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Refugees and migrants in public campaigns: being a voice for the voiceless

Refugiados e migrantes em campanhas públicas: dar voz a quem não tem voz
Célia Belim
p. 79-105
Este artigo é uma tradução do:
Refugiados e migrantes em campanhas públicas: dar voz a quem não tem voz [pt]


Este artigo foca-se no potencial persuasivo das campanhas de comunicação pública sobre refugiados e migrantes. A partir da análise da retórica a suportes (n=62), conclui-se que o discurso adota uma tática retórica assente na proposta aristotélica: ethos, pathos e logos. Os resultados indicam: 1) o uso da credibilidade da fonte e do sujeito ativo, construindo a impressão de que são dignos de confiança; 2) ao nível do pathos, a instigação da dimensão afetiva, motivando, potencialmente e com valor positivo, a empatia, o compadecimento, o exercício de reflexão, o reconhecimento do erro dos preconceitos, o peso da responsabilidade, o ímpeto a agir e a resolver problemas, a gratificação por ajudar e a consciencialização do contributo para algo positivo e, com valor negativo, a frustração e a culpa; 3) ao nível do logos, a força do realismo – alicerçada nos dados estatísticos, factos, exemplos e personalizações –, dos recursos estilísticos como a metáfora, do uso do ponto de interrogação e da riqueza e multiformismo da criatividade.

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DOI: 10.17231/comsoc.38(2020).2553
Submitted: 07/03/2020 - Accepted: 13/07/2020

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1History witnesses the highest levels of displacement ever recorded in the world, with the number of refugees growing by more than 50% in the last 10 years, and half of those numbers are children (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – UNHCR, 2019). More than 68.5 million of people have been forced to leave their homes due to conflict, persecution or widespread violence (UNHCR, 2019). 25.4 million of those people are refugees, while 40 million are displaced internally in their countries and 3.1 million are asylum seekers. Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR, 2019), says that we are currently positioned at a situation, where success in managing forced displacement requires a new and broader approach so that countries and communities do not have to deal with the problem individually.

2While refugees face a vulnerable situation due to a lack of protection provided by their own countries, by being threatened and persecuted, international migrants have voluntarily chosen to live abroad, mainly being motivated by economic factors, thus being able, if desired, to return safely to their country of origin (UNHCR, 2018, p. 10).

3The “quest for durable solutions” sets up a framework which would prioritize a peaceful and dignifying the reconstruction of the lives of refugees, ensuring their rights. For example, the UNHCR (2018), proposes three solutions: voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement (p. 11).

4This study is inserted within this thematic and contextual framework, committing to understand the persuasive potential of public communication campaigns involving refugees and migrants. Under a logic of “being a voice for the voiceless”, this study seeks to understand the power of communication in raising awareness of social and humanitarian causes, such as refugees and migrants. As such, this study is based on the theory of rhetoric, embedded in the teachings of Aristotle.

Multiple discourses on migrants and refugees in the public sphere

5The public sphere is the stage for multiple discourses, assumed as “creation of understandings” (Warren, 1999, p. 171). Habermas (1989) suggests that the ideals of the public sphere, as open and free among equals, shall be considered as characteristics of modern democracies. The author stresses, however, that a commercialized public sphere induces a distorted communication, as the discussions are driven by interests instead of reasoned open arguments, which weaken democracy (Habermas, 1989). In this context, Moloney (2006) suggests a redefinition of the public sphere, provided that the ideal proposed by Habermas is utopian, mentioning that we now live in a “persuasive sphere”, where citizens must understand a myriad of messages about the merits of a wide range of subjects, policies and products.

6Jensen (2001) suggests that the public sphere should be treated as an analytical concept, referring to the discursive processes in a complex network of institutionalised people, associations and organizations (p. 136). The author remarks that a) the public sphere is more frequently guided by disagreement, instead of agreement due to the multiple discourses that compete with each other; b) as much conflicting the positions can be, it is common to launch these discourses as issues of common concern, and thus of interest to everybody; c) agents working in the “complex network” aim to expose their points of view through the media and forums; d) public discourses represent a civilized way of openly disagreeing on essential issues worthy of concern; e) the discourses are “very rarely conclusive”, but they constitute a complex source of social power, trust, legitimacy for the agents; f) citizens, as members of society, simultaneously play sets of roles or functions; g) social expectations change over time as a result of the interaction between discourses in the public sphere (Jensen, 2001, p. 136).

7Media texts may help us to build our consciousness and provide the notion of living, on what is right and what is wrong (Berger, 2012, p. 59).

8In the context of the image on refugees, the media are capable of influence audiences through reports, frameworks, language and decisions. In this sense, victimization and humanitarian environments can benefit the image of refugees and their acceptance in the host society (Horsti, 2008; Van Gorp, 2005), while the focusing and linking the problem of entry groups to illegality, terrorism and crime (Bennett, ter Wal, Lipinski, Fabiszak & Krzyzanowski, 2013; El Refaie, 2001; Goodman & Speer 2007; Ibrahim, 2005).

