Ideas

Do Anti-Xenophobia Campaigns Work?

At best, pro-migrant advocacy raises awareness. At worst, it reinforces tensions, new research shows.

Anti-xenophobia march in Barcelona, Spain
Sarah Deardorff Miller

NEW YORK — Even as the 2016 New York Declaration on Refugees and Migrants and twin UN-led global compact processes seek to improve the global response to people on the move, states are increasingly hostile toward them. Indeed, anti-refugee rhetoric seems to be everywhere these days.

From right-wing populist governments in Europe to President Donald Trump in the United States, forced migrants fleeing for their lives are being framed as dangerous, illegal and unwelcome. And in some cases, xenophobic rhetoric is being taken further still — transforming into acts of hate.

In 2016, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that "xenophobic and racist responses to refugees and migrants seem to be reaching new levels of stridency, frequency and public acceptance." In Australia, policies that place asylum seekers in detention are often seen to be underpinned by the desire to preserve "white Australia." Hungary has seen extensive fearmongering and anti-migrant messaging, as has the United States during its recent midterm elections and throughout the Trump administration.

What specific actions can be taken to combat xenophobic acts against foreigners?

Likewise, a number of attacks on Somali refugees in Nairobi have been reported in Kenya, as have attacks on Venezuelans seeking refuge in neighboring countries. New research has shown that "transnational dynamics like the ‘war on terror" have increased far-right extremism, prejudiced attitudes toward migrants, and international xenophobia."

Unintended consequences

Broadly speaking, governments need to be held accountable for keeping refugees and other migrants safe on their soil. But what specific actions can be taken to combat xenophobic acts against foreigners? Research shows that when local actors link up with transnational advocacy organizations, it can help pressure governments to alter insufficient policies or offer protection; it can also name and shame authorities to respect rights they otherwise might neglect.

Likewise, public awareness campaigns have sought to address bias and emphasize shared humanity. South Africa's Roll Back Xenophobia campaign, for example, enlisted the help of refugees, migrant workers, police, civil society and the media to frame xenophobia as a human-rights issue with roots in the Apartheid era.

However, sometimes pro-migrant programming can backfire. It can isolate migrants or minorities within the host population by reinforcing existing boundaries and fueling tensions. According to Loren Landau and E. Tendayi Achiume of the African Centre for Migration and Society at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, "heavy-handed anti-xenophobia campaigns aimed at protecting the rights of foreign minorities risk drawing them out into the open, enhancing their visibility, and making their foreignness the issue where it might not have been." Indeed, emphasizing that these groups have international allies can build resentment and anger among disadvantaged citizens who feel forgotten and excluded.

Anti-xenophobia march in Cape Town — Photo: Janah Hattingh

Moreover, to protect their own security, some displaced persons wish to stay out of the spotlight. Many prefer not to be clustered in camps, but blended into communities where they will not stand out to those who may pose a threat. They want to keep a low profile and choose not to register as refugees — particularly if they are in danger of persecution by the authorities, who may have contributed to their displacement.

In addition to posing a potential danger, it is also unclear how well pro-migrant programs actually work. "Progressive political movements championing an inclusive response to in-flows of migrants and refugees have struggled to counter extremist narratives and social distrust in host communities," write United Nations University researchers Nicola Pocock and Clara Chan. They also note that anti-racism and anti-prejudice reduction campaigns on TV, and public service announcements on radio and billboards, have not yet proven effective.

Furthermore, initiatives such as community dialogues and cultural and sports festivals can bring people together, but are usually one-off events and may not be effective in reaching those responsible for violence motivated by xenophobia. At best, they are good ways to generate awareness, but they do not address situations in which political leaders may actually benefit from stirring tensions. At worst, these initiatives can become politically charged and divisive — separating people even more.

Creative thinking

So what steps can be taken to combat xenophobia? Responses should first and foremost recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, coordination and collaboration on how to combat xenophobia should take place among different groups, including migrants, refugees, civil society groups, NGOs, UN actors, host communities and government actors.

