Monday, June 20, 2016

Refugee TV gives voice to the voiceless

(Salzburg, Austria) Despite our most conscientious efforts, there are limits to how well journalists can tell refugees’ stories, unless of course they are refugees themselves. That’s the idea behind refugee.tv.

According to their website, “refugee.tv is an act of empowerment. The vision is to create a TV station, which is designed by refugees in cooperation with a German/Austrian film team. The reporters of refugee.tv came to Europe as refugees. Amongst the refugees coming to Europe are many skilled workers, some filmmakers, journalists and camera men. Many refugees had to flee their home country because they were putting the spotlight on problems and injustices in their home countries.  refugee.tv provides them a platform to continue their passionate work.” (http://refugee.tv/)

I had the privilege of chatting with two refugee.tv correspondents during my recent trip to Europe, and was impressed with their passion and their commitment to their profession and to the plight of refugees.

Ayad Salim is a 45-year old refugee from Iraq. In his fluent English, he told me about his dozens of professional journalism jobs, from reporter to “fixer” for many international news outlets. Like the other refugee.tv correspondents, he volunteers for the channel, and is constantly seeking paying jobs. He’s lived in Salzburg for the last year.

Arman Niamat Ullah (pictured), a 25-year old Afghani refugee, is quick with a smile and a one-liner. He’s been living in Munich for three years, and is eager to discuss his love for storytelling. Arman’s working on a feature film—the first about refugees by refugees, he says. Like Ayad, he produces professional reports for refugee.tv as a volunteer.

During a recent avant garde music and art festival called Interlab, Arman presented and discussed several video stories produced by refugee.tv to a modest gathering. The first, with Ayad reporting, was a tongue-in-cheek outsider’s look at a traditional Austrian festival Krampus featuring costumed demons prancing about. Then, those gathered viewed an outstanding short video reported by Arman from Pireus, Greece (Athens’ nearby port city). This report, featuring refugees discussing their plight, had several audience members wiping their eyes.

As we chatted, I told Arman and Ayad a bit about peace journalism, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism’s recent project in Turkey to improve reporting about Syrian refugees. I mentioned that their work is the very essence of peace journalism. These refugee.tv stories offer a counter-narrative to the  misleading or xenophobic refugee reporting done by some traditional journalists, while simultaneously providing a voice to the voiceless.

You can see Arman and Ayad’s work, and that of their colleagues, at http://refugee.tv/ or on their YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/refugeetvshow . Some of the segments are in English, and those that aren’t are subtitled.

I hope to someday collaborate with these talented journalists, and perhaps even engage in a joint peace media project.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Media and migration explored; militants dodged
(Klagenfurt, Austria)—It’s not often that I’m looking over my shoulder for protesters—protesters!—at one of my public speeches. However, here in Klagenfurt this week, I was admittedly a bit nervous as I strode to the podium.

You see, just four days earlier, on Thursday, a group of angry, bullhorn wielding far right wing militants, the “Identitarians,”  invaded a symposium about refugees here at Klagenfurt University. They held up a large sign that read, “Integration is a lie,” and scuffled with students and the university’s president, all in an attempt to spread their anti-immigrant hate. Police are investigating a possible assault committed against the president.
Rally in support of migrants, Klagenfurt University

Thus, as we started our symposium on forced migration and media Monday morning, we were naturally a bit nervous, even with a deliberately visible police presence just outside our meeting venue. The symposium, featuring excellent presentations by students and faculty, went off smoothly. The highlight was an enlightening discussion about the vital nature of smartphones for Syrian refugees. Roundtable discussions were held about literature and migration, film and migration, and news media and migration. All were thoughtful and sophisticated.
At the pro-migrant rally, Klagenfurt

The symposium was followed by a large outdoor rally in a nearby square in the afternoon. The rally, organized and lead by students, was titled, “Solidarity with Refugees.” Speakers, including refugees, university administrators, and students, reiterated their empathy and support for refugees. One of their signs said, “No person is illegal.” Certainly, this rally offered a reassuring counterpoint to the ugliness of just four days prior.

Again, there was a visible police presence near the rally site, although no trouble materialized.
By the time my lecture began in the early evening, I didn’t see any police. This could mean either that they forget about my presentation, or that they didn’t think the right wingers would bother with me, which, as it turned out, was correct. My lecture, on Reporting Syrian Refugees, was also delivered without interruption to an interested gathering of students, academics, and members of the public. I presented research about reporting of refugees by European media, and discussed our recent reporting Syrian refugees project in Turkey.

