Your perceptions and attitudes about migrants matter for their inclusion

Credit: John Englart (Takver)

Today, as we honour international migrants day, it is important to remember that the way people perceive migration and displacement in receiving countries, and how they react to demographic changes, has a major impact on the wellbeing of millions of people.  The way information is disseminated is also vital. How a child is first received in a new country, and whether he or she is welcomed or not in school, and in school discourse, is vital too. The way we are educated, therefore, in school and out, is a clinch factor for inclusion.

Just last week, Minority Rights Group International, an NGO, released a new report, ‘No escape from discrimination’, which shows that negative portrayals of particular communities infiltrate migration and displacement perceptions from start to finish. You only have to look at the Rohingya, whose persecution has its roots in their exclusion from the list of ethnicities in Myanmar. Look at the persecution of the Yezidis fleeing from Iraq and the Muslim minorities in the Central African Republic.

In fact, you don’t need to look any further than London, Paris or New York. A thought provoking way to view the power of attitudes on migration is shown in the fact that the international migrant population has remained stable since 1990 as a proportion of the world’s population. Compare this with the stories in the news presenting a ‘global refugee crisis’ and ask yourself how much of the backlash against migration is because of false information and uncritical education, which generate biased perceptions.

hopkinsThe 2018 World Migration Report, which was launched on November 30, gives particular space to the role of the media feeding those negative portrayals in host-countries. It shows that the power of the media to infiltrate policy discussions, and affect a family that has arrived in a new country is vast. It concludes that media coverage can affect “self-perception, self-portrayal and how migrants relate to host countries and consider home countries. It can also relate to mediatized realities and decisions to move.” In short, the messages that people are reading in the press is permeating the full migration cycle.

Fighting information with information, the backlash against these negative portrayals is also seen in positive communication campaigns run in the form of the ‘I am a migrant’ campaign, for instance, giving voices to the men, women, boys and girls, moving around the world, or the ‘refugees are welcome’ campaign, blasting positive vibes.

Outside of informal education through the media, formal education in schools also echoes a country’s attitudes towards inclusion of migrant families. The 2013/4 GEM Report showed that completing secondary school increased tolerance towards immigrants by 26% in Latin America and by 16% in Central and Eastern Europe.


We will be unpacking the relationship of education with attitudes towards migrants and refugees over the course of the next year during the preparation of the 2019 GEM Report, which will focus on migration, displacement and education. Exactly how these attitudes can be assessed is one of the questions that will be posed in a forum the GEM Report team is co-organizing with the OECD ‘Strength through diversity’ project team on February 12-13 in Paris. The theme will be ‘Learning from data’ and will focus on how measurement tools can be improved to better assess policy questions related to the relationship of education with migration and displacement.

But the post-2015 agenda has drawn attention to the fact that it is not just how much education we receive, but the type of education we receive. The 2016 GEM Report, for instance, showed that at present only 42% of curriculum frameworks cover migration and immigration and less than 50% cover multiculturalism. It is important to look at the content of curricula and textbooks and the extent to which global citizenship and migration are covered.

Understanding better what is happening inside classrooms and how that is feeding inclusion or exclusion demands a spotlight on teachers and teacher education. In Berlin, for instance, that has received 400,000 school-age refugees, social workers and child psychologists are made available to schools on an as-needed basis. “The educators have to learn the history of these students on our own and deal with it on a case-by-case basis so as not to trigger the trauma they’ve experienced,” said one Berlin based teacher.

Many countries struggle still with the idea of including refugees in their national education systems. But important steps are being taken. Last week, as part of the preparation for the Global Compact on Refugees, Member States of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development convened for the First Regional Ministerial Conference on Refugee Education in Djibouti to discuss their response  to the challenge.

Schools are often the first formal encounter a migrant or refugee child will have with an institution in a new country and the first time these children of different nationality may sit next to each other. Lessons can build or break tolerance and multiculturalism. Workplaces, the media and information campaigns can extend that education or narrow it to inexistence. Watch this space.


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