9Goodman and Speer (2007) show this categorisation as a powerful political and rhetorical strategy for participants discussing asylum, trying to impose their own classification systems during the discussion, and in doing so, justify the (more or less) harsh treatment of asylum seekers. In the same way, El Rafaie (2001), while analysing reports from Austrian newspapers published in January 1998, about Kurdish asylum seekers in Italy, have claimed that the repeated use of metaphors, applied to Kurdish asylum seekers in relatively fixed lexical and syntactic forms (e.g., “water”, “criminals”, “invading army”), and the transversality of this approach in newspapers seems to indicate a “natural” way of describing.

10Greussing and Boomgaarden (2017) identify that the news narrative, characterising refugees as threat to the economy and security, by perpetuating their image as economic burden and threatening the prosperity and well-being of the host country, when referring to large amounts of money (“saving borders”), is the most dominant frameworks for coverage on refugee and asylum issues between January 2015 and January 2016 in six Austrian newspapers (n=10606). By contrast, the humanitarian frameworks, highlighting the voluntary help of the host society and its contribution to a welcoming culture, thus requiring a humanitarian attitude (“saving people”) in public discourse and background information on the situation of refugees, are provided to a lesser extent degree.

11By “revising newspaper articles and readers’ opinions” published in Windsor, Canada, in 2007 and 2008, Gilbert (2013, pp. 827-829) remarks that: a) Mexican refugees are codified as the “other illegal, criminal and fraudulent individuals”; b) to raise the flow of refugees to a level of “crisis” and to perpetuate positional superiority over refugee claimants, three rhetorical devices are predominantly used in media discourses: lexicons, the numbers game and expert/authority legitimation.

12Press coverage of refugee and asylum issues uses a metaphorical discourse associated to large quantities or elementary forces, such as water and floods (Baker & McEnery, 2005; El Refaie, 2001; Gabrielatos & Baker, 2008). Immigration is described as impotence against the magnitude of people who have recently arrived, as well as the costs or expenses associated to services provided to refugees. Metaphors used in media portray refugees and asylum seekers as anonymous and even as dehumanized groups (Esses, Medianu & Lawson, 2013), leading to bipolarization (us versus them). In this narrative style, the refugees and asylum seekers are projected as deviants or strangers to the hosting country, degenerating their cultural identity, language and values (Gilbert, 2013).

13Bennet (2005) and Hickerson and Dunsmore (2016, pp. 3, 12) regret that stories often “float freely” from underlying social or political contexts, suggesting that contextual data can neutralize the dehumanization and polarization of the group.

14A report by Otto Brenner Stiftung (OBS) reveals that, after reviewing thousands of articles published in German national and regional newspapers between February 2015 and March 2016, the one-sided coverage of German media a) provides a free pass to Angela Merkel’s open-door policy – almost universally praised by the German media; b) deepens, on the one hand, the ideological gap between liberals, and on the other deepens this gap between nationalists and conservatives, and; c) fails to represent the legitimate concerns of Germans alarmed by the flow (Chazan, 2017). The study reveals that by the end of autumn 2015, practically no editorial reflects any concern, fear and resistance of a growing fringe of the population and, when it does reflect, it adopts a didactic in a “disdainful tone”. Alternatively, the journalists reproduce the points of view and slogans of the political elite (Chazan, 2017). The report emphasizes that the willkommenskultur (“welcoming culture”) has become a magical word, used by certain media, to turn “ordinary people” into good Samaritans, thus encouraging them to do acts of kindness to newcomers (Chazan, 2017). The turning point for this candour or sweetness of the German media occurred at the end of 2015 during the mass sexual assaults against women in the city of Cologne (Chazan, 2017).

15A comparative study “How do media across Europe cover migrants and refugees?” where media coverage of 17 countries gathering 2417 articles published for six intermittent weeks between August 2015 and March if 2018 was analysed, observes “fundamentally different [journalistic] attitudes” among the countries, such as Germany, Italy and Greece, and the other countries which made part of the study (Fengler & Kreutler, 2020, p. 28). This trio treats refugees as domestic issue, reflecting the distinction of the three countries as preferred destinations for migrants and refugees, while the other 14 countries tend to treat this theme as an external issue. In international terms, the differences show that the media in central and eastern Europe are more focused on problems with migrants and refugees and on protests against their presence, while the media in western Europe emphasize the situation of these demographic categories and the support provided. The lack of transparency towards the public regarding the history and legal status of those who attempt to enter Europe as a migrant or refugee, with coverage dominated by political debates and political actors (45%) is one of the problems that has been identified. Only a third of the articles (33%) stand out by clearly distinguishing refugees with a legally protected status, and migrants whose departure from their countries of origin was motivated by economic, social, educational and other reasons. The voice of migrants and refugees tends to remain silent.

