By Tony Bunyan
For millions of people across Europe the refugee crisis became “real” when the image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a drowned Syrian child found on a Turkish beach, went viral world-wide at the beginning of September 2015.
But the scale of the crisis was already was already widely known if not widely-reported a year earlier.
On 5 January, 2015 Malta Today, from one of the European Union’s smallest members, but a frontline state in the Mediterranean, reported: “270,000 asylum seekers sought entry to EU in 2014: Frontex deputy executive director says numbers for 2014 nearly doubled the previous record of 141,000 registered in 2011.”¹
European Union institutions were well-aware that the continuing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Libya and growing refugee camps in Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, would bring an even greater exodus in 2015. And if media were unaware of the internal planning, a European Commission Factsheet published on 13 January, 2015 alerted them with: “Questions and Answers: Smuggling of Migrants in Europe and the EU response.²
“In 2014, more than 276,000 migrants irregularly entered the EU, which represents an increase of 155% compared to 2013. Syrians together with Eritreans were the largest group apprehended at EU external borders trying to enter the EU in an irregular manner.”
In 2014 the main refugee routes were largely from Libya to Italy (170,816) and, in the eastern Mediterranean, mainly from Turkey to Greece (50,561). These figures reversed in 2015 with most refugees arriving in Greece. But if the mainstream media were largely ignoring the gathering storm, social media and civil society reported and forecast what we were to witness in 2015. Médecins sans Frontières reported in December 2014 from Greece:
“Thousands of refugees … are being welcomed with a dysfunctional reception system and inhumane living conditions. Greece and the European Union (EU) must urgently improve living conditions … and offer them adequate medical assistance and protection.” ³
Despite numerous documents and reports on “migration flows” the EU institutions utterly failed to plan ahead. EU humanitarian aid on the Greek islands did not start until late September 2015. When it did it was tied to registration, fingerprinting and closed detention centres for those to be returned in so-called “hot spots” in Greece and Italy. The gap from April 2015 was filled by visiting civil society volunteers and local people.
The European story was there to be told, but media failed to alert their audience or to challenge the readiness of the European Union and its member states to deal with the crisis that was about to break upon their shores.
This lack of touch by the mainstream media community to raise the alarm highlighted the weakness of media and further underscored the problems facing many journalists and media as they grappled with the responsibility of covering this humanitarian crisis professionally.
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This article is taken from the Ethical Journalism Network's report 'Moving Stories - International Review of How Media Cover Migration'
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