Due to their size and proximity to citizens, cities are in a unique position to foster social cohesion and encourage data-driven migration narratives. How are local governments in the Euro-Mediterranean region taking action to promote a fair discourse on migration and unlock its full potential? How are cities tackling misguided and ill-informed public perceptions on the migration phenomenon? The topic of balanced migration narratives at local level was the one addressed by the Thematic Session that took place on September 23, in the framework of the MC2CM Days, an event organized by the Mediterranean City-to-City Migration project under the co-patronage of the European Committee of the Regions, which I had the pleasure to moderate.
The panel discussion featured introductory remarks by Ian Barber, Director for Communication at the European Committee of the Regions. Representatives of local governments as well as from international organisations and NGOs, took part in the discussion.
The trust in local and regional authorities is on the rise, according to Barber, who launched the discussion stating that “local and regional politicians are the ones people will trust the most, to hear about migration”. Along the same lines, “the ability to communicate should be a priority for municipalities – stated Abdeslam Amakhtari, President of ASTICUDE –. The topic of migration is a complex one, but cities cannot avoid communicating on it, since communication is necessary for a proper perception of all the issues intertwined with such a phenomenon”. Amakhtari, who has been involved in a range of projects implemented in the framework of MC2CM aiming to enhance the capacities of local media professionals, suggested that communication efforts should be part of a wider territorial plan. “Municipalities should have a migration profile – he continued –, which would help them to gain a clear overview of the actors in place at local level, in order to foster synergies and mobilise capabilities”.
Apart from limited financial resources, which is an element that was also raised by Akram Dribika, Elected Member of the Municipality of Tripoli, cities have often to face the lack of reliable data, according to Waad Bouzidi, City Councillor of the Municipality of Raoued, and this can have a considerable impact on the implementation of evidence-based communication strategies. The regular connection that local authorities entertain with their territories, as well as the thorough knowledge of local contexts and attitudes, place though cities in a privileged position to unlock the potential of migration. “We need to make sure that the whole population can live together, and this is why we promote social mixing” continued Bouzidi, who also mentioned a range of initiatives carried out by the Municipality to this end, such as information outlets for migrants, artistic events, and food festivals.
Promoting balanced migration narratives also requires addressing disinformation and misinformation at the local level, since these phenomena are barriers for local authorities to capitalise on migration opportunities. In this respect, what arose during the discussion, is that partnerships with media should be fostered. “We should encourage media to have a more positive and proactive approach to this matter – stressed Souhaieb Khayati, Migration and Media expert –. We need to stimulate quality coverage and provide media with the necessary means to shift the trend”. “We need to find the frame that can speak to each individual or each group of population – concluded Violeta Wagner, ICMPD Regional Portfolio Manager for Eastern Europe and Central Asia –. The same message, the same framing can have different effects. We have to find different frames to respond to different values and concerns of the population. And municipalities are in the best position to understand their audience”.