16Within the scope of the abovementioned project, we shall propose that the European media, as representatives of migrants and refugees, have been following the example of the United States of America (USA) (Fengler & Kreutler, 2020). The articles published by US press show a particularly high number of migrants and refugees cited as probably as a result of Anglo-Saxon reporting traditions and the code of ethics (by the Society of Professional Journalists), which advocates to give “a voice to voiceless” (Fengler & Kreutler, 2020, p. 42). Within Europe, the Spanish media come closest to this practice (Fengler & Kreutler, 2020).

17The current literature on refugees does not recognize the relevance of a transparent, appropriate and consistent information for the functioning of the asylum process. However, when directly questioned, “what the refugees seem to want most is information, credible signals that maintain transparency between them and host state” (Carlson, Jakli & Linos, 2018a, pp. 568-569). Carlson Jakli and Linos (2018b) argue that inadequate dissemination of information provided by governments, regional and international organizations and aid groups can jeopardize the fulfilment of their policies. The argument used by the author relies upon poor information management that encourages distrust of the government and aid organizations and increases the demand for smuggling. In order to evaluate this argument, the researchers conducted more than 80 discussions with migrants and refugees in Greece, 25 semi-structured interviews with aid workers and civil servants and analysed weekly rumours produced by the non-governmental organization (NGO) Internews. The researches have concluded that governments shall prioritize effective communication and policy transparency, especially in contexts of crisis.

18Brekke and Thorbjørnsrud (2018), by focusing on the Norwegian Facebook campaign, Stricter Asylum Regulations in Norway, and by using the interview and case study, offer a behind-the-scenes analysis of an ongoing attempt to manage migration via online. The authors have concluded that the crisis can stimulate innovation.

19Yet, insufficient attention has been channelled to government communication efforts towards migrants. In the political realm, discussions have been focused on how government communication towards potential asylum seekers can influence arrival patterns (Brekke, 2004). In receiving countries across Europe, these efforts focus on “reputation management”, i.e. on not rendering them much attractive to asylum seekers than neighbouring countries.

Public and rhetoric communication campaigns

20Public communication campaigns can be understood as purposeful attempts to inform, persuade or motivate behavioural changes in a relatively large and well-defined audience, usually for non-commercial benefits for the individual and/or society and in a given period of time, via organized communication activities, involving media and often complemented by interpersonal support (Rice & Atkin, 1989, p. 7).

21The influential message, conveyed within the scope of campaigns, must have some qualities or resources, such as (Atkin & Rice, 2013, p. 9): 1) credibility, exposing the reliability and competence of the source and convincing evidence; 2) the engaging way of presenting style and ideas through the combination of the captivating substance and the attractive and fun stylistic execution; 3) the personally engaging and relevant selection of content and style, so that recipients consider the behavioural recommendation applicable to their situation and needs; 4) comprehensibility, in the sense that the presentation of the content must be simple, explicit and detailed and, consequently, comprehensive and comprehensible to the recipients; 5) the motivational incentives of the message, which are the bonuses that the recipients can obtain by fulfilling the recommendations in the message.

22Rhetoric deals with communication with persuasive purposes (Aristotle, 2005, pp. 95-96). Aristotle enunciates three “proofs of persuasion”: a) those that reside in the moral character of the issuer, leaving the impression that he is worthy of faith (ethos); b) the derivatives of the emotion that the speech arouses in the public (pathos), understanding the emotion as “any mental experience with high intensity and high hedonic content (pleasure/displeasure)” (Cabanac, 2002, p. 69), being able to produce different psychological, behavioural and cognitive changes; and c) those that focus on what the speech demonstrates (logos) (pp. 96-97). Hartelius and Browning (2008) state that ethos is related to the public’s trust and credibility conferred on the speaker (p. 29). Green (2004) argues that the arguments related to pathos are related to aroused emotions and can provoke powerful social action (p. 659). The logos refers to the clarity and usefulness of an argument, presented in a rational and logical manner (Holt & Macpherson, 2010, p. 26). Ting (2018) asserts that the use of data/evidence and examples is part of the substance of logical and rational discourse (p. 238). Still in relation to logos, stylistic devices can make the speaker’s thoughts concrete, helping him to communicate more effectively and clearly (Corbett, 2004, p. 143). It can be said that pathos and logos are linked, respectively, to affectivity and realism.

23Applying a theoretical framework that involves hospitality values and using the “power of contact”, Gallner (2018) conducts an investigation in Nebraska, USA, associated with a social media campaign, called “Room at our table”. This is based on a series of web-episodes that use the psychological concept of sharing meals as a community-building activity, in order to change the perspectives of hospitality towards refugees, by reducing the implicit bias. Psychologically, the aversion to welcoming refugees, too, may result from the threat of identity and the desire to protect resources within a particular group. The researcher recognizes that the campaign’s effectiveness also depends on more emotionally suggestive images. The campaign photos with the refugee family were perceived as stagnant and artificial by several participants in the study, showing ethnicity as the first characteristic noticed, which goes against the campaign’s foundational values. The values of hospitality would be better expressed through active images: showing the family how to cook a meal, to welcome them into their home. The author, emphasizing that the values of hospitality and the sharing of resources can be a solid basis for a broader pro-refugee campaign, says that, with some improvements, the experience can be applied in future studies, in convergence with the existing initiatives.

