International Women’s Day: Migration, hate-speech, and protecting journalists

Tom Law

Refugees were being flown into the UK like ants, so says the Daily Express, in an example given by Shami Chakrabarti in her book ‘On Liberty’.

It could have been from yesterday’s newspaper but in fact it comes from November 2001. At the time Rosalind Yarde described The Daily Express‘ article as “a feast of mixed metaphors, confused nouns and dubious mathematics”. In her column in The Guardian Yarde wrote that the apparent hordes of immigrants “flooding” the UK like “ants from an ant hill” only numbered 74.

“Now, this might seem a lot to the average tabloid journalist but there are 1.2m Afghan refugees in Pakistan. And isn’t it curious how, as in this piece, words are misused – refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants interchanged as if they all meant the same thing.”


Read Yarde’s 2001 article here: Demons of the day – Asylum crisis, hordes of refugees – after 40 years, papers are still telling the same old lies, says Rosalind Yarde


Fifteen years after this article how much has changed? Our recent Moving Stories report analysing the UK media’s coverage of migration in 2015 begins:

For decades the issue of immigration has been a toxic and divisive political issue in the United Kingdom and in 2015, in the wake of the European-wide migration crisis, the debate around asylum and refugees became highly charged, volatile and polemical.

In its reporting of the crisis the British tabloid press, already criticised in recent years for political bias over reporting of refugee and asylum issues, has found itself again under scrutiny during 2015 – this time from the international community.


Read the full report here: Moving Stories – United Kingdom – How journalism plays follow-my-leader in the rhetoric of negativity


European government’s are increasingly criminalising refugees, according to Chakrabarti, with the two main UK political parties engaged in “arms race” for at least 20 years to sound the toughest on the issues of crime, terrorism and immigration with the three being “conflated”.

In this hostile environment of public opinion, Chakrabarti believes that “there is no space for a more internationalist, progressive or humane debate about asylum.”

“If the universal of declaration [of human rights] is the world’s answer to the holocaust then the refugee convention is the world’s apology and that is being dishonoured systematically in thought word and deed.”

“I am descended from migrants, not ‘a bunch of migrants’, it only takes two”

Chakrabarti was scathing of the British prime minister David Cameron’s choice of language when describing migrants in Calais as a “bunch of migrants” when castigating the leader of the opposition in House of Commons for going to visit migrants at a camp in Calais.

“It is the most appalling and inhumane thing to say”, says Chakrabarti, adding that the phrase was very “revealing” in terms of Cameron’s approach to migration.

The language of migration is becoming increasingly important, Chakrabarti says, warning against the tactic of attempting to “ring fence” refugee and asylum seekers and keep them “separate from the idea of ‘migrants’ because migrants has become a dirty word”.

Despite their being some short term value in the long term “the fundamental prejudice” and perception of migrants as ‘the other’ has be to be addressed “and not just ring fence smaller and smaller groups of people that meet some very limited definition.”

‘The end of the line’

A recent video by Adam Westbrooke explores these issues in a video essay The End of the Line in which he argues that fear over ideas of western identity being under threat by migration from the Middle East and North Africa is distorting attitudes and policy making.


This year’s International Women’s Day on March 8 saw many organisations focus on refugee and migrant women, addressing sexist hate-speech and protecting women journalists.

At an event by the Overseas Development Institute in London, civil rights activist Shami Chakrabarti, spoke of the need for activists “to be more multi-disciplinary” because of the importance of the internet as the frontier for debates on human rights.

“We need technologists that understand law, politics and ethics” Chakrabarti said, reflecting on her over 12 years as the director of Liberty.

Human rights groups and organisations that promote ethical practice “need people who are more confident with technology so that we can have debates with the spooks and the corporate who otherwise dominate the space in relation to the online world.”


The storify below brings together the best reporting, campaigns and events from social media coverage of International Women’s Day.