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Story Publication logo September 26, 2022

I Am Not Your Refugee: Media and Migration

Illustration of a girl holding a small wooden house, inside of which is a flame. Text reads, 'not your refugee.'

Podcast series created in collaboration with journalists, artists and activists with direct lived...

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Multiple Authors

Mohammad Subat (standing) and the Baynana team. Image courtesy of Baynana.

A look at migration and the media with journalists Osama Gaweesh, Nasruddin Nizami and Mohammad Subat.

A look at migration and the media with journalists Osama Gaweesh, Nasruddin Nizami and Mohammad Subat.

Osama Gaweesh is an Egyptian journalist who joined the Refugee Journalism Project in the UK. He explains how the project works, and why it’s so important — not just for individual journalists, but for the quality of news and media overall. His own podcast, Untold Stories, is available wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Nasruddin Nizami, from Afghanistan, is co-founder of the online magazine Solomon, in Athens, and Mohammad Subat set up the first magazine by refugees in Spain, Baynana (which is Arabic for ‘between us’).

Presented by Mahmoud Hassino and produced by Bairbre Flood.

Theme music by Omar Alkilani. Artwork by Haya Halaw.

With thanks to the Pulitzer Center for funding support.


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Mahmoud Hassino: Hi and welcome to this week's episode, a special look at migration and the media. Later in the program, we'll talk to Nasruddin Nizami of Solomon magazine in Athens, and to Mohammed Subat of Baynana — the first magazine set up by refugees in Spain. But first, Bairbre Flood is in London to meet with Osama Gaweesh, an Egyptian journalist who joined the Refugee Journalism Project in the UK. He tells Bairbre about how the project works and why it's so important not just for individual journalists, but for the quality of news and media overall.

But this is still an area where we have a long way to go. A study in 2020 by the European Journalism Observatory, about U.S. and European migration reporting between 2015 and 2018 found that while 26.6% of articles do feature migrants and refugees as main actors, 18% cover them only as large anonymous groups. A mere 8% of the articles feature migrants and refugees as individuals or families. Very few migrants and refugees featured in the articles are actually quoted. The media quoted 411 migrant speakers, compared to 4267 non migrant speakers. This really puts into context the necessity for initiatives like the Refugee Journalism Project. So let's get into it. Osama Gaweesh starts off by telling Bairbre how he first started in journalism.

Osama Gaweesh: I wasn't a journalist in Egypt, I was a political activist, and I was a dentist, a professional dentist. And then after the military coup in 2013, I fled the country. And in Turkey in 2013, I met with some of my friends who were political activists as well. And we want to do something to our friends, to our country. So we went with some Egyptian businessman, and we decided to launch an opposition TV station. And at that time I started my journey as a journalist.

Bairbre Flood: So it was in Turkey?

Osama Gaweesh: Yeah, it was in Turkey. In the start of 2014, I started working as a producer, and then I did a camera test and the pilot and then become a TV presenter, and then the main TV presenter in the TV station. And I presented the secret audio leaks from inside the presidents of Egypt, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. And they called me in the Middle East 'the leaks presenter'.

The military regime in Egypt they sentence me five years in absentia. They put my name in a military trial, and they banned publication. So I have no idea about the charges of this military trial. And they put my name — as 1000s of Egyptians — in the so-called fabricated terrorist list. So they de-activate my Egyptian passport, they prevent me to renew it, or have another or a new one. And they put my name on the Interpol list in Turkey. So I fled Turkey again to the United Kingdom and sought asylum in 2018.

Bairbre Flood: OK. And so when you landed in England, just to explain to people who aren't from refugee backgrounds, it doesn't really matter if you've got a 30 years in journalism, and you have the most fantastic credentials. When you arrive in Europe, are they recognized? Or what's the story?

Osama Gaweesh: No, it's hard. It's hard. I was lucky because I secured a job in Arabic. But in English, it was difficult to just introduce yourself to the industry, because the language barrier is the first thing, the refugee background the second thing. And your speaking is not fluent. You are not a native speaker. So this is another problem. Until I met the Refugee Journalism Project in 2020. So it's an initiative by London Communication College and they offered us, the refugee journalists, offered us a one-year training with them. We meet with experts from BBC, from Bloomberg, from The Guardian, and they introduce us to the industry as qualified, professional journalists who want another chance.