As with my other stops in Austria and Germany, it’s my hope that my stay at Klagenfurt University is the first of many such collaborations.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Evening lectures in Salzburg
I had the honor of giving two evening lectures this last week at Salzburg University and at the local Women's Media Association. Both went well; or at least, the polite audiences led me to believe that this was the case. We discussed peace journalism vis-a-vis refugees, and our reporting refugees project in Turkey.

Refugee families alarmed at Austria's right wing politicians
As part of a peace journalism workshop this week at the Univ of Salzburg, the students and I visited with several Syrian families here about their experiences. The students' reports about this meeting are posted below. Here is my report:

(SALZBURG, AUSTRIA) Even though Jamila, her five children and husband just arrived in Salzburg from Syria just nine months ago, she’s worried that they may be forced to leave Austria because of right-wing political pressure exemplified by the near-election last month of right wing presidential candidate Norbert Hofer.

“We watched (the election), but we didn’t understand everything,” Jamila said. “We’re happy the Green Party won. In Syria, we ran away from the radicals view…We just want to live in freedom.”
As for the fear that gave rise to Hofer’s anti-immigrant party, Jamila and her friend Razan said through a translator that Austrians have no reason for dismay.

“The first thing we will do,” they said, “Is to learn the (German) language…to express our feelings. We want to work and not take money from the government. We are here for only a short period, so there’s no reason to fear.”

Despite this, and even with the Green Party’s victory last month, the Austrian government has nonetheless begun to further restrict immigration. Austria accepted 90,000 asylum applications in 2015. In February, the country announced that it would allow a maximum of 37,500 applications in 2016 (DW.com, 3/6/2016). Jamila and her family are still awaiting their asylum interview with government officials—an interview that is a prerequisite for the government to grant asylum.  She said this interview could occur in days, weeks, or months. Until then, her husband can’t legally work.
Jamila and her family live in a non-descript church near central Salzburg—the kind of unadorned building that isn’t readily identifiable as a church.  50 Syrian refugees live here. Jamila said she appreciated the welcoming environment at the church and in Austria generally. “Everyone here is calm and not aggressive. Everything is perfect,” she said, smiling. Jamila added, “We feel safe here, so we feel at home, but not the real home.”

As Jamila and Razan spoke, children darted in and out of the room, some bold enough to enter, others lurking and laughing in the doorway. These children, her five and those belonging to her friends, are the reason Jamila and many others left Syria.

Jamila said she waited four years during a “bad situation” in Syria before she fled with her family. “The most important reason is that the schools there were all destroyed. We want our children to get an education.”

No matter the circumstances of their flight, one thing that Jamila and her family didn’t leave behind was their traditional Arab hospitality. During the interview with student journalists, Jamila and several other Syrian women present invited a number of student journalists back for a lavish feast (after Ramadan). The journalists eagerly accepted the invitation.



Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Young reporters dive into refugee reporting
(Salzburg, Austria) Editor’s Note: This week, I met with a bright, enthusiastic group of Salzburg University students. We discussed the principles of peace journalism, and particularly how PJ might apply to reporting about the many refugees here in Austria. As part of the PJ workshop, students visited with several Syrian families about their experiences. For all, it was their first experience interviewing refugees. The students were tasked with producing a lead—an opening paragraph that reflected the angle/theme of their story. Three of these are below. I will post my story tomorrow.

Reporter’s Notebook
By Olivia Skoglund

Yesterday I discovered the refugees are not here to stay. They actually don’t want to be here forever. If they could go anywhere in the world, it would be Syria, the place where many of them grew up, where their friends and families still reside, their home. When the president is gone, they want to go back. Living in Salzburg forever was never the plan. The parents want to find jobs while they are here, and they only “want what’s best for their children”. One mother even said she denied donations because they did not need it as much as other people. The truth is they are just trying to survive and live normal lives like any other family in Salzburg. They all just want to go home when it is all over, and I think we non refugees tend to forget that.

Dreaming about the future
By Barbara Santos

Samar from Syria, currently living in Salzburg with a Turkish family, abandoned her country seven months ago to seek for a safer life and more easily persuade her dreams. 

More than 40,000 refugees went to Austria since 2015 to find a better life, where they can have the chance of freedom. But they now fear the choice of being in a place they thought was the best option for them because the Austria minister wants to send immigrants back.

Salzburg is one of the cities where you can see and meet refugees. In a church that gives asylum to 50 refugees you can feel their happiness but when you talk with them about home (country), you can see sadness and saudade in their eyes. And if this war ever ends they want to go back to their lives and country.

