Media, Children and the Refugee Crisis

Over this summer, the media has reported an unprecedented increase in the number of migrants making the dangerous crossing from North Africa and the Middle East to Greece and Italy.  UNHCR reports that there are now more people globally displaced by war than at any time in modern history.  Currently crossing the Central and Eastern Mediterranean are mainly refugees from wars in Syria, Eritrea and Somalia. 

These numbers include many separated young people, and vulnerable chidleren and young families. However much of the European media has persisted in representing this group with images of grown men breaking into lorries and rioting at stations, rather than focus on the more vulnerable women and children.  The Hungarian government went so far as to issue an order to the press to specifically not use pictures of children so as not to incite public sympathy for migrants. 

The picture of three- year-old Ayal Kurti, a Syrian boy drowned in the crossing from Turkey to Greece and first released on social media, went viral and could not be ignored by the mainstream press. The picture not only swayed public opinion, but forced the right-wing press in particular to re-evaluate their reporting- for instance some newspapers and broadcasters have now made decisions at editorial level to use the term ‘refugee’ or ‘asylum-seeker’ rather than ‘migrant’  in their coverage.

Al Jazaera’s Listening Post, a weekly broadcast programme that digests world media stories, has an analysis of  the European media coverage of  the crisis, which includes an interview with Uncertain Journeys’ team member Sue Clayton on why the picture of Ayal Kurti had such an effect. It is available until 27 September 2015 at:

Sue is also interviewed in an Al Jazeera webcast on the significance of GPS and Smartphones for refugees making the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean.

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