24LeBuhn’s (2018) study is committed to understanding barriers to empathy in the context of humanitarian images (shock effect, positive images and digital narrative), focusing on five photos and seven digital narrative campaigns in three format categories (short film, series of photos and documentary on the web). It concludes that, while in the past the “shock effect” and the “positive image” dominate the images of humanitarian work, appealing to guilt and gratitude, the digital narrative adopts narrative devices to inspire more thoughtful actions and sets up a space to share refugee stories (p. 58), exploring humanization.

25The use of the positive image in the context of humanitarian communication allows: a) personalization of the sufferers, allowing the viewer to concentrate on them as actors; b) suggests to the donor that his contribution is tangible in improving a life; c) awakens the spectator’s “modal imagination”; d) avoids the spectator’s feeling of helplessness to help the distant sufferer (spectator effect); e) avoids resistance to the depressing nature of campaigns (boomerang effect) (Chouliaraki, 2010; LeBuhn, 2018, p. 23). The boomerang effect is linked to the psychological theory of reactance, emphasizing that, when exposed to humanitarian photographs, spectators, if exposed to repeated negative images, tend to offer resistance to them (Chouliaraki, 2010). However, the use of the positive image may have setbacks: a) although they seem to empower the victims, by portraying them with dignity and self-determination, the images run the risk of simultaneously emptying or seconding the condition of effective victim; b) the loss of the construction of a real need, because, when reflecting that “everything has already been solved”, positive photographs fail to cover the complex dynamics of the power of aid – which is necessary –, motivating the inaction of the observer (Chouliaraki, 2010; LeBuhn, 2018, p. 24).

26Västfjäll, Slovic and Mayorga (2015) explain what are the emotional and motivational consequences of “not helping everyone”. In a series of experiments, they demonstrate that decisions to help are strongly motivated by perceived effectiveness and that the negative effect of not being able to help children, perceived as unsavable, reduces the “warm glow” of the positive feeling associated with helping children. This means that information about lives that we cannot save can induce a negative effect and discourage the help of those potentially saved by dampening positive feelings. This lack of motivation due to not being able to help children beyond our reach can be a form of non-rational “pseudo-efficacy”. “Pseudo-efficacy” refers to the affective phenomenon that positive feelings about the child who can be helped are mitigated by negative feelings associated with children who cannot be helped (Västfjäll et al., 2015). Essentially, humans are connected to help one person at a time and can be discouraged from doing so if they feel that there are more people who cannot help.

27Focusing on the persuasion strategies used by the NGO Save the Children, Zarzycka (2015) notes that the face of a needy child is a visual trope that is at the forefront of spectacle politics in emergency news and aid initiatives. Images of children’s faces work on affective and ethical levels, appealing to compassion and a universal human rights discourse. Recognizing the cultural fascination with images of children, the author explores how the campaign configures donor financial aid to the beneficiary as affective and not economic. Children’s faces can create remorse between aggressors, dialogue between public policy makers and general empathy among the public (p. 29). In the competitive environment of today’s media, children function as moral referents (p. 29). Using a single child as a face of need, problem, war or injustice, configuring “the face of collateral damage” (Thorne, 2003, p. 261), characterizes the rhetoric of photojournalism and NGO campaigns. On the other hand, the smiling faces of children are a visual cliché that acts against recognizing the urgency of their situation (Chouliaraki, 2010).

28Also Jong and Dannecker (2017) recognize the potential of the affective dimension: they state that it can exceed the management of the “I Am a Migrant” campaign, inspiring political solidarity and that, as affection is a “crucial mechanism” to change public opinion, the campaign puts, in the foreground, testimonies and narratives about evidence and knowledge, narrative genres most classically associated with migration management.

29Exploring the benign and evil power of the visual in the racial framework of the European refugee crisis, Burrell and Hörschelmann (2018) bring an understanding of the political possibilities that the visual narrative offers in changing “lines of sight” in an increasingly anti-refugee climate vitriolic. Analysing graphic narratives created by the NGO PositiveNegatives about the experiences of Syrian refugees in Scandinavia, they argue that the modality and content of these narratives provoke encounter and empathy, neglecting the endemic racism incorporated in media discussions about the refugee crisis and offering new and mildly radical ways to resist the inhuman vein of conventional media discourses.

