Date: Wednesday, 14 February 2018
A viral video campaign using the testimonies of migrants in Libya to discourage others from making the perilous journey to the north African country – and then on to Europe – is to be launched by the Home Office as part of official attempts to tackle migration from “source” countries.
Vox pop interviews with migrants from countries including Eritrea, Nigeria and Sudan will be filmed in Libya before the material is used at events in east and west Africa and distributed online.
The UK’s foray into using this tactic follows the example of Denmark, which placed advertisements in Lebanese newspapers aimed at deterring potential migrants, and Germany, which paid for billboards in Afghanistan with a similar message.
However, an expert on migration at the UK’s leading development thinktank said evidence suggests that “awareness campaigns” have little or no impact on the decision-making of would-be migrants and are more about being able to tell voters at home: “We are doing something.”
“The information just does not filter through because people decide on the basis of what they hear from family and friends – people they trust – rather than foreign governments,” said Jessica Hagen-Zanker, research fellow for migration at the Overseas Development Institute.
“Information about the journey is so irrelevant and the risks seem so small compared to their daily struggles. In some ways these campaigns are about a government being able to say to voters, ‘we are doing something’, even though it is not necessarily effective.”
She said that a better approach would be to make the journeys safer and open up paths for legal migration.
Her concerns were echoed by Benjamin Ward of the Europe and Central Asia division at Human Rights Watch, who said: “The question of why people migrate and what might make a difference to their decision is very complicated. It’s not clear that better information about the perils of the journey is going to have much of an impact.”
A spokesperson for the Home Office said the project was one of the ways in which it was seeking to raise awareness of the dangers of illegal migration, helping to protect people and reduce the numbers making an often deadly journey. Planning documents for the campaign state: “Currently, there is a lack of footage showing the realities of the journey to Libya’s coast and the hardships in detention centres and militia-run camps, particularly for migrants from the Horn of Africa and east Africa.”
Home Office research suggests that migrants are not prepared for the risks they will face on the journey from their country of origin and that highlighting the reality could encourage many potential migrants to reconsider their decision.
More than 180,000 people attempted the crossing to Europe from the Libyan coast in 2016, representing 50% of all attempted crossings. Although numbers fell back to 120,000 in 2017 there has been a sharp rise in numbers since the new year. More than 22,500 migrants have reportedly died or disappeared globally since 2014 – more than half of them perishing while attempting to cross the Mediterranean. The route accounted for 90% of all migration-related deathsin the region in 2016.