And this was amazing because the people start to teach us how to pitch ideas, how to do a freelance working, how to do a podcast, how to create your podcast, your own podcast, how to pitch your podcast to the industry to get paid. So after that they introduce us to mentors. My mentor was a prominent journalist in the United Kingdom. And he helped me to publish my first ever freelance work was The Guardian in 2021. And it was amazing for me and it's opened many opportunities as a freelance with Media Diversity Institute, with Middle East Monitor, with the Middle East Eye, and I'm now doing this freelance regularly. So it was great to just put us on the right start. This is how to start in the industry. This is how to pitch ideas. This is how to create your own podcasts.

Bairbre Flood: What was the name of your mentor?

Osama Gaweesh: It's Ian Dunt. And I want to thank him. He's editor-at-large at

Bairbre Flood: Vivian Francis obviously set up the project. She was a journalist herself, and didn't realize the barriers people from refugee backgrounds face when they got here. And that's why she set up the project. So it's like, it's amazing. And you're probably on one of the first years of it, then were you? In 2020? Because it's not set up that long.

Osama Gaweesh: I think we were the third year of the refugee journalism project or the second I'm not sure. But now we met with our participants, our friends are all participants. For example, Abdulwahab Tahhan, he was in the first year of the Refugee Journalism Project, and he has his own podcast too about refugees. He is from Syria. He was an English teacher. And he help us — to just explain how we can benefit from this initiative.

Bairbre Flood: He's brilliant. I love his podcast, 'Integrate That'. So what do you think was like one of the best things about the project?

Osama Gaweesh: Okay, I think the first thing: yes, you can. This is the first rule they teach us. You are a professional journalist, you have adding value, you can do it, you can be a professional journalist here as well in the United Kingdom. So to build our self confidence, again, because you know, we came through a difficult times with a wide mental health issues. So they just build our self confidence, this was the first thing. The other thing, it's to guide us when and how and where to start, again, how to pitch ideas. Before the Refugee Project, I was thinking that to write an op-ed, or any reported feature to The Guardian to just write the whole thing and send it. And during the Project, there is something called pitching ideas. It's a 200 words, how to pitch your idea how to introduce yourself, how to introduce the main the key features of your idea. So this will the first thing.

I used to listen to podcasts in Arabic and English, but I had no idea how to create my own one. I'm now presenting my own podcast. And thanks to the Refugee Journalism Project, I attended three or four, intensive workshops with people who are podcasters in the BBC, and other platforms, who teach us how to do our podcast, how to use equipment, how to do the script and everything. So this was the second thing to guide us how and where to start the other thing, and it was a very important, the fellowship program. I attended six month fellowship with hot topics, three months, and with for another three months, working in the industry, attending the editorial meeting every day, writing articles, writing features, moderating sessions in English. For this six months, it sends me a message that you are now a professional journalist. You are now doing journalism in English as well as an Arabic. I'm doing journalism in Arabic since 2013. But in the last two years, with the help and support from the Refugee Journalism Project, which is continuing until now, yeah, I can do more in English.

Bairbre Flood: That's brilliant. Why do you think it's so important for refugees themselves to be writing and producing material not only about refugee stories and migration stories, but you know, why is it important for people with that background to be in the media?

Osama Gaweesh: I think that diversity is very important in the newsroom, because people here in in Europe in the United Kingdom only knew about the Middle East and other countries' superficial things. They don't have the capacity to dig into these communities. But we came from this communities. We know about the cultures, we know about the problems, we know about everything, about economy, about politics, about traditions. So I think it's important to have these voices in the newsroom to have this diversity issue. To have this flavor if we can talk about Egypt, not only about arms sales between Boris Johnson and Fattah Al-Sisi, no, we can talk about the tourism sector in Egypt from an Egyptian voice. We can talk about captagon trade in Syria, from a Syrian refugee. We can talk about the problem between Shia and Sunnah in Iraq from an Iraqi refugee; we can talk about the horrible things in Afghanistan, and the decline situation for women in Afghanistan, from a woman refugee from Afghanistan, it's better to do it.