30Studies, such as Jong and Dannecker (2017) and Pécoud (2010), have revealed some paradoxes. De Jong and Dannecker (2017) analyse the objective, audience, form and content of the “I Am a Migrant” campaign, from the International Organization of Migration (IOM). They suggest that the campaign should target public opinion in Western host countries and that the campaign website, as a platform for the voices of migrants, is not antithetical to the IOM’s mission of managing migration under a logic of productivity and rationality, but rather at its logical extension. They also show that the narratives of migrants presented not only confirm, but also undermine the supposed naturalness of their strong ties with countries of origin. Also, Pécoud (2010), when comparing the rhetoric of global policy on migration management and the practice of information campaigns, found two paradoxes: 1) at the level of global policy, migration is presented as positive, but information campaigns analysed emphasize its dark side, being still stuck in the logic of migration control, instead of productive management; 2) between rhetoric and action, there were no “initiatives to promote the usefulness of migration among the population of destination countries”, despite political documents articulating that “anti-immigrant feelings are fuelled by the public’s ignorance about the usefulness of migrants” (p. 186).

Methodological options

31The question “how do public communication campaigns on refugees and migrants rhetorically build their persuasive potential?” guides the present study. It seeks to understand the persuasive potential of print media used in campaigns on refugees and migrants, in order to gather knowledge at the level of rhetoric. To better fulfil this objective, the rhetoric analysis technique is chosen, which focuses more on how the message is presented, such as form, metaphors, argumentative structure and choices (Neuendorf, 2002, p. 5), calling as analytical dimensions the rhetorical appeals proposed by Aristotle: ethos, pathos and logos.

32The corpus consists of 62 media, based on the research, carried out in March 2020, with the words “refugee”, “refugees”, “migrant” and “migrants”, on two websites – Ads of the World (AOW) and Campaigns of the World (COTW) –, chosen for the following reasons: Ads of the World (AOW) is “the world’s largest creative advertising index, featuring work from across the globe”1 and Campaigns of the World (COTW) is the “number one source of news for creative professionals”2. All supports, which resulted from the research, were analysed. The bulk of the corpus came from the Ads of the World website.

Presentation and discussion of results

Ethos – being “worthy of faith”

33All advertising entities, such as UNHCR, Save the Children, International Medical Assistance (AMI), Médecins Sans Frontières, Building Resources Across Communities (BRAC), enjoy credibility and reliability. The 2020 Edelman confidence barometer highlights that today, people trust based on two attributes: competence (keeping promises) and ethical behaviour (adopting the right behaviour and commitment to improving society). Among the results, NGOs lead ethical behaviour (Edelman, 2020). UNHCR, for example, benefits from the status of being a United Nations agency, with a mandate specifically to protect refugees. Almost 70 years old, he has already been awarded two Nobel prizes, in 1954 and 1981 (The Nobel Prize, 2020), and with the Prince of Asturias Awards for International Cooperation, in 1991.

34Social-Bee (2019) explores the examples of famous refugees (Albert Einstein, Freddie Mercury, Marlene Dietrich) to show that prejudices are wrong. It attests to the credibility of the active subject, stating: “Albert Einstein was not only an excellent physicist and a Nobel laureate – but also a refugee”3, “Freddie Mercury was not only an exceptional singer and record producer – but also a refugee”4, “Marlene Dietrich was not only a film icon and a glamorous artist – but also a refugee”5.

35The photographic collection, by Gregg Segal (Figure 1), used in the UNHCR (2020) campaign, also explores the credibility of an award-winning filmmaker.

36The “Undaily Bread” campaign, that of BRAC (2020) and that of UNHCR (2015), at the level of ethos, exploits the credibility of the source by using real refugees as examples, identifying them by name (UNHCR: Nathalia Rivero, Yosiahanny Chiquinquira, Arianny Chirinos and Williams Freitas; BRAC: Romana & Harisa6, Tasmin7, Samira8; UNHCR: Hannah – Figure 2) and telling the stories leading to their condition.

37The UNHCR campaign (2016) also tells real stories of courage to survive: that of Rudy Krejčí, who “galloped for freedom in a wooden coffin under a coal cart”, that of Josef Hlavatý, who “flew over the iron curtain on a hang glider with his three-year-old son” and that of Robert Ospald, who “crossed the border riding deadly high-tension wires. Looking down, he thought of everyone who was shot there before him” (Figure 3).

Pathos – arousing reactions and emotions

38The palette of emotions and reactions potentially provoked is diverse, ranging from a) empathy (“we were once refugees”, UNHCR, 2016a; “ignoring refugees is ignoring our own history”, 2016b; “refugees make terrifying, full journeys of dangers that are often fatal for many of them”, Nigeria for World Refugee Day, 2019; “for all refugees, living is already winning”, UNHCR, 2017; “you never run away voluntarily”, UNHCR, 2009b); b) recognition of the error of prejudice, trembling of stereotypes (“the most challenging barrier for refugees is our head”, Caritas, 2016); c) confrontation with the dimension of a problem and frustration (edisappearance of 10.000 refugee children); d) compassion (personalized stories); e) impetus to help and participate in actions of national collection, call to action and resolution (“we must make this a thing of the past”, Save the Children, 2009); f) gratification or satisfaction for providing help; g) reflection exercise (“refugees would like to have the same problems as you”, UNHCR, 2009a; “how much do we really need to copy?”, Der Tagesspiegel, 2017); h) awareness of the contribution to something positive (“your signature can silence oppression”, Carta Capital and the NGO Migraflix, 2017); i) the weight of responsibility (“soon time will be our greatest oppressor”, UNHCR, 2011).

