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To what extent do media representations of refugees and asylum seekers limit their integration within society?

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Introduction

To what extent do media representations of refugees and asylum seekers limit their integration within society? As the number of asylum seekers and refugees entering the United Kingdom continues to rise, one of the pressing concerns of the European Union and the UK government is ensuring their integration within society. However, at present asylum seekers and refugees are not integrating well within society, reports have suggested that this is partly due to community tensions (ICAR, 2004). It has been argued that media coverage is adding to these tensions. As the number of asylum seekers and refugees in the UK has risen, so too has media interest in asylum issues. This is particularly evident in the national newspapers. The majority of reporting shows asylum seekers in a negative way, questioning their genuineness, rather than recognising the plight they have endured. Asylum seekers are commonly presented as 'bogus' or as 'economic migrants', with the media implying that they are not fleeing persecution but are merely seeking a better life in the UK with greater economic stability. Reporters often ignore the real reason why asylum seekers and refugees are in fact often risking life and limb to seek asylum in the UK. Other media coverage involving asylum issues often details incidents of asylum seekers and refugees' involvement in criminal activity, or criticises government for failing to deal with asylum issues effectively. Much reporting concentrates on the cost of asylum procedures. It is difficult to assess the precise impact of the media on its' audience, it is even more challenging to assess how media coverage affects behaviour. "Nevertheless, inaccurate and unbalanced reporting is commonly suspected by refugee supporting agencies, community groups, local authorities, the police and researchers to contribute to racist attacks on asylum seekers and refugees and to be a barrier to integration"(ICAR, 2004). This was also identified as a concern by the UNHCR when they expressed criticism of the British media in meetings with the Home Secretary (UNHCR, 2003). ...read more.

Middle

Following the publication of this article the RAM Project undertook a study to see how true these claims were. Their research shown that a UK family of 4.13 with a single breadwinner taking home �16,000 a year, are left with �214 per week or �7.40 per person per day. This is taking into account the money the family will be receiving in child benefits and tax credits, and the money they will be paying out, based on average rents and council tax. An asylum seeking family of 4.13 receives cash benefits of �158.52 per week, or �5.48 per person per day, thus the UK family are approximately 35 per cent better off. They also have a choice in where they live, and they're not forbidden from working. Refugees and asylum seekers however are forced into housing of a very low standard, it is likely that any qualifications or job experience they have will not be recognised in this country, so they will be forced to retrain. Looking at it from this perspective it seems that the UK nurse or teacher has the better deal, although this is not a story that will sell papers. Another way in which asylum issues are reported in the media is when reporting focuses on government asylum policies. Very often journalists focus on the cost and effectiveness of government policies, for example an article published in the Daily Mail criticises the government, drawing on a government estimate that it costs �2 billion a year to run the asylum system. The reporter fails to mention that the government also estimates that in 1999-2000 migrants, asylum seekers and refugees contributed �2.5 billion to the economy. So although "Bogus asylum seekers are draining millions from the NHS" (Daily Express, 26.11.2002) they are giving much more back to the economy than they are 'draining'. So far this essay has examined the extent to which the media influence their audience, and has explored the ways in which the media negatively reports asylum issues, this ...read more.

Conclusion

However, in his discussion of his study of UK media portrayal of asylum seekers Kaye (1998) does state that at least two of the less conservative newspapers studied frequently challenged the way in which politicians and government officials used pejorative language about refugees. This essay has illustrated how negative media portrayal of refugees and asylum seekers can lead to racist attitudes and action among members of the public. This in turn can limit the integration of refugees and asylum seekers. However, the media alone cannot be blamed for limiting integration. Earlier on in this essay the notion of agenda-setting was explained, and it was argued that the media often set the agenda by publicising an issue which arouses public suspicion and is then addressed by policy makers. This however is not always the case. Some media analysts argue that the process is reversed and that policy makers set the agenda, and the media then publicise the issue. This being the case, policy makers could be deemed responsible for limiting the integration of asylum seekers and refugees within society. It could be argued that the media is merely picking up on the tone of policy makers who have anti-asylum tendencies. This essay proposes that the media alone are not responsible for limiting the integration of asylum seekers and refugees. Government policies such as the 1999 Asylum and Immigration Act tend to bring out segregation rather than integration because under this act refugees and asylum seekers are confined to very restrictive rules and regulations which confine them to a passive role. State systems such as giving asylum seekers vouchers to use instead of money also limit integration because it presents the asylum seeker as the 'other', and constructs them as someone who is not trustworthy enough to be given money. The media are vehicles through which the political elite convey their messages. However, the media are often responsible for putting their own 'spin' on stories and it is often this that influences their audience. ...read more.

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