Media, culture play important role in successful refugee settlement

What you need to know:

Unlike other types of migration, which can involve any person moving between countries, Refugees form a particularly vulnerable population, frequently lacking financial resources, stable housing, and any assurance about what lies ahead

“We must come together and ask whether the international conventions and legal frameworks designed 50-plus years ago are fit for purpose in an age of jet travel and smartphones,” – Suella Braverman,  British interior minister. In her planned three-day visit to the U.S, British Interior Minister Suella Braverman is set to address the “unsustainable pressures” resulting from illegal migration. Her speech will outline a plan for nations to address this crisis, emphasizing the UK’s pioneering role in introducing “innovative approaches” to confront the issue.

“Illegal migration and the unprecedented mass movement of people across the globe is placing unsustainable pressures on America, the UK and Europe,” Braverman said in the statement. States are bound under international law to provide certain protections to refugees that have been granted asylum status; however, the method of determining this status varies from state to state.

Unlike other types of migration, which can involve any person moving between countries, Refugees form a particularly vulnerable population, frequently lacking financial resources, stable housing, and any assurance about what lies ahead.

They often undergo a sudden and profound upheaval as they are uprooted from their homes. They must then learn to adapt to the cultural context of the country where they settle. On the flip side, residents of these host countries experience this change from a different perspective, witnessing a sometimes rapid and significant shift in their nation’s demographics. Hence, culture exerts influence on numerous facets of behavior and cognition, serving as a cognitive framework for interpreting the world and making decisions. Additionally, culture imparts a sense of identity and demarcates the boundaries between “us” and “them.”

Numerous factors come into play during this transitional phase, impacting the refugees’ capacity to effectively assimilate into their new host country.

Shifts in demographics can induce a cultural disorientation, prompting defensive and isolationist reactions in response. In the case of refugees, international law plays a role, offering distinct protections. Moreover, global entities such as the United Nations (UN) and humanitarian organizations play diverse roles in offering guidance and assistance to both refugees and host states. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is particularly designated to safeguard refugees and facilitate their resettlement. Therefore, refugee integration stands as a politically significant matter, encompassing the realms of both state and international affairs. It engages a multitude of stakeholders, spans various policy domains, and impacts the broader global migration dynamics.

Host country policy makers hold a significant stake in the effective integration of refugees. Refugees can contribute to the labor force and bring their unique skills and education to the country. Refugee policy is highly conspicuous on the global platform, and policymakers must weigh the image projected to both international peers and domestic constituents. While long-term policies to accommodate refugees may strain national resources, short-term approaches prove inefficient and inadequate for successful integration. Policymakers are tasked with pinpointing responses that are not only politically viable but also the most effective in order to preempt potential future challenges. Managing refugee flows necessitates policy considerations at various echelons: international, national, regional, and local.  Yet, there exists little consensus on the most efficacious policies or the optimal international approach to efficiently assist refugees, hindered by limited available data on refugee populations. The diverse outcomes and intricate historical contexts surrounding cases of refugee flows and state responses offer a wealth of intriguing material.

A country’s response to refugees is inherently intertwined with not only culture and national identity, but also with its history, geography, and present-day events. Moreover, policy reactions evolve over time and may yield varied results. Nations are further restricted by their finite ability to receive and integrate refugees into society.

Even the effect of the media is framed by social identity. Media has a framing and gatekeeping effect on public opinion, setting the agenda of what issues are important as well as how they are discussed. Therefore, the media has the ability to prime the public to have strong positive or negative opinions on immigration. Ethnic cues influence emotional reactions to media coverage of migration, and even when the costs of immigration are portrayed identically, hostility is elicited according to ethnic group cues. Anxiety triggers opposition from newcomers based on how different they are, and migration discourse is group-centric. This shows that culture and identity matter even given the perceptions framed by the media.

George Ooro, @OoroGeorge