39Assuming that empathy is the capacity to perceive the internal frame of reference of the other with precision and with his emotional components and meanings, as if he were him, but without ever losing the condition “as if” (Rogers, 1959, pp. 210-211), it can be identified that several campaigns may awaken this socio-emotional capacity.

40UNHCR (2016), with the slogan “we were already refugees” (Figure 3), calls for an understanding of the other’s emotional frame (the refugee). Seeking to revive the common experience, the UNHCR campaign (2016b) explores the slogan “to ignore refugees is to ignore our own history” and uses old photographs (Rotterdam – Figure 9, Sicily – Figure 10, Paris – Figure 11) and recent ones, in order to show the permanence of the refugee and migration phenomenon. Santinho (2015) also corroborates this idea by saying that “we were also the others. We have also been refugees”. This communion of experiences allows us to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.

41Several phrases can arouse empathy, such as: “refugees make terrifying journeys, full of dangers that are often fatal for many of them” (World Refugee Day, 2019 – Figure 5); “the girls’ two brothers and parents were shot dead. Romana and Harisa were then attacked with machetes” (ad campaign by BRAC); “The village of Tasmin was destroyed and all men were slaughtered” (ad campaign by BRAC); “The village of Samira was set on fire... they fled to the forest where they were shot..., but the baby drowned” (ad campaign by BRAC); “it is frightening to think that today’s children are still forced to work in factories, employed as prostitutes or do not have access to clean water” (Save the Children, 2009 – Figure 6); “for all refugees, living is already winning... their dangerous journey; “in 2024, athletes will swim/sail/run/row/jump/fight/walk to win. Every day refugees swim/sail/run/row/jump/fight/walk to live” (La Cimade, 2017 – Figure 7); “you never run away voluntarily. Nobody chooses to give up everything, leave their home to make a long and dangerous journey, in order to seek asylum in a foreign land” (UNHCR, 2009 – Figure 8); “refugees need real help” (Amnesty International, 2015 – Figure 9); “I used to sleep to calm my hunger, but whenever I woke up, the nightmare returned”; “my pain never mattered, because nothing hurts more than the children’s hunger”; “we left our country. We left our home. We left our life. Only hunger came with us”; “I lost the desire to play, because now my only desire is to eat” (Figure 1). This motivating trend of empathy corroborates the result of Burrell and Hörschelmann (2018) that visual narratives instigate encounter and empathy.

Figure 5: Ad campaign by Onewildcard for World Refugee Day 2019

Figure 5: Ad campaign by Onewildcard for World Refugee Day 2019


42Compassion, too, can be aroused by describing personalized stories.

43The reflection exercise is evident in phrases, such as: “refugees would like to have the same problems as you” (UNHCR, 2009a – Figure 10); “how much do we really need to copy?” (Der Tagesspiegel, 2017 – Figure 11); “facing death in a war zone? Escape, but leave the one you love behind? For many refugees, the choice is between horrible or worse (UNHCR, 2012 – Figures 12).

44The recognition of the error of prejudice (Ads by Social-Bee) and the shudder of stereotypes (“the most challenging barrier for refugees is our head”, Caritas, 2016 – Figure 13) are also motivated.

Figure 13: Ad campaign by Caritas Austria, DDB Wien, ViennaPaint

Figure 13: Ad campaign by Caritas Austria, DDB Wien, ViennaPaint


45Feeling the weight of responsibility is constructed, for example, through the phrase: “soon time will be our greatest oppressor”, UNHCR, 2011 – Figure 14).

46There are campaigns that encourage the impetus to help and participate in national collection actions (Figure 15) and that call for action and problem solving, using phrases such as: “we must make this a thing of the past” (Save the Children, 2009 – Figure 16); “a small donation at will help to rebuild your life” (ads by BRAC); “Refugees need real help” (Figure 9); “everyone who can afford to do this, no matter how small” (Figure 5); “help us on this final frontier. Donate now” (Figure 17).

47Also, from a positive point of view, gratification or satisfaction for providing help and awareness of the contribution to something positive are present: “this was where I was when I helped to build a refugee camp in Pakistan. Helping AMI can become part of your life ... no matter where you are, you will always be helping someone in need” (AMI, 2007 – Figure 18; “your signature can silence oppression” (Carta Capital and the NGO Migraflix, 2017 – Figure 19); “this Christmas, help to save the lives of those who venture into the sea for a better land” (Figure 20); “spend fifty dollars, save a hundred and fifty” (Figure 21); “your donations help us to remain impartial, by allowing our teams to collect medicines, food, vaccines and health care for those who need it most, wherever they are in the world”9, “you can change her meal daily, donate here” (Figure 1); “help those who are forced to flee to find safety, recover hope and rebuild their lives. A family divided by war is too much – – because you have a choice” (Figure 12); “they need all the help they can to create a safe space, a haven where they can collect the pieces of their lives and prosper” (Figure 5). Atkin and Rice (2013) refer, in this context, to motivational incentives, such as the altruistic gratification of helping.

