We need to hear the migrants’ voices

Although there are a relatively considerable number of news pieces on migration, we barely see migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers quoted in the news. Without truly hearing them, we can’t acknowledge their perspective.

Ester Minga

At the beginning of May, I watched the play Une Histoire Bizarre, directed by Sebastião Martins and produced by Associação Juvenil Ponte (with the support of the High Commission for Migration; Lisbon Municipal Chamber; and the Asylum, Migration and Integration Fund; among others). The play was inspired in a Congolese woman who said the following phrase to Martins, who was given medical care in a refugee camp in Greece: “Je vais te raconter une Histoire Bizarre”. The bizarre history was the history of her life. The histories of fourteen immigrants and refugees from distinct origins living in Portugal are powerful per se since they encompass struggles for the right to live a full life, a life in which one can pursue their integral development without constraint. The most inspiring thing in Une Histoire Bizarre is the fact that these fourteen people are the actors of their own histories, the public sees them on the stage. After some workshops and rehearsals, necessary to provide training in theatre techniques and to promote a sense of group between them, the migrants were able to share their touching histories with a Portuguese public[1].

The play let me think about the state of Portuguese journalism regarding the issues of cultural diversity, immigration, and refugees. As several recent types of research have identified, there is an under-representation of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers in media outlets, and the absence of their own voice as news actors and news sources prevails[2]. Although this state of affairs is not a Portuguese prerogative, it is also identified in other European media. As Susanne Fengler and Marcus Kreutler[3] point out, migrants and refugees are not only under-represented in European media’s coverage. They are also commonly depicted as large groups and not as individuals, and are hardly quoted in the articles.

Even though Portugal has received a great influx of immigrants for more than third decades (but below the European average), Portuguese media usually mirror European migration debates and report mainly on migrants and refugees from the Middle East[4]. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the latest Portugal report of Media Pluralism Monitor, the Social Inclusiveness indicator presents a medium risk (56%) and the sub-indicator “Access to media for minorities” presents a high risk (67%)[5]. According to the Portuguese Regulatory Media Entity (ERC), foreign citizens, refugees, and members of Roma communities appeared in around 4% of TV news pieces between 2018 and 2019, and immigrants and refugees were mainly represented in adverse situations such as poverty, criminalization or victimization[6].

Going back to the play mentioned at the beginning of this article, I was inclined to suppose that the actors would present themselves as victims and interpret their lives as a whole adverse path, but this is not what happens in Une Histoire Bizarre. Yes, the public gets to know the life threats faced by the immigrants and refugees; their struggles, and daily difficulties in Portugal; but we also get to know, for example, the touching history of Huwaida Sorag, a fifty-one-year-old woman who has already spoken in the United Nations and had to flee Sudan because her fight to education access for girls and women. We also learn about Lana Alqarnwi, a thirty-four-year-old Iraqi journalist who was threatened after writing about women’s rights in the newspapers.

In Western countries, we are so used to see Muslim women as victims unable to speak for themselves[7], that is a welcome surprise to see a headscarfed woman firmly standing for herself and her daughters.  The histories of Huwaida, Lana, and the others explicit to us that immigrants and refugees can contribute to Portugal’s development not only in an economic sense. The examples and experiences of the women cited could be very helpful in a country with high rates of femicide[8].

Nevertheless, the Portuguese public needs to hear the voices of the immigrants and refugees, to know about their paths, experiences, and difficulties faced in the country. Journalism is fundamental to this goal, but we don’t have yet (despite some noble exceptions) a journalistic professional culture committed to give visibility to all members of society, even those from the margins.


[1] To know more about Une Histoire Bizarre and future plays, see their official website: https://www.unehistoirebizarre.pt/

[2] Silva, M. T. (2019). Fact sheet Portugal Report on media and migration. COMMIT for the EU project New Neighbours. 

[3] Fengler, S. & Kreutler, M. (2020). Migration coverage in Europe’s media. A comparative analysis of coverage in 17 countries (OBS Working Paper 39). Frankfurt/Main: Otto Brenner Stiftung.

[4] Due to the colonial past, migrant communities from the former Portuguese colonies (mainly Brazil, Cape Verde, Angola, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau) correspond to the great foreign community in Portugal.

[5] The Media Pluralism Monitor 2021 is a scientific effort to document the health of European media ecosystems, and it is coordinated by the Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom. Portugal’s report is available at: https://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/71958/portugal_results_mpm_2021_cmpf.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

[6] ERC (2021). A Diversidade Sociocultural nos Media 2018-2019.Lisbon: ERC.

[7] The British artist and Muslim Shaista Chishty created the ironic fake magazine “The Daily Veil” to show the hypocrisy of this stance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3HcxeoupvM&t=2s

[8] There were 21 femicides only in 2021. https://expresso.pt/sociedade/2021-11-25-A-violencia-domestica-e-uma-pandemia-permanente-e-brutal-este-ano-ja-morreram-14-mulheres-e-estas-sao-as-historias-de-cada-uma-delas-44b2b9a2

* Cover Image Creative Commons License Type 

**Please find the version in Portuguese on the next page

**Por favor, aceda à próxima página para a versão em português da publicação 


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