The Migrant Report team, including students from Middlesex University and Kingston University
News of the ongoing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean region is nothing new to Law and Media students who have been reporting on the situation from Malta.The team have provided assistance to the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (MOAS) organisation, which is dedicated to preventing loss of life among refugees and migrants in distress at sea.
Illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea from the Libyan coast are expected to rise this summer as a result of the weak central authorities there and the closure of the Balkan and Turkish routes, according to comments made the MOAS conference on illegal migration in Malta on 30 May.
MOAS said that it alone had assisted over 13,000 migrants in distress since its launch in 2015.
The students' assignment involved setting up Migrant Report, a website reporting about the impact of the migration crisis, and collecting and centralising all essential information about people on the move. Originally the communications hub within the search and rescue organisation Migrant Report later emerged as a sister organisation.
An international student from the US, Zizi Agabani was pursuing a master's degree in International Relations at Middlesex when she went to Malta.
“As a previous intern with USA for UNHCR – the UN refugee agency helping to rebuild the lives of refugees – I was really interested in this opportunity to gain international experience in the forefront of the migrant crisis,” she says.
“We had teams for journalism, photography, law and geographic information system mapping. Everyone brought something to the table and contributed to the big picture.” There were also two students from Kingston University on the team.
Writing in the journalism team, Zizi also managed the social media accounts and, as an Arabic speaker, interpreted interviews. She played an essential role as the direct point of contact for migrants lost or abandoned by traffickers at sea or on land.
Interacting with many people from different backgrounds and professions, including government officials and NGOs, allowed her to grow and gain from other people’s expertise. “I learnt about teamwork – a successful organisation works like a puzzle; with teamwork everyone fits a piece of the puzzle.”
Being exposed to migrants from conflict-driven places such as Syria, Iraq, and East Africa, and seeing the dangers and life-threatening risks they face, has motivated her to not only work in the public relations sector but to work directly with refugees and others effected by the migrant crisis in the future.
“I learnt how non-profit organisations operate, which I hope will get me recognised by an established international organisation,” she says.
For students considering such a project, Zizi advises: “Be flexible because there’s different customs and different cultures that you may have to adjust to. Be spontaneous, have an open mind and you will learn so much more and enjoy it.”
While on the Journalism and Media degree course at Middlesex, Norwegian-born Leila Østerbø was nominated for the assignment by her tutor Professor Kurt Barling.
“I knew that this was a unique opportunity to put my knowledge into practice while still contributing to a good cause. I received support in terms of information and guidance from Professor Brad Blitz.”
Working with fellow students was “very rewarding and motivating”, Leila says. “We were mostly from different educational backgrounds, which provided us with a variety of knowledge and ideas to how to handle projects, articles, shoots, etc.”
Leila Østerbø talks about her experience on the Migrant Report project
The students were based in the town of Sliema in guesthouse accommodation. “The MOAS team made sure we felt safe and ‘at home’ when we were in the office. They arranged social events too.”
Experiences like these are “unique and very beneficial” - both on a personal level and for future work and studies, says Leila.
“I learned about time management, cooperating with a variety of people, how to handle pressure and tight deadlines, to be creative and innovative, as well as motivating and open-minded.
“I want to work as a journalist or with something related to media within a humanitarian organisation, so this experience has given me this exact experience – and more!”
Professor Barling said: "It is valuable for Middlesex students to have the opportunity to venture into the world beyond their studies using their engagement with the work of our researchers and at the same time improve their employability prospects. This project demonstrates a commitment to link University research with local, national or global outcomes."
Professor Blitz added: “There needs to be a coordinated approach to the refugee and migration crisis now more than ever and one that respects the rights of all migrants.”
The University secured funding for the project from the Centre for Academic Practice Enhancement and Erasmus+. It has also signed Erasmus agreements in Italy.
A team of Middlesex academics went out to visit the group working on Migrant Report at MOAS. They accompanied the students on a day trip to Sicily where they visited reception centres.
Dan Hitchins-Samson made this short film of a visit to the migrant cemetery
Middlesex social scientists Alessio D'Angelo, Elena Vacchelli and Nicola Montagna, and Middlesex film student Dan Hitchins-Samson, travelled to the Italian island of Lampedusa where they witnessed five spontaneous boat arrivals. Dan made this short film ‘Anonymous in Lampedusa’ of their visit to the migrant cemetery.
Click here to register for our upcoming event 'Search and rescue at sea: a legal obligation' , which takes place at Middlesex University on 8 June 2016.