48In a more negative light, there is the confrontation with the dimension of a problem and the inherent frustration (disappearance of 10.000 refugee children, Save the Children, 2016 – Figure 22) and guilt (e.g., “but you know what it is the most horrible part of her story? Many of you want to send her back” – Figure 2).

49From iconic point of view, the presence of children in images can attract empathy, compassion and a willingness to protect (Figures 23, 7). Zarzycka (2015) explains that the images of the children’s faces appeal to compassion and a humanist discourse and can generate remorse and empathy among the audience (p. 29).

50In Figure 5, covered by wave designs, it is possible to observe, within the outline of the footprints and in a light blue, hearts, gifts, hand in hand suggesting help. In these waves, there is the impression that there is calmer and confidence. Outside the tracks, the blue is darker and, together with the sharks and hands alluding to a cry for help, it is a danger, which can encourage empathy, compassion, an incentive to help.

51The Figure 19 is positive, as it shows the effectiveness of aid: silencing oppressors. Figures 6 and 16, when using a bubble around children, also show the effectiveness of the aid. Seeing aid effectiveness can be a motivational incentive.

Logos – the power of discourse

52The discourse of public campaigns concerning refugees and migrants comprises evidence and facts, examples, personalization and stylistic resources.

53Among the evidence and facts are a) statistical data, such as “since 2014, within two years 10.000 refugee children have disappeared shortly after arriving in Europe” (Figure 22); “the number of refugees reaches 65,3 million people” (Figure 20); “by the year 2050, there will be more than 200 million refugees due to climate change” (Figure 14); “on behalf of 300,000 Syrian refugees” (Figure 23); “$4,000 USD This is the price that thousands of migrant children pay to risk their lives” (Figure 24); b) references to real crisis situations, such as the Venezuelan crisis (Figure 1), the case of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Bangladesh, both occurred in 2009, the historic cases of Rotterdam, Sicily and Paris; and c) real and true stories of refugees. From iconic point of view, the use of the image of the Syrian boy, Alan Kurdi, who died in 2015 on a Turkish beach, evidences to the real drama of refugees, and has become its icon and symbol (Figure 23).

54Examples are also used, both individually and collectively.

55The stylistic resources allow injecting concreteness into the ideas. The usage of repetitions and anaphors can be noted (“we left our country. We left our home. We left our live” – Figure 1). From the iconic point of view, this resource can be noticed in the images of missing people in the Figure 22, with the evidence of hyperbolization, in the various newspaper stacked in Figure 11, in the cardboard boxes covering the floor in Figure 1, in the waves and repetitions of all the elements prevailing in Figure 5. The images tend to represent people and, in four images, there is a focus on the feet and footprints of children – synecdoche (ad campaigns by BRAC). The feet can symbolize the soul, humility, stability, magical power, freedom of movement (Olderr, 2012, p. 84).

56The use of antithesis can be also noted in stylistic terms. For example, “we left our country... our home... our life” versus “only hunger came with us” (Figure 1); “Athletes... to win” versus “refugees... to live” (Figure 7). The antithesis can also be noted in the text and image of figure 22, as the text states that “there was no real news coverage”, although the image shows an outdoor scene covered by newspapers with missing people.

57In Figure 15, aid is metaphorized by the aerial aid plan, the tap and the bag of blood. The dome surrounding the children suggests the metaphor for protection (Figures 6 and 16). The brain made from barbed wire seems to metaphorize the danger of prejudice (Figure 13). The house made of burning matches metaphorize the destruction and fragility, the pyramid as metaphor for priorities (Figure 14), and the pattern on Hannah’s scarf metaphorizes all the obstacles she has been facing (Figure 2). The use of black and white colours in Figure 2, corroborates this mournful and mourning path and Hannah’s cry for help. In the Slovenia for Festival of Migrant Film campaign, anthropomorphic characters are metaphorized through the films Moby, Bamby and Birds, expressing the idea that the films can represent migrants and refugees (Figure 25). The Russian doll or Matryoshka can be interpreted as a metaphor for the need for Scottish unity and union, provided that the toy is made up of various dolls that fit into each other10. The ID tag of Carta Capital magazine subscriber in the mouth of the politician means that the reader has the ability to silence oppressors (Figure 19).

Figure 25: Ad campaigns by Slovenia for Festival of Migrant Film

Figure 25: Ad campaigns by Slovenia for Festival of Migrant Film


58The question mark can be referred to as a discursive element that retains the factual function and requires reflection and response (Figures 2 and 12, ad campaign by Médecins Sans Frontières).


59The discourse present in the analysed public campaigns concerning refugees and migrants adopts a rhetorical tactic based on the Aristotelian model: ethos, pathos and logos. The credibility and reliability of the source and the subject participating in the narrative are explored.