Those looking to combat xenophobia should also look for ways to piggyback anti-xenophobia efforts on top of other, widely popular policies and priorities. Journalistic reporting should not emphasize extremes that paint migrants as either criminals or gifted/prodigies, as this is not helpful or realistic. More broadly, consistent, meaningful interactions among refugees, host communities and governments are needed to prevent violence that is motivated by xenophobia in the first place. Further research and new, creative thinking around how to foster these interactions is therefore an important part of the path forward.

Certainly, politicians in the United States and Europe have used such tactics.

Research also shows that instead of focusing on attitudes, which are unreliable predictors of behavior, programs should look at the motivations of those committing violence against refugees. The Diversity Initiative in Ukraine, for example, sought to do just this through a multi-pronged approach that drew together different actors for coordination and advocacy. This might mean targeting government officials and law-enforcement agents who participate in extortion, harassment, arbitrary detention and selective enforcement of the laws.

Programs that target the instigators, political entrepreneurs and local leaders who capitalize on distrustful climates and who get political or economic gains from discrimination and violent exclusion of "outsiders' are more likely to be effective. Many of these instigators were found to be motivated by rewards related to land, jobs or political office. Stirring up reactions to policies — often by painting a negative picture of immigrants — is sometimes the basis for xenophobic acts and can offer political advantages. Certainly, politicians in the United States and Europe, such as Trump and Marine le Pen, have used such tactics.

Pocock and Chan also write that anti-discrimination interventions should try to target "prejudices harbored by front-line public sector workers and policymakers, which could translate into discriminatory treatment." Focusing on these drivers is thus a way to deal with the root causes of xenophobic behaviors, such as marginalization and exclusion, rather than just their consequences. This will contribute to the effectiveness of anti-xenophobia campaigns, thus improving the situation for host communities and refugees alike.


*This article has been adapted from a section of Sarah Deardorff Miller's World Refugee Council research paper, "Xenophobia Toward Refugees and Other Forced Migrants."

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La Sagrada Familia Delayed Again — Blame COVID-19 This Time

Hopes were dashed by local officials to see the completion of the iconic Barcelona church in 2026, in time for the 100th anniversary of the death of its renowned architect Antoni Guadí.

Work on La Sagrada Familia has been delayed because of the pandemic

By most accounts, it's currently the longest-running construction project in the world. And now, the completion of work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882, is going to take even longer.

Barcelona-based daily El Periodico daily reports that work on the church, which began as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. But a press conference Tuesday, Sep. 21 confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin).

El Periódico - 09/22/2021

El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world.

One tower after the other… Slowly but surely, La Sagrada Familia has been growing bigger and higher before Barcelonians and visitors' eager eyes for nearly 140 years. However, all will have to be a bit more patient before they see the famous architectural project finally completed. During Tuesday's press conference, general director of the Construction Board of the Sagrada Familia, Xavier Martínez, and the architect director, Jordi Faulí, had some good and bad news to share.

As feared, La Sagrada Familia's completion date has been delayed. Because of the pandemic, the halt put on the works in early March when Spain went into a national lockdown. So the hopes are dashed of the 2026 inauguration in what would have been the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.

Although he excluded new predictions of completion until post-COVID normalcy is restored - no earlier than 2024 -, Martínez says: "Finishing in 2030, rather than being a realistic forecast, would be an illusion, starting the construction process will not be easy," reports La Vanguardia.

But what's a few more years when you already have waited 139, after all? However delayed, the construction will reach another milestone very soon with the completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years and the second tallest spire of the complex. It will be crowned by a 12-pointed star which will be illuminated on December 8, Immaculate Conception Day.

Next would be the completion of the Evangelist Lucas tower and eventually, the tower of Jesus Christ, the most prominent of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated 13.5 meters wide "great cross." It will be made of glass and porcelain stoneware to reflect daylight and will be illuminated at night and project rays of light.

La Sagrada Familia through the years

La Sagrada Familia, 1889 - wikipedia

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