This report has been produced by the Comparative Network on Refugee Externalisation Policies (CONREP).

Published: 2 August 2022

This report seeks to ensure that the voices of those seeking refuge are actively sought and are clearly reflected in the development of a more humane policy.

We would like to let you know about a new report, entitled "Combatting Corrosive Narratives about Refugees", which calls for an end to negative rhetoric about refugees and to harmful border control policies in Australia and Europe. Now is the time for a new political recalibration. This report sets out achievable recommendations to be enacted by governments, the European Union and the media.


Words matter, and the language used in the media and by political leaders has an impact on how refugees are perceived and treated. Governments continue to implement policies which result in harms to those seeking refuge. The use of damaging messages by politicians reinforces these unacceptably harsh measures, especially when framed as necessary to address a so-called ‘threat’ from those seeking protection. This report calls for a fresh approach to debates and policy about refugees and asylum seekers. It calls upon the Australian government; European and UK governments and the EU – as well as the media - to ensure that the way they present policy and analysis about people seeking refugee protection is transparent, principled, and accurate. Governments, political parties and the media should refuse to engage in harmful narratives and practices. Often negative stereotypes are fostered by political debates and media reporting that fail to comprehend asylum. In many instances, they intentionally inflame the debates about refugee movement. They also often fail to communicate directly with people seeking refuge. 


It is not only corrosive narratives that must be combatted. It is equally important that the Australian government, governments in Europe, and the EU, must change policies to ensure a just and humane approach to people seeking refugee protection.  


The research shows that the voices of those seeking refuge are often unheard, deliberately silenced or have been manipulated in ways that diminish their personhood. Their stories are distorted or even erased by media and by political debates that frame them either as vulnerable victims or as undeserving ‘criminals’. 


In failing to hold governments to account, some media organisations also accept, without adequate questioning – or any questioning at all – the rhetoric of governments, and their mistruths. Some in the media circulate negative, misleading, narratives with little effort devoted to fact-checking the truth of statements made to them.  We argue that the media can do better.  Politicians can do better.


Among its recommendations, the report urges that:

  • Governments take a leadership role in countering negative rhetoric about those seeking refuge and establish processes to develop bipartisan and cross-party support for those seeking refuge.
  • Programmes be enacted by political parties in consultation with refugees, which demonstrate a shift away from harmful representations about people seeking asylum, especially in developing policy. This should include countering hate speech and confronting the risks associated with the proliferation of negative stereotypes.
  • Those working in, and with, the public service ensure that policies and laws are developed and enacted in ways that uphold the human rights of asylum seekers and refugees.
  • States become signatories to the Optional Protocol on the Convention Against Torture, and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
  • Governments establish a national expert panel (of refugees; experts; lawyers; advocates) to regularly report on truth, transparency and accountability in policy, and narratives to the public, including though an annual debate in national Parliaments and the European Parliament.
  • A handbook is developed to guide best practice in ethical policymaking for politicians.
  • Governments undertake to discontinue disingenuous media and other campaigns that seek to deter people seeking asylum from coming to Australia, and must desist from the use of threatening language in this regard. 


The report also calls on the media to:

  • Establish training courses, guidelines and codes of conduct.
  • Provide training on how to interview asylum seekers and refugees in a trauma-informed manner.
  • Explore avenues for challenging hate speech, racism and untruthful narratives about refugee movement, especially through social media and other online platforms.
  • Train journalists to avoid sensationalism in reporting, avoiding terms such as ‘refugee crisis’ or ‘influx’ or ‘hordes’. 


A key theme of the report is that key stakeholders involved in policy making must ensure that the voices of those seeking refuge are actively sought and are clearly reflected in the development of a more humane policy.

First published: 2 August 2022