60The rhetorical options used to construct emotional and reactive dimensions are: a) the already classic use of placing children as protagonists, as they transmit the expression of need, problem, war or injustice, shaping, as Thorne (2003) says, “the face of collateral damage ”; b) the image showcase of victims in difficult and dramatic contexts and with a sad expression, and the use of phrases that encourage empathy; c) the presence of phrases and images that motivate reflection, help and reveal the need to act.

61The absence of smile in children can act in favour of recognizing the urgency of their situation (Chouliaraki, 2010). The affective dimension built can inspire political solidarity and, as the affection is a “crucial mechanism” used to change public opinion, testimonies and narratives about the evidence and knowledge are explored, as remarked by Jong and Dannecker (2017). Gallner (2018), for example, recognizes that the campaign’s effectiveness also depends on more emotionally suggestive images. Seeing aid effectiveness can also be a motivational incentive.

62The discourse, based on the strength of realism, is composed of statistical data, facts, examples and stylistic resources. This rhetorical tactic, based on logos, translates reality, responding to the popular proverb there is no argument against facts. This also instigates awareness and action through the sharing of individual and collective examples, in aesthetic and poetic terms, such as anaphor, antithesis, metaphor, as well as the use of the question marks and the wealth and multiformism of creativity.

63As the public sphere is considered the stage for multiple discourses, assumed as “creation of understandings” and when using a negative narrative construction concerning refugees and migrants, the rhetorically interwoven discourse of humanitarian campaigns can demystify and shudder prejudices, clarifying and mobilizing aid. This discourse can thus contribute to the “search for durable solutions” (UNHCR, 2018, p. 11) for refugees and migrants, which will help them to (re) achieve a peaceful, dignifying life with peace, dignity, ensuring their rights. This article seeks to contribute to the scientific and social understanding of how rhetoric is constructed in the public campaigns on the social minorities, whose receptivity in host countries has been revealed as a breaking point in public opinion. Issues, such as persuasion, public campaigns and refugees and migrants are interwoven in order to show the speaking ability of a campaign and to show how the mentioned minorities can gain a voice through public campaigns and convince recipients/hosts to accept their entry and coexistence in their countries and to be more sensitive to their condition.

This work was supported by Portuguese national funds through FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia, under project UIDB/00713/2020.

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Título Figure 1: Ad campaign by UNHCR
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Título Figure 2: Ad campaign by UNHCR
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Título Figure 3: Ad campaigns by UNHCR
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Título Figure 4: Ad campaigns by UNHCR
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Título Figure 5: Ad campaign by Onewildcard for World Refugee Day 2019
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Título Figure 6: Ads by Save the Children Fund
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Título Figure 7: Ad campaigns by La Cimade
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Título Figure 8: Ad campaign by UNHCR
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Título Figure 9: Ad by Amnesty International
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Título Figure 10: Ad campaigns by UNHCR
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Título Figure 11: Ad campaign by Der Tagesspiegel
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Título Figure 12: Ad campaigns by UNHCR
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Título Figure 13: Ad campaign by Caritas Austria, DDB Wien, ViennaPaint
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Título Figure 14: Ad campaigns by UNHCR
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Título Figure 15: Ad campaigns by Danish Refugee Council
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Título Figure 16: Ad campaigns by Save the Children Fund
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Título Figure 17: Ad campaign by UNHCR
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Título Figure 18: Ad campaign by AMI Organization
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Título Figure 19: Ad campaign by Carta Capital and Migraflix
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Título Figure 21: Ad Campaign by UNHCR
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Título Figure 22: Ad campaign by Save the Children Fund
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Título Figure 23: Ad campaign by Amnesty International
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Título Figure 24: Ad campaigns by Save the Children Fund
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Título Figure 25: Ad campaigns by Slovenia for Festival of Migrant Film
Créditos Source:​campaign/​festival-of-migrant-film-pristop-01-2014
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Para citar este artigo

Referência do documento impresso

Célia Belim, «Refugees and migrants in public campaigns: being a voice for the voiceless»Comunicação e sociedade, 38 | 2020, 79-105.

Referência eletrónica

Célia Belim, «Refugees and migrants in public campaigns: being a voice for the voiceless»Comunicação e sociedade [Online], 38 | 2020, posto online no dia 23 dezembro 2020, consultado o 27 novembro 2021. URL:

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Célia Belim

Célia Belim is an Assistant Professor at the Higher Institute of Social and Political Sciences (ISCSP-ULisboa). Since 2000 she has been teaching Communication Studies at the ISCSP and is currently coordinating the 1st cycle of studies. She holds a PhD in Social Sciences, specializing in Communication Studies. She has participated in conferences and published various articles on matters of her spheres of interest, such as political communication, health communication and media representation.
Email: celiabelim[at] / cbelim[at]
Address: Rua Almerindo Lessa, Polo Universitário do Alto da Ajuda, Cacifo 200, 1300-663 Lisboa

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