Each year hundreds of journalists are forced into exile as they attempt to escape imprisonment, violence or harassment. In the first few weeks of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, more than a thousand journalists left Russia rather than risk imprisonment.
Though far from home, journalists who seek asylum often want to continue their careers in their host countries. But the barriers they encounter, such as the need to learn new languages and having limited access to professional networks, force many to give up on this goal.
Instead, they turn to other jobs to survive. Their exit from the profession is a loss to the media landscape.
With the right support, they have the potential to thrive and enrich the organisations that they work for with their unique set of skills and knowledge.
This week a toolkit is being launched offering media organisations guidance on how to support, employ or deliver projects with those who have a background in forced migration.
The resource has been produced by The Refugee Journalism Project (RJP). Since 2016, the initiative has supported displaced and exiled journalists and media workers to rebuild their careers. It has worked with media professionals from 20 different countries including Afghanistan, Egypt, Ukraine, China, Eritrea, Syria and Sudan.
Based at London College of Communication, part of the University of the Arts London, the initiative helps journalists to connect with the UK industry by updating their skills and finding publishing opportunities, freelance work, and permanent roles.
Some of the participants have gone on to win journalism awards, had their work published in national media outlets, or gained employment at global organisations. These include BBC News, Thomson Reuters Foundation and Bloomberg.
Temesghen Debesai used to be a well-known TV presenter in Eritrea, helping to set up the first English-language TV station. He fled in 2006 to escape the dictatorship and forced military service. Debesai faced rejection when he tried to continue his journalism career in the UK.
"They [refugee journalists] aren’t considered the same as those already here and there’s an automatic assumption that they don’t have the right qualifications or experience," Debesai says.
"The irony is that many journalists who have fled from war zones or left their countries have a lot of knowledge that can add value to media companies."
Drawing on the reflections of the journalists and organisations they have worked with, the toolkit offers practical solutions to the most common challenges faced.
Each chapter addresses a different core theme, showing how it presents itself in the workplace, and how journalists and host organisations might respond.
Debesai joined the Refugee Journalism Project in 2016 as part of the first cohort. Since then, he has freelanced with the Thomson Reuters Foundation and is now working as a producer at BBC News.
"I feel privileged to live in the UK," Debesai says. "One of the best things about journalism here is having the right to speak freely without fear of the consequences, as long as it’s factually correct and accurate. I can have an opinion without worrying that someone will put me behind bars and throw away the key. There’s no better experience than that."
Recommendations for organisations seeking to support forcibly displaced journalists:
- Take the time to reach out to specialist organisations that work with refugee communities. They can help target your recruitment call. However, do appreciate that these organisations are often small and under-resourced.
- Do a risk analysis for both your organisation and the journalist. Might the journalist have been targeted by authorities in their home country? Does your organisation have regional offices or partnerships that might be affected? You will both need to be confident that any risks have been mitigated.
- Offer access to security training. Does the journalist need help with cybersecurity or any other skills so that they can work safely?
- Provide a comprehensive induction to your organisation. This will help the journalist to learn more about the organisation's culture and working practices.
- Have an open dialogue about interests and focus. Don’t assume the journalist only wants to produce work about their home country, or their religious or cultural identity: this can be limiting.
- Be sensitive to trauma. People are resilient, but displacement is a tough experience. Individuals may need support in overcoming a loss of confidence or managing depression and PTSD. Global news events may trigger painful memories or fears for friends and relatives in the affected areas.
Access the full toolkit here.