries. Irresponsible news coverage were cited as one of the contributing factors.

3. By filtering news stories and determining how they should be told, migration media coverage has considerable consequences on public opinion. It affects how the public learn about migration and migrant groups, form political judgement, and take electoral decisions.

4. UN representatives are calling on newsmakers and producers to partner in efforts to ensure fact-based, accurate and human-centred reporting of the migration remains the gold standard.

5. Addressing xenophobia to ensure the human rights and the inclusion of all migrants remains a pressing concern in the global migration agenda. It supports the general goal of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to ‘leave no-one behind’.

Role of the Media

The media play a critical role in shaping public opinion and countering negative attitudes towards diversity and mobility. Value-laden, pejorative, and dehumanizing narratives purport negative stereotypes, fuelling growth of xenophobia, and reinforcing the economic and social exclusion of migrant communities. Conversely, the potential for migration to positively contribute to development has yet to be fully acknowledged in public discourse.

Mainstream and social media play vital roles in shaping public perceptions of migrants and refugees. Media affects how the public learn about migration and migrant groups, form political judgments and take electoral decisions. Media is a key stakeholder in shaping discourses, and hence policies, that can effectively support inclusion.


Addressing Xenophobia: Representations of Migration and the Role of the Media (692KB PDF)

The success of the global compact on safe, orderly and regular migration depends on the support of both transit and receiver societies. Key to building this support is a change in mainstream narratives and a shift in the framing of migration from a threat to an opportunity to newcomers and established longer established members of society.

For economic and social inclusion to be successful, xenophobia must be proactively countered. Policies must be implemented to challenge the root causes of xenophobia and enable migrants to make positive contributions to inclusive societies.

Only then will marginalisation, abuse, and exploitation be tackled, so migrants can enjoy the dignity and recognition they deserve, and contribute to and partake in shared prosperity.

Photos: Migrant Integration across Europe

More than one million migrants arrived to Europe in 2015, according to the International Organization for Migration, with another 500,000 arriving throughout 2016 and 2017. Although the numbers of people risking the treacherous journey is falling, the crossing of the Mediterranean is proving more dangerous and deadly. Most of those arriving to Europe are fleeing war and poverty in the hope for a better future. The majority of arrivals this year are from Syria, Iraq, and Guinea.

Setting up a new life in recipient countries is a challenge, as photographer Gregory Beals explored when he visited migrant communities in Germany and Italy. His photos of the people he met show the challenges they face and overcome. Living conditions can be poor and finding work is difficult, but a brighter future is possible. Through the support of various services and migrant networks, many recently arrived refugees learn a local language and secure rewarding work, integrating themselves and contributing towards their host communities.



This project was conducted in three stages:

First, the research report ‘Addressing Xenophobia: Representations of Migration and the Role of the Media’ was prepared by the United Nations University Institute on Globalization, Culture & Mobility to establish key issues and considerations in addressing xenophobia and understanding the role of the media in representing migrants.

Second, with support from the Bellagio Centre of the Rockefeller Foundation, a week-long conference was held to discuss the findings of the working report and to take discussions forward. Participants at the conference came from three principal groups: media practitioners, UN entities working on migration, and academics working on the nexus of media and migration.

Third, UNU-GCM and UNU-CPR co-authored the report Surges and Swarms, which encapsulates the findings from the conference and the working report.


The United Nations University thanks the Swiss Development and Cooperation Agency and the Rockefeller Foundation for their support in making this project possible.

We thank Ms. Pilar Palacia and Ms. Nadia Ghilardoni of the Bellagio Center for their kind welcome and support.

We thank Ms. Deborah Seward of UNRIC for support in presenting this project in Brussels.