The Media Representation of Refugee Women in Spain: The Humanitarian Crisis of the First Female Refugees in the Press

The Media Representation of Refugee Women in Spain: The Humanitarian Crisis of the First Female Refugees in the Press

Francisco Javier García Castaño, Ariet Castillo Fernandez, Antolín Granados Martínez
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-7283-2.ch006
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Research on the migratory phenomenon has produced many studies and from various disciplines. However, the knowledge that citizens have of this phenomenon is linked to the discourse by the media. It is not different in the case of refuge and asylum. The contribution of the authors involves questioning to what extent the media are present in shaping the image of migrations. Until now, the image presented is negative, problematic, conflictive, ethnic, and alarming. But this chapter focuses on refugees and, in particular, refugee women. In the same way that research on the migratory phenomenon shows that immigrant women have not been the subject of notable media coverage, it is to be expected that refugee women are not either. For this reason, it is interesting to check the degree of media coverage of the migratory phenomenon in the press (including the mobility of refugees) during the so-called “refugee crisis” in Europe. The chapter focuses on the news that include the refugee woman. For this purpose, the news published in the Spanish newspaper El País are used.
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Research on news media has shown it has the power to set the news agenda. It also shows the close relationship that exists between what they publish and the general public’s degree of knowledge regarding any physical, social or cultural phenomenon (Castells, 2009, Ramonet, 2003, Van Dijk, 2009). It should therefore be hardly surprising that for a large part of the public the phenomenon of migration should also be constructed in a way that reflects how it is conveyed by the news media. And it is important to state this fact about the public’s sources of information when constructing their perception of migratory processes. The reasons for this will be set out in what follows.

Research into the phenomenon of migration has produced thousands of studies, reports, doctoral theses and publications in prestigious publications and indexed journals with high impact rates. It has been analysed from the perspective of economics, demographics, anthropology, sociology, medicine, social psychology and political science. Nevertheless, the knowledge of this subject held by the general public is closely linked to the discourse that the media have been propounding throughout the period in question (Granados-Martinez & Granados-Lerma, 2013). This is the case for refugees themselves as well as for the phenomena of refuge and asylum.

But refugees issue have not had the same media coverage as foreign immigrants have received in Europe. Owing however to the tragic situation of countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Eritrea, etc., and the flight of thousands of their citizens towards European borders, European public opinion and consequently the news media have been in a state of high alert. This has meant that the refugee issue has acquired the same news status as that of the immigrant; so much so that, in pursuit of their own agenda, many media have created serious confusion between the two categories, confounding the demographic with the legal dimension, and vice versa. Some countries as Germany and Sweden for example overwhelmingly used the terms “refugee” and “asylum seeker”, whereas the Italian and British press preferred the concept of “migrant”. The dominant expression in Spain was “immigrant” (Berry, Garcia-Blanco & Moore (2015).

The authors of this study focus on refugees and, in particular, on female refugees. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees [UNHCR], 2020, there were almost 80 million people “forced to migrate” for reasons utterly distinct from those who did so for work, education, leisure, etc. It is what this United Nations agency refers to as “forced global displacement”. To gain a clearer idea of the size of this phenomenon, it is worth noting that rather more than 20 million (48% women) of the 80 million people “forced to migrate” are deemed to be refugees, slightly more than 6 million of whom are to be found in Europe.

Just as recent research into the phenomenon of migration shows that women immigrants have not been the recipients of particularly notable media coverage (Adel, 2019, Castagnani, 2009, Creighton, 2013, Masanet & Ripoll, 2008, Román et al., 2011), it is hardly surprising that the same applies to female refugees. But the present authors seek to provide rather more. Studying the presence or absence of refugee women and the ways in which this presence/absence is represented in the news media may shed light on the social inclusion policies, or lack of them, for female refugees in the host countries. On this issue it is worth reading a brief which suggests that news media were guiding or impeding the process of refugee inclusion, in terms of the way they were covered, their direct and indirect messages and their impact on public opinion (Gancheva, 2017)

Key Terms in this Chapter

Migrations: The term refers to the mobility of people who leave their birthplace or habitual residence (emigration) and who move to somewhere abroad (international immigration) or within their own country (internal immigration). It is usually for economic, work, and social reasons, although other reasons considered “forced” must be included (refugees are included here). Immigrants (demographic category) must be differentiated from people with foreign nationality (legal-administrative category). In this sense, not every immigrant is a foreigner and not every foreigner is an immigrant.

Representations: Each individual has an idea of what surrounds him and interacts with him. Every social object, more or less distant, is classified and explained by the individual. This is what Social Sciences call a social representation. It is, therefore, how the individual organizes knowledge to make everything that surrounds him intelligible.

Refugees: These are people who may feel persecuted for reasons of “race”, religion, nationality, belonging to a certain social group (gender or sexual orientation, for example) or political opinions, and who are outside their country (the one of their nationality) and cannot return for persecution. This definition would also apply to people “without nationality”. With similar words, this figure is contemplated in the norms that cover these people: Convention on the Status of Refugees (Geneva on July 28th, 1951) and the Protocol on the Status of Refugees (New York on January 31st, 1967).

Media: This term refers to the “mass media” that are used to transmit information to the public. Although the term “communication” would include many more instruments and resources, it is often referred to the press, television, radio and, more recently, the Internet and the so-called “social networks.”

Refugee Crisis: It is the term that was used in 2015 and later years in Europe to refer to the arrival of numerous people fleeing the war in Syria and arriving in Europe through Turkey. Refugees were also included as asylum seekers from other places and also migrants for economic reasons. The difficulties in reaching the countries of the European Union, the numerous deaths that occurred in the Mediterranean and, above all, the refusal of many countries of the European Union to “welcome” these people in the terms indicated by the established norms were the reasons that contributed to the construction of the expression “refugee crisis”. However, it must be thought that the reason for the crisis was not in those people, but in the inability of democratic countries to maintain the international rules to deal with these matters.

Asylum: It is considered a subsidiary protection that can be granted to people who will suffer persecution or serious harm if they return to their country of origin, but who do not meet the requirements to obtain refugee status according to the 1951 Geneva Convention.

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