Bairbre Flood: Yeah, good stuff. Just to finish off it. Just wondering, have you got any advice for journalists who are not from a refugee background, but are covering migration stories or that area? Have you any advice for them?

Osama Gaweesh: Yeah, just consider the mental health issues. Because this, these people suffer a lot from the journey. Don't push them to telling their story. If you feel they are not comfortable, just stop there. Because it's hard. They may cry, they may have a panic attack or a mental health, you can increase the mental health issues just to stop there and don't, don't push them hard on this point. The other thing, not consider them as only victims. Try to ask them about their successful stories, because they have, they have successful stories in their countries, or here in their new countries. Put them only in the victim angle. It's hard, because it doesn't help them to just rebuild their self confidence. And the third point is just try to explain that they are welcome in the new country. They are welcome in the new community. They have a lot of friends here. They have a lot of organization in the journalistic career and other careers that may welcome them and offer them a job. So I think the the need the early days of any refugee in this country. They need a precious thing called hope, in any hope about the home office, about the community, about the government, about the friends about the house, any hope any kind of hope. They are living the only thing keep them alive it's hope.

Nasruddin Nizami: My name is Nasruddin Nizami and I originally come from Afghanistan as a political refugee. I live in Athens since 2010.

Mahmoud Hassino: Nasruddin Nizami is co founder of the online magazine Solomon in Athens.

Nasruddin Nizami: What is Solomon? It's a nonprofit organization, a media organization that we use (Solomon use) media as a tool for the integration or for the migrant refugees. Rights of refugees and migrants. We write very separate, we are not even the government or NGOs or we are very like 'anexarchate' we say in Greek...

Bairbre Flood: Independent?

Nasruddin Nizami: Yeah, and we write article that's why the reason that Solomon I join it. We start very small group of migrant refugee in Greece and with locals. And we're just like: okay, we will not become a professional or our other colleagues. But now we have our office we have like professional journalism. I'm the board member in the community communication officer. And as you went to our website, we're awarded from different kinds. Like our Moria book, we got it awarded. And our articles we have a lot of readers in Greece, but especially in the other country, in America also. Sometimes I helped in articles in research, not always, but I tried my best. This is what we like it should be — independent and we should write the truth. What's happening, what's going on and the situation of the people. We write also about Greek people about the locals. But we are in cooperation with them.

Bairbre Flood: A good mix. It's good. The article I read that you helped research — about the though about the msafer houses.

Nasruddin Nizami: Msafer hana?

Bairbre Flood: Yeah. For anyone who doesn't know, just a quick description of this kind of phenomenon, it's in a lot of countries, these houses where there's like, 50 people living in a couple of rooms...

Nasruddin Nizami: Yeah, the idea was mine. And so I think this is exists in other European country, in Germany and France, and UK also, okay, someone has come in this country, even with the document they apply for asylum or undocumented, but you have to help them with language or recommendation. And that was the reason that we thought that this good idea to write about this how the people is in the situation. And it was took long time that we do this research and then we write the article with colleagues.

Bairbre Flood: Yeah, because you're seeing that obviously in your work everyday — people's situation.

Nasruddin Nizami: Yeah, I mean, always the topics like now is the Ukrainian topics in the front page. It will be like one or two months and then we'll be like finish okay, that's all. Afghanistan was topic in August, just two weeks, frontline of TV channel newspaper. Solomon that says we don't want that. We want to we say that something like continually be like focused on this issue and to describe and to write.

Mahmoud Hassino: That was Nasruddin Nizami of the magazine Solomon in Athens. Another media outlet set up by refugees is Bayanan, which is Arabic for 'between us'. One of the editors, Mohammed Subat, talks to Bairbre online and Osama Gaweesh interprets.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: Before all this happen, we were Arabic teacher, our studying about IT technology and so on. And then when the war started, the circumstances forced us to do journalism, to do some covering and working as a reporter from a conflict zone or a war zone. Just writing some news and covering some some issues and some crisis. And then doing a freelance journalism with a plenty of news outlets.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: In 2011 in the university, no one of these four journalists had finished his university study, and the authorities because of their participation in the revolution in the protest against the regime, it dismissed them from the universities. So they found themselves in the streets without studying without University, and then they start their career as a journalist, as reporters.

