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Using local radio to tackle illegal migration in Africa

By Zeenat Hansrod

African radio journalists are being trained to report on illegal immigration – or irregular migration – in the hope that they can deter the local population from taking the dangerous migration routes towards Europe.

Aware Migrants is a campaign by IOM (the International Organisation for Migration) to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal immigration. One aspect of the campaign consists in training journalists from community radios in Africa. A training programme took place at the end of last year in Niger and Senegal comprising a few radio stations selected by AMARC, the World Association of Community Radios, based in Brussels.

We worked on not bringing a value judgement to the reports but rather open the mic to testimonies...
Jean-Luc Mootoosamy Director Media Expertise 02/02/2018 - by Zeenat Hansrod Listen

"If you are going to migrate, migrating irregularly is not the best way. We think it is particularly important to get the message to the public in these countries of origin. And what better way to do that than through radio, especially community radios", Leonard Doyle, a spokesperson for IOM says.

He adds that IOM is trying "peer to peer communication" instead of using the usual channels like government agencies or international organisations telling people that they shouldn’t migrate irregularly. IOM prefers to leave it to the returnees, the migrants that returned to their countries of origin, to tell stories about their ordeals.

"People for whatever reason feel that they don’t have a lot of hope at home and [even though] the numbers are declinining, people are taking greater and more dangerous risks.

"Anybody who thinks that going through Libya is a clever idea needs to have their head examined because people are being taken off the bus, they are being exploited by criminal gangs, migrants have become the economy of that sad and benighted country due to a lack of governance," adds Doyle.

Using local languages

Jean-Luc Mootoosamy is the director of Media Expertise and the journalist who conducted the short training programmes in Niger and Senegal. He felt it was particularly important to use local languages and ensure that the reports remain factual, not carrying any value judgement towards either potential migrants or returnees.

"It was quite difficult to find the right angle.They [the journalists] know that lots of people are leaving and that there are lots of smugglers also in town who do not want them to report on these stories. They don’t really know how to address this question. We worked on not telling [the listeners] what to do but rather open the mic to testimonies of people who came back so that they can tell their stories," says Mootoosamy.

Codou Loume is a journalist with Radio Oxyjeunes, based in the town of Pikine in Senegal. She was among the journalists selected to attend the four-day training session in Dakar. Loume feels the training helped changed the way she now reports on irregular migration. She has been reporting on this issue for the past five years and, prior to the training, relied heavily on information gathered on the internet, from international media organisations or other institutions like the United Nations or IOM.

"All that we gave was negative. We used exactly the [same] words that the occidental [western] media used. We did not used our own words," Codou Loume says.

She said that she now understands the importance of giving the opportunity to the migrants to use their own words to explain what happened to them when they left the country illegally.

"The training teached me... to do a spot, before I never did that. I never did the portrait of a migrant. And it made a big difference because it is after that training that people came to me and told me I decided to go but now I [will] stay in Senegal and work here", adds Loume.

Baba Sy is one of the listeners of Radio Oxyjeunes who changed his mind about paying smugglers a large sum of money to smuggle him to Europe. After listening to one of the radio programmes he opted to stay and invest the money he saved in Pikine.

"I was shocked by the testimonies I heard from migrants who came back. The hardship they faced, the abuse, those who were killed… And the huge amount of money they lost. But I would like to ask IOM to help the migrants before they leave and not wait until they are sent back home.You should help people when they most need it. And if IOM cannot do any of that, can it refund some of the money spent by the migrants ? I cried a lot when listening to the programme and I thought I was lucky not to have left."

Baba Sy’s interview was aired on Radio Oxyjeunes in woloff, one of the main languages spoken in Senegal. Using local languages instead of "western" languages such as French or English – incidentally the language of former colonial powers – is important for the listeners to relate to the message broadcast.

"We tried to have as many local languages as possible [during the training]. It [touches] people’s heart in a way French or English won’t. When some stories come from abroad, they say that it is some kind of manipulation from countries which don’t want to see migrants coming. Talking to them in the language [they use] to express their emotions, also helps them to build their opinion," says Jean-Luc Mootoosamy.

He admits that the most difficult aspect of the training was to  "deconstruct"  what the journalists were doing before. They tend to do very long interviews, out of which they would take only one minute for the broadcasts.

Mootoosamy said that there was a wealth of untapped information at their disposal. So, they worked on interviews the journalists did, isolating various extracts that may be used for various purposes : a spot, a portrait, gathering information for a debate…

Niger and Senegal were the first two countries where Aware Migrants’ initiative of training local radio journalists took place. It may be extended to other countries but, according to IOM, only if it gathers the funds to do so.

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