How to use the power of narratives to build support for refugee protection

By 24/08/2021News, Opinion, Tips

IMIX’s Chief Exec Emma Harrison writes about our latest work on how to use narrative frames aimed at encouraging support for refugees from a wider population base. 

building with a sign saying refugees welcome

Over the last three years we have worked closely with organisations that work with people who have made the dangerous journey across the English Channel, to try and rebalance the debate. This has not been an easy target due to the hostile approach being taking by the Government and many dominant media narratives. 

Having analysed responses to the approaches we were taking, it became clear that we were not reaching beyond our (important and vital) activist base. So, we commissioned Eden Stanley, a strategic communications agency, to work with us and our network to see if we could create different frames and messages to encourage more support from a wider population base.  

Together we talked through the challenges of the current hostile narratives, the frames we use as a sector and finally, what we all thought it would take for people who aren’t vocally supportive of our cause to act.  Through a series of workshops and research with our core audiences, we came up with two frames, the struggle for safety and overcoming the odds, which struck a powerful emotional chord. 

As a sector we want to talk about rights and systems. While we must continue to do that,  our audiences need to understand the individual or family’s need to flee and the obstacles they must overcome to reach safety.  While most of us will never know what it’s like to leave our homes in the dead of night, almost everyone can relate to the basic need to feel safe and will instinctively empathise with those battling against the odds to achieve it.  

We didn’t realise how quickly we’d be able to test our assumptions, but the terrible situation in Afghanistan has given us this chance and what we have seen is an outpouring of support. People have taken to social media to sign petitions and contact their MPs; communities have been coming together to collect clothes, toiletries and toys for the people arriving on evacuation flights and they’ve signed up to hosting schemes to offer a home to those in need. While we don’t have hard evidence of this, I’d wager they are doing this due to the images they’ve seen and the courageous people of Afghanistan who’ve risked personal safety to ask the world for help.   

Regular readers of the IMIX blog will know that we don’t think there is just one way to achieve change and that the best eco-systems enable a variety of voices to be heard working together towards a fairer immigration system. We know that some groups are already using the ‘Struggle for Safety’ frame while some will always want to focus more on a rights-based approach.  

Right now, the best thing we can do is support each other and know that we are all playing our part in achieving the goal of a humane approach to immigration.  Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing tips on how to make the most of this narrative work, but in the meantime please feel free to share with your networks. 

Download IMIX’s The Struggle for Safety Narrative Guide.

Author Emma Harrison

More posts by Emma Harrison