Beyond the Vitriol: Reporting on Refugees

“Solutions Live” episode examined how journalists can cover refugees with an eye to solutions.

This article is reposted from The Whole Story: Ideas and dispatches from the Solutions Journalism Network. View the original article here.


On March 6, President Trump signed a new executive order calling for a drastic shift in the nation’s policy on refugees. The order caps the number of refugees who can be admitted to the U.S. each year to 50,000, from 110,000; places a 120-day freeze on refugees from Syria; and temporarily blocks travelers from six predominantly Muslim countries.

The politics behind the order are complex — and certainly worth rigorous coverage in their own right. But what about the real-life ramifications of that changed policy? How should journalists make sense of those? How will global flows of migrants around the world be altered — and what will happen to resettlement efforts in American communities? How can the system best adjust, and what efforts are emerging to help?

In a Solutions Live webinar, co-produced by the Solutions Journalism Network and Ashoka, journalist and Columbia University researcher Andrea Wenzel dug into the refugee crisis with three leading actors:

· Bob Carey, former director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement

· Betty Cruz, director of Change Agency, which advances immigrant integration and community change efforts in Pittsburgh

· Sasha Chanoff, founder of RefugePoint, which provides solutions for at-risk refugees

Here’s what journalists can take away:

Examine the track record.

“There are myths that refugees bring crime or drain the economy, which are not borne out by experience,” Carey observes. We’ve seen well-reported recent stories that surface the reality. That’s fertile ground for reporters. “Refugees do start businesses at higher rates, they own homes, they tend to quickly go to work — because they have to be employed six months after arrival,” Carey says. “That’s testament not only to resilience of individuals but to the support services that are provided to them.”

See where resettlement is already working.

Plenty of U.S. cities, often connected to Welcoming America, a network of 160 communities committed to inclusiveness, have developed effective approaches for integrating refugees. When Pittsburgh was launching its strategy, says Cruz, it looked to Nashville, “which has done great work in connecting its refugee and immigrant populations to community assets like food banks, museums, and in-language government services.” Pittsburgh used one of the levers that every elected official holds — the power of convening — to begin building a dialogue between groups. It hosted a meeting between landlords and resettlement agencies to demystify the barriers faced by refugees; organized a community forum between LGBT+ and refugee service providers; and helped residents in receiving communities to familiarize themselves with their new neighbors.

Chanoff notes that Bosnian immigrants have contributed to St. Louis’ economic revitalization; and the crime rate in Lewiston, Maine, has dropped in the decade since Somali refugees began arriving. Other bright lights: Dayton, Ohio; Charlottesville, Virginia; Utica, New York; San Diego; and New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Look for the flip side of xenophobia.

Yes, we’ve seen ugly incidents since the election — hate speech, physical attacks. “But we’ve also seen a corresponding reaction,” says Carey. “In communities where there have been these hostile acts, there’s also been outpouring of public statements by citizens and public officials saying, we are welcoming these people. There are people standing up and saying: This is not us.” Chanoff notes a growing number of companies are hiring refugees, led by yogurt-maker Chobani and WeHireRefugees.org, a consortium of 60 employers.

What about refugees who aren’t resettled?

The reality is that the average refugee spends 20 years being a refugee. “So we look to help refugees stabilize where they are and build businesses. In many countries, there are opportunities to do this, and for refugees to lead more normal lives. We’ve seen vast improvements in how people see refugees. So there’s a great story: How do people flee their country and then rebuild lives in a new country.”

Watch the entire webinar above. We’ve also assembled resources suggested by Wenzel, the panelists, and others that can help reporters apply the solutions lens to refugee issues:

Andrea Wenzel, Bob Carey, Betty Cruz, Sasha Chanoff

Experts, organizations, and research

  1. Bob Carey (Solutions Live contributor, see recording), former director of the U.S. Office of Refugee Resettlement
  2. Betty Cruz (Solutions Live contributor, see recording), Welcoming America partner, director of Change Agency, betty@sayhellotochange.com
  3. Sasha Chanoff (Solutions Live contributor, see recording), Founder of Boston-based RefugePoint
  4. David Lubell, Founder of Atlanta-based Welcoming America
  5. Jane Leu, Founder of Bay Area-based Upwardly Global
  6. Refugee Council USA, info@rcusa.org, 202–319–2102
  7. WE Global Network, an offshoot of Welcoming America, comprised of 20+ Midwest economic development initiatives “leading Rust Belt immigrant innovation”
  8. The White House Task Force on New Americans report on Bright Spots in Welcoming and Integration
  9. The New American Economy Map the Impact database and study on refugees and crime
  10. Contact Amy Clark at Ashoka, aclark@ashoka.org, for social entrepreneurs introducing solutions to the refugee crisis in U.S. and Europe

Examples of solutions reporting

  1. Solutions Journalism Network Story Tracker can be searched to find solutions journalism stories on refugees and immigration
  2. The Development Set’s new series on refugees works the solutions lens in where appropriate
  3. Migratory Notes is a pop-up immigration coverage newsletter by Daniella Gerson

Have a resource or idea that could help a fellow journalist report responsibly and forcefully on this topic? Please share it via comment below. E.g., critical new data, breaking research, quality solutions-based journalism, powerful innovations or trends you see popping up in response to the global refugee crisis.