Migration management: An investigation of European information campaigns for migrants


Digital information campaigns are intended to educate migrants about safe escape routes as well as their rights in the destination country prior to their arrival. However, the present study shows that the information provided by EU governments is not formulated in a neutral way and even sends deterrent signals.

Article by Adriana Sofia Palloks (✉ adriana.palloks@univie.ac.at)

The 2015 refugee crisis posed a major challenge for European policymakers in terms of migration management. Considering this, European governments have launched (among other acts) digital information campaigns to inform migrants about safe escape routes as well as asylum options prior to arrival in the destination country. Like any other form of democratic government communication, these information campaigns should be neutral and non-partisan, so that migrants are given the opportunity to make well-informed decisions during their journey. However, critics complain that the information provided in government migration communication is not objective and sends deterrent signals.

In her research project, social scientist Verena K. Brändle examined the websites of the German and Italian information campaigns "Rumours About Germany" (RAG) and "Aware Migrants" (AW). The content includes articles as well as links and references to external sources and actors. The websites are available in several languages. The analysis referred exclusively to the English version. The program R was used to collect the content, whereby all contributions and sources were collected up until the start of the analysis in April 2020. The material was then evaluated using the MAXQDA analysis program. In order to compare the two information campaigns, the frequencies of certain words as well as the main topics were analyzed, with the aim of identifying the strategic messages that the democratic actors embedded in the information campaigns for potential migrants.

Communication efforts have clearly intensified since the refugee crisis in 2015/16, as there has been published a great deal of information on irregular migration. One of the most prominent messages is that entry conditions are hard to meet, and that irregular migration would end in death and abuse. "The investigation finds that both campaigns reiterate European immigration policy discourses instead of providing comprehensive information that are relevant for people on irregular pathways", explains study author Verena Brändle. Further, she continues that "the findings also speak to wider migration research that shows an increasing trend toward securitization in European migration governance that is expressed as humanitarianism."

Interesting to note is the suggestive character of the provided information, as the German campaign (RAG) provides information for migrants "who wish to reach Germany as a destination country, focusing on return programs and entry requirements". The Italian campaign (AW), on the other hand, focuses its information on presenting the Mediterranean region merely as an arrival region for migrants, from which they can continue their journey to their desired destination country.

The two campaigns also differ in the type of provided sources. RAG relies heavily on institutional and government sources, suggesting that the focus of the information is on migration rules and procedures relevant to the destination country. At the same time, they present Germany as an anchor point for only high-skilled migrants, illustrating the strict requirements for obtaining a visa and the problems of the German labor market for low-skilled workers. In contrast, AW mostly provides news articles from the refugee crisis. The respected articles mainly address topics such as rescue missions in the Mediterranean sea, death toll on various migrant routes or the sexual abuse of girls and women by human traffickers. Yet, there are some features on economic success stories of people who returned to their home countries.

In conclusion, the narrative of risks and lack of prospects runs like a thread through both information campaigns. It becomes apparent that the provided information is based on the country's own interests instead of informatively addressing the needs and rights of potential migrants. This finding is not in line with the normative standard of democratic government communication, which should include "neutrality, transparency, and autonomy from party politics", as Brändle points out.

Publication details

Brändle, V. K. (2022). Well informed? EU governments' digital information campaigns for (potential) migrants. Journal of Immigrant & Refugee Studies. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1080/15562948.2022.2046896

How do governments and ministries inform potential migrants about safe routes and asylum opportunities before their arrival in the destination country? In this context, the research article by Verena K. Brändle (University of Vienna) analyzes the web presence of the German and Italian information campaigns "Rumours About Germany" and "Aware Migrants". To access the website content, she made use of the program R. As for the following analysis of the websites' material, she used MAXQDA, a software program for qualitative multimedia analysis. The research project is funded by the Independent Research Fund Denmark. (Image © Eberhard Grossgasteiger)

Verena K. Brändle is recipient of an International Postdoctoral Grant by the Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF) and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Communication since 2020. Her main research interests include migration studies and political communication.