Migrants as Messengers
Peer-to-Peer Communication is Key to Raise Awareness
Nobody knows how many of the 22,000 people who died trying to reach Europe from Africa since 2014 knew about the terrible dangers awaiting them. Were some aware but decided to face the huge risks anyway? Did they block out the brutal realities everyone faces along the way? What we know, is that many thinking about undertaking these journeys underestimate the level of risk. Hugely so.
When we asked young people, who said they planned to migrate from Senegal, to estimate the number of migrant deaths on the road or at sea over the past five years, over 40 per cent guessed it was less than 1,000. Only five per cent came close to the actual figure.
There is no shortage of news about migrant tragedies at sea or in detention centers in Libya but what we have learned is that those who need this information most are either unaware of the real danger, aware and chose to undertake the journey anyway, or unable to confront these disturbing facts.
These findings come from a recent impact evaluation carried out by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to assess ‘Migrants as Messengers’, an innovative awareness-raising campaign using mobile technology and social media networks to collect and share candid, first-hand accounts about irregular migration in communities across West Africa.
The idea was to help migrants returning from Libya to inform neighbors, friends and family about the dangers of irregular migration. The concept is simple: people listen to people who share similar experiences in similar situations. Migrants as Messengers was built around a smartphone app and basic, lightweight videomaking equipment — a tripod, mobile phone, small LED light and a microphone.
By providing both equipment and training, we wanted migrant returnees to take the lead by becoming digital journalists and interviewing fellow migrants. More than 5,000 video clips were collected over the duration of the campaign of people telling their harrowing stories. These interviews were viewed by around four million people on social media and at dozens of screening events across Senegal, Guinea and Nigeria.
For the impact evaluation, a randomized controlled trial was undertaken with approximately 8,000 potential migrants to assess if the information shared in the film clips made an impact. The results offered valuable insights into how information is created, shared and processed among these specific communities — assumptions we have made perhaps in the past but did not have evidence to support.
We learnt from participants that people are distrustful of authority but do trust their peers. Migrants returning from detention in Libya are convincing: around 20 per cent of the people that engaged with the campaign reported being less likely to intend to migrate irregularly compared with the control group who did not watch the filmed interviews.
Too often, traditional awareness raising campaigns preach to the people they are trying to influence without fully understanding or including different information needs. Migrants as Messengers followed a participatory approach, relying entirely on peer-to-peer communication.
In an increasingly loud and confusing information landscape, it turns out that trust and credibility are precious, and the people we trust are those closest to us or those who share similar experiences.
Another powerful outcome of the campaign was that returnee migrants, who often feel ashamed that their attempt to get to Europe was thwarted and can struggle to resume their lives, formed strong bonds with those in similar situations. Some of the project participants set up migrant returnee associations, which continue to raise awareness and advocate for migrant and returnee rights.
As Ousmane, a returnee, who was subject to and witnessed far too many atrocities in his young life, explained: “It’s not about me, it’s about educating my peers so that they do not end up in the same situation that I did.”
The article was written by Amy Rhoades, Community Engagement Programme Manager at IOM.