Migrants’ voices must be heard in today’s all too often biased, polarized and negative debate on migration, says IOM’s World Migration Report 2011: Communicating Effectively about Migration.
The report states that although we live in an era of the greatest human mobility in recorded history, with greater acknowledgement that migration is one of the defining features of our contemporary world, it remains one of the most misunderstood issues of our time.
It, therefore, calls for a fundamental shift in the way we communicate about migration, especially during economic downturns when political discourse, media reports and public opinion on the nature, purpose and socio-economic impact of migration tend to be negative.
“It is all too evident that migration is often the catch-all issue that masks public fears and uncertainties relating to unemployment, housing and social cohesion in host countries. Migration can also be blamed for the loss of human capital and for economic dependency in countries of origin,” says IOM Director General William Lacy Swing.
The report argues that distorted communication about migration contributes to widespread anti-migrant sentiments, which have recently resurfaced in many parts of the world. Harmful stereotypes, discrimination and even xenophobia have reappeared in societies of destination, resulting in controversy on the value of multiculturalism.
Yet the report does not call for an uncritical bias on migration issues. An open discussion about migration means understanding and directly addressing what drives people’s fears and the negative attitudes as expressed in polls in order to reduce public hostility.
“Accurately informing the wider public about migration may be the single most important policy tool in all societies faced with increasing diversity,” Swing adds.
Analysing public perceptions of migrants and migration, the World Migration Report shows that people in destination countries tend to significantly overestimate the size of the migrant population, sometimes by as much as 300%. For example, the actual percentage of migrants in Italy was around 7% in 2010. Yet polls showed that the population perceived this percentage to be around a staggering 25%.
Similarly, in the United States of America, some public opinion polls showed that in 2010, the public believed the percentage of migrants in the population was at 39%, a far cry from an actual 14%.
The report notes that public attitudes towards migration continue to be strongly influenced by the socio-economic status, age and level of education of respondents and their level of interaction with migrants.
In Germany, a 2009 poll shows that 65% of young people say they have more positive attitudes towards migration because they regularly interact with migrants.
The perceived availability of jobs and prevalent perceptions that migrants take jobs away from nationals and/or place a strain on a country’s resources also influence attitudes and poll results.
However, the report notes that opinion polls can be unreliable as their results may be based on false assumptions of what a migrant is or is not. It also underlines that surveys and media reports rarely pay attention to or echo the voice of employers, who remain key actors in today’s global migration scene.
The World Migration Report suggests that questions relating to the changing compositions of our societies and cultural diversity can be addressed by integrating diversity into mainstream media and by encouraging migrants to use new social media tools to regularly engage with host and home societies.
“Whilst honest and balanced media reporting is paramount to foster a more enlightened debate on migration, migrants must also find their voices to tell their own stories. All too often perceived as passive, helpless and marginalized individuals, migrants would then be seen for what they are: shapers of their own destiny,” says Director General Swing.
The report underlines the critical need to communicate effectively about migration since managing migration also implies managing how migrants are perceived in society.
Initiatives such as the EC-funded Migrants in the Spotlight, which brought together young media professionals and migrants in countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, offer a glimpse of what could be done to foster a better informed migration debate.
“In our increasingly interconnected world, communicating effectively about migration is paramount to promote a wider understanding that migration is both a reality and a necessity. If intelligently and humanely managed, migration is also highly desirable,” says Swing.
The report also includes a review of migration trends and major policy issues in 2010/2011. In celebration of IOM’s 60th anniversary, a special section of the report is dedicated to a historical look at work of the Organization, in terms of its policy and its operations. A ten year statistical overview of IOM’s programmes completes the picture.
A live webcast of the launch on 6 December will take place at www.iom.int from 1100 CET
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