“I want to learn the language and provide education to my children”, Jamila said.

Although they fear to move from Salzburg to another country, that doesn’t stop them of dreaming about their future. Dreams that start with being a hairstylist to a makeup artist to being able to work in their second home country. 

A woman left Syria because for 12 years she couldn’t get pregnant but when she did, she knew the best decision was to protect her 1 year child and give to her a safer place to grow and live. “We have to live day by day and then we’ll see”, she said. 

From Syria to Salzburg: Learning Through the Language of Mozart
By Cynthia Springer

In Salzburg, student reporters meet Syrians.

Fifty. The amount of people living within this unfamiliar housing unit along the Salzach River of Salzburg. Eight. The number of families residing in this specific accommodation that have fled from their home countries of the Middle East for a safer life in Austria. Five. The number of children that Anarazn* raises with her husband in hopes her kids will live a successful, comfortable life.
For Anarazn, being a housewife has always been her purpose in life. It was her job in Syria, and it’s her current job now. For her husband, he is unable to work due his current status as a migrant and Austrian law. The journey from Syria to Salzburg, of course, strenuous. All in all, it took her family one whole month to travel between the two countries, let alone the 21 days from Turkey to Salzburg.  The family travelled by boat and by walking, all through Greece, Macedonia, Turkey, Serbia and Hungary until they had finally reached Austria. 

But why Austria? Why not the country of Turkey, which constantly accepts thousands of refugees and migrants seeking sanctuary? For one, Anarazn had stated it’s because “the situation in Austria is more calmer” than anywhere else they had chosen to stay. Despite the struggles of not being in their home country anymore, they seem to have adapted well into the classical city of Salzburg. They still make the foods that they used to eat and enjoy back in Syria, they all continue to laugh and smile at each other. Remarkably enough, these families that I encountered all had one other thing in common: the learning of the German. These families were not just learning German, but they had the will to learn this incredibly difficult language. In fact, when they spoke, it would sometimes be a mix of both Arabic and German. I’ll label it as Garabic. Their current goal here: to learn the language and be able to work in this country. Anarazn’s children, all of whom are 13, 12, 9, 8, and 3 years old, are currently attending a school here in Salzburg where they learn German, English, and Arabic. When asked her age, the twelve-year-old daughter giggled and said, “Ich bin zwolf jahre alt!”

Although these families are not able to work legally, they most certainly work hard in establishing themselves within the Austrian culture and system. They do not want to take the government’s money and live off of it; but rather make a life of their own and surpass the language barrier. 

As welcoming the Austrian people have made these families feel, Anarazn had stated that Syria will always be and feel like her true home. Yet, she and her family continue to make the most out of their experience here in Salzburg by attending these language courses and immersing themselves as much as they can in a country that is currently growing stronger in their right-wing views. 

Six. The amount of years I, myself, have been taking German as a foreign language and yet, this hospitable Syrian family probably knows more Deutsch than me within their nine months of living in Austria.
*Name Changed



Friday, June 3, 2016

LMU students develop refugee stories
(Munich, Germany)-It’s natural to get butterflies in your stomach when you meet, and talk to, refugees for the first time.
Hard at work at LMU peace journalism workshop

That’s exactly the feeling experienced by my peace journalism workshop students this week at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universit├Ąt  (LMU). The students were tasked with interviewing refugees and producing a peace journalism style story (or at least, getting the story started).

Several student reporters went to a refugee camp here in Munich, only to be predictably denied entry. Unable to enter the camp, they talked to the refugees, a mix of Syrians and others, who were lingering outside the camp’s fences.
PJ workshop, LMU, Munich, Germany

Most of the students came back to class with good interviews, and a promising start to a professional story. One story will be about a German who volunteers to help refugees, offering them tea and sage advice about life in Germany. Another story will highlight the four month perilous journey of a Somalian family, including an infant, to Munich.  A third story will be an interesting tale of a residence where German college students live side-by-side with 16-19 year old refugees. Another report will be about an NGO that dispenses legal advice to refugees.

These story topics, and the students’ discussions about their reporting, reflect an understanding of the peace journalism model of refugee reporting—a style that encourages counter-narrative, balanced, and empathetic storytelling that helps to show refugees in a different light while building bridges between refugees and host communities.

As the right-wing political pressure against refugees mounts here in Europe, it’s reassuring to know that responsible stories about displaced persons will continue to be told by these budding journalists.