[MEDIA GUIDELINES] Writing about migrants. Are you part of the problem or the solution?

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The narrative on migration – globally, but more so in the Arab world – is polarised, and this is reflected in the way local media covers news on migrants and migration.

Apr 16 2015

The narrative on migration – globally, but more so in the Arab world – is polarised. On the one hand are perceived cultural, security, and economic threats to the native population. Fears of diluted cultural and religious values and misplaced blame for high crime and unemployment rates justify exercising excessive control over migrants.

On the other is the vilification of the destination states, and in the case of GCC the individual kafeels.

These narratives are reflected in the way local media reports on the issues. Even the campaigns and reportage with the best of intentions tend to either marginalise the migrant or demonise the kafeel.

The truth is lost between the extremities, unavailable for the constructive dialogue necessary to address the relevant issues faced by both countries: low human resources but high need in destination states, and vast human resources but abject poverty in sending countries.

In this piece, Migrant-Rights.org highlights best practices and basic guidelines for reporting on migrant issues .

"They come here because it is better than where they come from. You can't expect the same treatment as nationals, after all you are temporary here."

Key to reporting on migrant rights is recognizing that migrant rights is first and foremost about human rights. The issues within may be specific to the group, but must be located within the wider discourse of human rights.

Thus, reporting should not concede to the denial of rights based on nationality.

While nationals are afforded specific rights based on citizenship (to own property, exercise their franchise, etc), basic human rights applies to every single person, and cannot be withheld on basis of nationality. 


There are 30 basic human rights as per the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
, to which all GCC states are signatories. While reporting on migrant rights, it is important to be aware of these rights. It is almost always the violation of these rights that one speaks of, and so it doesn't matter which country or whose laws - these have to be protected.

"Restricting domestic workers' mobility protects them and their employer.

The exit permit protects the interests of the company or kafeel. If the migrant worker is free to leave, he can easily commit fraud and get away with it."

While this may in some instances be true, it violates a key human right (UDHR Article 13):

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

(2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

“He is an illegal immigrant because he has left his employer/kafeel, so it’s ok to be held by the police.”

However, given the nature of the work permit in the GCC, it is important to probe into reasons why a person might be 'undocumented/irregular,'

First, while a person might do something illegal, it is incorrect to refer to him as an illegal migrant. He might become undocumented or an irregular worker, but that again is often for reasons beyond his control. 

“She is part of our family. She works and lives and eats with us, why an off day?”

(UDHR Article 24) Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

While these are some of the most common issues highlighted, the problem extends far beyond this list.

Especially as a code of ethics and press associations are not common in the GCC, individual journalists covering human rights and migrants’ issues should examine resources outside the region (see sidebar).

PANOS along with the United Nations Alliance of Civilization has released a comprehensive terms of use: Media-friendly Glossary on Migration.

Challenges, fact checking and access to data

Accurate and up-to-date data on migration to the GCC is hard to find.

While national statistics may reveal data on influx of labour, they are rarely categorised nationality-wise.

Official comments on the issue are also hard to come by, and are restricted to generic press statements.

In countries of destination, contacting the local diplomatic missions is the best bet.

However, there is a wealth of information available in countries of origin, especially those in South Asia.

See our networks page for these resources.

Advancing the rights of migrant workers throughout the Middle East