Group of people wearing thick clothing and carrying heavy luggage walking on the streets

Migrant and refugee voices shape policy through internationally renowned research

Policy on migration is often driven by politics and incorrect assumptions as to why people move. This can result in marginalising or misrepresenting the voices and perspectives of refugees and migrants themselves.

Professor Heaven Crawley, Dr Katharine Jones and Dr Simon McMahon from the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations undertook the first ever large-scale study into the backgrounds, experiences and aspirations of refugees and migrants entering Italy, Greece, Malta, and Turkey, to represent their voices in national and international debates about migration.

In 2015, the Economic and Social Research Council and Department for International Development funded the Mediterranean Migration Research Programme in response to the increasing number of refugees and other migrants crossing the Mediterranean into Europe. The ‘Unravelling the Mediterranean Migration Crisis’ (MEDMIG) project led by Professor Crawley was launched to produce new evidence on the dynamics of migration whilst ensuring that migrant perspectives were better understood and able to inform the development of appropriate policy responses.

Alongside academics from the Universities of Oxford and Birmingham, the MEDMIG project team conducted over 500 interviews with refugees and other migrants from more than 30 countries. Key findings from the project indicated that death and violence were a major feature of migrant journeys, and these were further exacerbated by immigration controls. 76% percent of respondents interviewed in Italy and Malta said that they had experienced physical violence, while 29% stated that they had witnessed the death of a fellow traveller. All participants had, had to engage with smugglers for at least one leg of their journey to mitigate risks.

The researchers reported that the voices and perspectives of migrants are rarely included in newspaper articles on migration that frequently rely upon ‘victim’ and ‘villain’ stereotypes. This was evidenced through the collation of 648 migration-related stories from UK newspapers, to draw attention to how the understanding of migration feeds into and reinforces dominant political, policy and media narratives.

In 2016 and 2017, MEDMIG’s findings were used to influence and support debates on UK migration policy. Coventry researchers worked with the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre on a series of policy briefings, seminars, and the launch of the MEDMIG findings in Brussels. The team’s evidence can also be found in the European Commission’s 2018 report on European migration which informed the EU’s Pact on Migration and Asylum adopted in 2020. Similarly, the Friends of Europe, a non-profit think-tank for European Union policy, adopted the research to engage with over 300 stakeholders within its network of policymakers in Brussels.

MEDMIG findings were presented at the 2016 UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants in New York and Professor Crawley also served as an expert adviser at the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees thematic discussions in Geneva in 2017.

The MEDMIG project data underpins the award-winning Maths of Migration (MOM) platform, a teacher-led collaboration between PositiveNegatives, a non-profit creative organisation, and Oaklands School which offers educational resources to increase understanding of migration and the experiences of refugees. MOM has used the MEDMIG database in lesson plans for cross-curricular secondary school teaching across UK secondary schools, being downloaded nearly 8,000 times. The learning from the MOM teacher training course is being used by The Royal Geographical Society in online GCSE and A-level educational resources.

The process started by the Coventry researchers is now being taken forward by the Global Challenges Research Fund and the 'Migration for Development and Equality (MIDEQ Hub)'. The MIDEQ Hub is a global network of scholars in 12 countries which aims to shift the production of knowledge on migration and ensure that the experiences of migrants in the Global South are centred in policymaking processes.

Ultimately, the work has successfully produced new evidence on migration and enabled migrant voices and perspectives to inform the development of appropriate policy responses.

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