Bairbre Flood: People really relied on that information here at the time to get proper information, because obviously the journalists weren't allowed into the country. So I mean, that citizen journalism was really vital at that stage.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: There's two reasons for this career shift to be a journalist. The first one, it was a limited number of Syrian journalists who cover the revolution, who cover protests, to cover the Civil War. And another thing is Western reporters and correspondents — the Syrian regime didn't allow them in specific areas in Syria to just cover what was going on there. So it was easier for them just to go and cover this news.

Bairbre Flood: I mean, that's a real baptism by fire as they say in English. To just learn on the job and also learn in in very difficult circumstances how to be a journalist. Full respect for doing that. That's really important that people step up like that.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: In the beginning we just practice, we study with our friends experience, our donors experience, we monitored them and learned from them how to do this, how to do that. We struggled to find the proper equipment but however we overcome this, we did a short documentaries, we did reports with features. And so it was like, experience with practice. We we never heard about the academic study of journalism. However, we did a lot of stuff. And this helped us in Spain, in our new experience in Spain, to just benefit from this all practical experience in journalism underground in Syria, to just launch this initiative in Spain.

Bairbre Flood: Was Baynana was that your first option? Or did you want to work in newsrooms in Spain? Or what was the situation when you got to Spain?

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: We were arrived in Spain for the first time we were breaking news at the time, all the media in Spain talked about and discuss that there is a 12 Syrian refugee with a journalism background just arrived the country. Because compared to the United Kingdom, and compared to any other European countries, Spain is not the country who welcomes many Syrian refugees. So according to the official statistics, there is a limited number of Syrians in Spain. Another thing is, when they arrived, they start talking and writing on social media about what's going on in Syria, and just make the things in Syria well known in Spain. So the people in Spain knows more about what's going on the ground in Syria. After that they were four people in Madrid. And they discussed together how to do an initiative to talk about immigration and refugees and asylum seekers in Europe, who fled Syria so they start 'between us' or Baynana, in Spanish and Arabic, and they studied Spanish language first, so they can write and speak Spanish as well as Arabic.

Bairbre Flood: Why is it important do you think for refugees to own their own narrative? To tell their own stories? I mean, you know, it's pretty obvious to me but like just to explain it or what your take on it is.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: The biggest goal of this initiative, Baynana: journalists, refugees from Syria, who are talking about other refugees in Syria. So they feel the suffering, how it's hard to be a refugee, what's the meaning of fleeing your country or the meaning of leaving everything behind. And starting from scratch in a new country with a new language with the new people with everything. So Baynana (or 'between us') it was the first journalist initiative in Europe launched by refugees themselves to talk about refugees. So it's a unique initiative, as he said. And also, every time Spanish media just try to discuss the immigration or refugee crisis they host the guest, a Western guest who talk about a problem they've never know about it. They have never lived it, they've never experienced what the meaning of refugee or asylum seeker. For example, Islamophobia. If they are talking about Islamophobia, just the host, and experts or academic or whatever, to talk about Islam, and he's not Muslim. He doesn't know anything about Islam. He doesn't know anything about the problem of this issue. And what the challenges Muslim facing in Western countries. So it's the same the best way to discuss refugees is to bring refugees to talk about their own experience. So this is the main reason behind Baynana.

Bairbre Flood: Brilliant. Yeah, I mean, you mentioned there, the mainstream media and Islamophobia, but like, is there anything else like especially around migration and the way the media covers it that really stand out to you as really bad practice?

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: For example, racism in Spain — in the mainstream media and for example, the far right and the leftist newspaper or leftist media or far right media in Spain, they always give a reason, an explanation. This is not racism agonist Muslim, this is not racism, against migration, it is a Spanish people rights to do this or that. So this is not fair, because the best one who knows about if this is racist or not, is the victim. So just host the victim to talk about if he's refugee or Muslim or whatever, just bring them to the mainstream media, and they will explain it well.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: The problem is, he said, is the people in Spain don't know about the law. That migration is a right, a legal right for anyone around the world who suffer from poverty or suffer from instability or suffer from security problems, or war zone or whatever. It is a legal right. It's a humane right for anyone who wants to travel or want to find safety in another place. So he said, refugees are not poor or dirty people, they are well qualified. If you just provide them with the proper facilities with a proper education, they will work they will gain money, they will be an added value in any country.

