Refugees in the media

Hereby we present you the main recommendations from the joined meeting of journalist and experts on the subject “How do we cover the refugee topic in the media?” which took part on 18 October 2013 in the building of the Information Office of the European Parliament in Bulgaria.
In front of the journalists were shared the recommendations of: Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR, Margarita Ilieva, BHC, Diana Daskalova, Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria, Linda Awanis, Council of women refugees in Bulgaria, Borislav Dimitrov, Friends of the refugees, Elena Dyankova, European network against racism (ENAR).
Here is what they advised:
1.   Point out the personal stories – where do the asylum seekers come from, what made      them leave their country of origin, what have they been through on their way here; (Linda Awanis, Council of women refugees in Bulgaria)
2. Do not set all refugees under a common denominator and nationality – in the moment in Bulgaria there are still coming people from countries like Algeria, Congo etc., they are not only from Syria; (Linda Awanis, Council of women refugees in Bulgaria)
3.   Introduce the legal commitments of our country (national laws and international conventions); (Diana Daskalova, Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria)
4.  The balance of the topic in the media is advisable – there is a clear tendency of showing very monotonous information where the topic of the national security is predominantly covered in the public space. (Diana Daskalova, Center for Legal Aid – Voice in Bulgaria)
5.   Consider the asylum seekers and the refugees as a legal entity – people who are having certain rights and not as objects deprived of rights; (Margarita Ilieva, BHC)
6.    Be cautious with the photographs – demand the consent of the refugees when taking the photos as some of them are persecuted in their country of origin and that can put their life in danger; (Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR)
7.    Do not deliver without criticism the information coming from the state authorities,  put on examination the data and the facts, look for the experts from the NGOs for comments; (Borislav Dimitrov, Friends of the refugees)
8.   Be extremely careful with children, they have been through a lot during the war (Boris Cheshirkov, UNHCR)
 What are the specific terms according to the UNHCR:
1.    Refugee is any person who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…”    Convention relating to the Status of Refugees 1951
2.   People escaping from conflicts or widespread violence, normally are considered refugees though sometimes under legal mechanisms different from the Convention of 1951. For instance combatants, terrorist or people, guilty of serious crimes are excluded unambiguously.
3.   Asylum seeker is a person who have submitted a request for receiving a refugee status and is still waiting for that request to be approved or rejected. The term does not contain the assumption for the approval or rejection of the request but it only describes the fact that the person has submitted a request. Some of the asylum seekers are going to be recognized as refugees and others – not.
4.   Migrants are most of the people going to a foreign country for a certain period of time (normally around one year thus the temporary visitors as the tourists and the ones who are on a business trip etc. shall be excluded). The term migrant should be differentiated from the term immigrant as the latter means a person that settles down in a different country than his country of origin.
5.  Economic migrant is a person that leaves his country of origin mainly due to financial reasons.
6.   Rejected request for granting an asylum (refusal). Persons seeking asylum whose application has been rejected can appeal against the rejection at least once. If a particular case is conclusively rejected at all instances the person is usually given a period of time to leave the country voluntarily and if that deadline is not respected the person is arrested and deported by the state authorities.
7.   Illegal migrant. This is a term that is not fixed in a law but is widely spread in usage for persons who entered in a particular country without having the necessary papers. Illegal entrance is often prosecuted as an administrative violation. Regardless of this fact asylum seekers often do not have another choice except crossing the borders illegally. According to the Geneva Convention of 1951 they should not be punished (arrested or issued a fine) for doing so.
8.   In the beginning of April 2013 the “Associated Press” issues a new handbook on the style of writing where they are prohibiting their team from using the term “unlawful/illegal immigrant”. Till the issuing of that edition of the handbook it was written that this term is “accurate and neutral”. Now it is stipulated that “Unless in a precise quote that is of a key importance for the material use “unlawful/illegal” only to describe an action and not a person.”
9.   Quite interesting is the experience of the British Red Cross in a campaign dating back to 2012/2013 which aims to prevent the negative reports that are demonizing the asylum seekers and the refugees based on a decision from 2013 of the British Commission on claims against the media which defines the negative image of the refugee stories as unethical.
Hereby we would include the comments regarding the issues of the refugees made by Elena Dyankova, European network against racism (ENAR), though they are outside of the topic of the media coverage.
1. Attention should be brought to the condition/accommodation of the children and the underage and the requirements according to the international conventions – Convention of UN for the rights of the child. What is their access to education, Bulgarian language. Currently there are issues with the evaluation and the equalization of their education due to the lack of documents. What are UNESCO and the State Agency for Child Protection doing for the integration of the children and the underage?
2.   The higher education – so far there is not a single refugee who succeeded in paying the taxes in the universities.
3.   It is necessary for the procedure of receiving a status in SAR to be speeded up. To keep a close eye on the results and not only count on the promises of the chairman of SAR that measure for the speed up would be taken.
4.   Access to the labor market – a change should be made in the Law on refugees and asylum, art.29, par.3, “The foreigner has the right of access to the labor market if his/her procedure owing to circumstances beyond their control does not finish within one year of the submission of the request for asylum.” In other countries this time period is just a few months.
5.   It is necessary for a change to come in the Law on foreigners regarding the status of the undocumented immigrants.
6.   The integration program for asylum seekers who have been granted a status is conducted only on the territory of Sofia city. What happens to the other refugees in our country?
7.   Persons, seeking asylum who have already been granted humanitarian or refugee status should leave the registration centers (the camps) in no less than 3 to 5 days. Given the short notice can they find a job and accommodation without speaking Bulgarian?

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