Today is world refugee day – well worth recognising in itself. But it is the language used by the UN to describe the day that really caught our attention:
“celebrating the courage, strength and determination of women, men and children who are forced to flee their homeland under threat of persecution, conflict and violence.”
This focus on the courage and determination of refugees feels like a refreshing shift from the familiar stories of need, powerlessness and dependence. And it chimes with language we’ve heard the public react positively to in exploration of the issue, including in recent proprietary groups we conducted.
The audience we spoke to – including Daily Mail readers heavily exposed to negative messaging about refugees – responded with positivity to messages around refugees’ desire to shape their own futures rather than portrayals of them as passive recipients of aid. Narratives that reflect their hopes and dreams for the future, and their desire to shape a better life for themselves, help to portray them as rounded individuals like us. As well as building an empathy bridge for a UK audience, it also helps to convey the idea that with a bit of help to get back on their feet, they can contribute a huge amount to the world, be it in the UK, Europe, or their home country.
We have seen in past months a sense of hopelessness and helplessness around the refugee crisis - in the face of an intractable conflict in Syria, a deepening of political division in the UK, fundamental disagreements amongst experts about the best way to help, and a perceived (if untrue) connection between refugees and terrorism.
But the shift towards a more progressive, compassionate politics in the UK, especially amongst young people, should offer a glimmer of hope here. The refugee crisis is ongoing, even if the immediacy of the Calais camp has faded away from the public consciousness. We need support for refugees – in the UK, in Europe and around the world - to be put back on the agenda. And the language used by the UN may offer some guidance on how to frame the issue in a way that can connect with both sides of our polarised political landscape.
"I’ve met so many who have lost so much. But they never lose their dreams for their children or their desire to better our world. They ask for little in return – only our support in their time of greatest need" - UN Secretary-General, António Guterres