Bairbre Flood: Yeah. I mean, it makes sense. Could you tell me just briefly about one story or one thing that you worked on, that you published that you're very proud of? Or that was very important?

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: There is plenty of stories. Baynana published stories about Syrian refugees struggle in Spain, okay, and the bad attitude from a non governmental organization in Spain, who dealing with refugees, we publish about their stories, and they start dealing with them properly. And this was a good point because they complain. Syrian refugees complain about this problems and we publish it and then the problem was solved. So this was one group, another group, it's about a music group from Morocco. They are they were refugees. And we publish about their story and their Spanish television contacted Baynana and asked to put them put them in contact with this music group from Morocco. And they hosted them in the television, and they host one of the Baynana staff to discuss how they reach out to this group, what is the Baynana initiative and so on. Another story, it's about the comparison between the Ukrainian war with Russia and the Syrian war, how the media covered this in comparison in human aspects and so on. And the plenty of ministry, media and newspaper published this and referred to Baynana.

Bairbre Flood: Brilliant, yeah, that's that's a really good piece to be getting out there. Do you have any advice for journalists? Journalists who are of refugee background or migrant background that want to be journalists? Do you have anything that you've learned that you want to pass on? I mean, there's the obvious ones, I suppose learn the language and that kind of thing, but is there anything in particular?

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: In my experience I faced many challenges. In a few points, the first thing is hope. Just keep your spirits up. And there is always hope in the new country and rebuild your self confidence. You can do it — you can be a journalist again in your new country. And don't listen to the negative messages like you will not be able to do this, there is a language barrier. The language, it is not a barrier. You can learn, you can study, you can speak the new language, it is not a big deal. And also the integration with the new community. It's a very important to just to know about the culture, know about how they are working. So it's will facilitate your mission to work as a journalist in the new country. And the last thing, just keep working on your mother country. You are fleeing Syria. So keep talking about Syria. Keep talking about what is going on because the people there, they need the international community to know more about what happened there.

Bairbre Flood: Brilliant, and you're an expert, because you're from there and you understand the situation.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: Definitely and I'm reaching out to a different audiences who had no idea about Syria.

Bairbre Flood: Brilliant. Yeah, that's really good. Thank you for that advice, because I think it's good to get to get that out.

Mohammed Subat: Thank you. Shukran.

Bairbre Flood: But was there anything you wanted to add that I didn't ask you?

Mohammed ShaSubatbbat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: He explained that Bayana is just one year project without any huge or major funds from any institution or whatsoever or group or just a personal initiative and they are funding it from their own pocket and they have family duties they have that the life duties everyday in the new country. However they insisted to just keep going with with Baynana to just reach out the Syrian voice to the international community. And yeah, the main purpose is just to deliver the message of Syrian people to the whole world.

Mohammed Subat: (speaks in Arabic}

Osama Gaweesh: They have a subscribers monthly subscription to just have the access to the whole content of Baynana so the the hope this will fund them as initiative to just keep keep going.

Bairbre Flood: Is that on Patreon? Yeah, okay, cool. That's brilliant. Thank you, really nice talking to you.

Mohammed Subat: Thank you.

Osama Gaweesh: (speaks in Arabic}

Mahmoud Hassino: You have been listening to Mohammed Shabbat of Bayana in conversation with Bairbre Flood and interpreted by Osama Gaweesh. Thanks to Osama for all his help on this episode, and for telling us about his own media experiences and the Refugee Journalism Project in London at the start of the program. His podcast, Untold Stories is available wherever you listen to your podcasts. Thanks also to Nazruddin Nizami, co founder of the magazine Solomon and of course to Mohammed Shabbat of Baynana, the first magazine set up by refugees in Spain. You'll find links as usual with the show notes. Thanks for listening.

You have been listening to I Am Not Your Refugee. Produced by Bairbre Flood and myself Mahmoud Hassino. Funded by the Pulitzer Center.



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