The UN’s TOGETHER Campaign: Changing the Migrant Narrative

By Claire Chauvel 
Social Connectedness Fellow 2017

More than ever, people are on the move. Whether it be departure forced by life-threatening conditions or the growing host’s nationalism encroaching on newcomer’s rights or living life on the margins, the prevailing refugee and low-income migrant experience are dire. We need to look no further than alarming headlines and political rhetoric to know that change is in order. For some of us, the influx of refugees living on our streets with no recourse is a marking call to action. As the seed of all change is dialogue, an opportune starting point for change would be to reframe the pervasively negative conversations and connotations around migration. After all, it is creed that compels action. Citing a “crisis of global solidarity” and the importance of narrative, the United Nations has embarked on this mission.[1]

In conjunction with the United Nations adoption of New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon launched the TOGETHER Campaign on September 19 2016 at the UN Summit for Refugees and Migrants with unanimous support from all 193 Member States. TOGETHER, or more broadly “Together Respect, Safety and Dignity for All,” is a global non-discrimination and acceptance campaign designed to alter attitudes and perceptions towards migrants and refugees. Using positive storytelling, engagement, and partnership as a conduit, TOGETHER is hoping to chart a course towards inclusivity and connectedness through public opinion and policy. In short, the campaign serves as a nexus aspiring to strengthen the social bond between host countries and communities, and refugees and migrants. TOGETHER’s strategy is five-fold:

  1. Engages and mobilizes global citizens to show support for refugees and migrants
  2. Speaks to communities hosting refugees and migrants as well as people concerned that refugees and migrants may bring physical and economic insecurity to their lives
  3. Creates a strong, persuasive narrative of solidarity toward refugees and migrants and showcases the shared benefits of migration to economics and nations, while also acknowledging legitimate concerns of host communities
  4. Provides a platform for stories of and by refugees and migrants and host communities that have benefitted from welcoming them
  5. Helps host communities and refugees and migrants to know each other better

      Shortly prior to the launch of TOGETHER, award-winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie told participants on the UN’s World Humanitarian Day, “Let us tell a different story, let us remember that we are not just bones and flesh. We are emotional beings, we all share a desire to be valued, a desire to matter.”[2] Adichie highlights the respect and emotional support that migrants and refugees deserve. Societies are becoming increasingly multicultural; as such, investment in cohesion and plurality is paramount for a robust society.[3] A positive narrative translates into better actions, constructively influencing society.

Unfortunately, the converse is also true. The “othering” of migrants sparks turmoil and destruction. This in turn prompts a vicious cycle whereby migrants who have faced backlash do the same to the next wave of migrants.[4] Admittedly, migration is a highly politically and ethically charged topic. Newly appointed UN Secretary-General António Guterres aptly noted in January 2017, “In times of insecurity communities that look different become convenient scapegoats.” [5] Yet it is important to note that many migrants and refugees do not choose their status, they have/had no choice except to move. Considering this, Secretary General Guterres emphasized in his speech,

“Discrimination diminishes us all; it prevents people and societies from achieving their full potential. Let us draw strands from the values of inclusion, tolerance and mutual understanding that are at heart of all nation stations and the UN Charter… people everywhere need to feel that their cultural identities are valued and at the same time have a strong sense of belonging to the community as a whole.” [6]   

Migration is here to stay, why is the tendency to work against it? Lest we forget, the story of migration is an ancient one. Human history is one of change and exchange, of mingling and moving. Had it not been for the Silk Road and migration, the West might not have come to know papermaking, printing, gunpowder and the compass – all necessary ingredients of modernization.[7] Albert Einstein, Maryam Monsef, Steve Jobs, Hakeem Olajuwon, Marie Curie, Marc Chagall, Gao Xingjian, Michael Marks, Madeline Albright… are themselves or children of migrants. If you dig a little, chances are you count migrants among your ancestors. In all likelihood, your ancestors, as most migrants do, faced innumerable hardships that impeded them from achieving their potential. Imagine the possibilities if we removed the barrier of exclusion and embraced migrants, if the norm was to empathize and include, instead of to “other”. Almost all the greatest innovations, inventions, and interactions were born of engaging with and respecting the foreign, the other, the unknown. Relegating migrants to society’s fray is inhibiting growth, happiness, discovery, and cohesion.

With the current socio-political climate of xenophobia in many regions, namely Europe, the United States, South Africa, and Myanmar, rhetoric is as important as ever. In turn, so too is TOGETHER’s campaign. We operate in societies that profess respect for and adherence to human rights and dignity. It is in all our best interests that we participate in and support the TOGETHER campaign.

To participate and join the conversation you can do the following: share your stories on social media using the hashtag #JoinTogether, attend or create your own TOGETHER event, support TOGETHER’s partner campaigns, and/or subscribe to their newsletter. For more information please visit their website.

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[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5x4XFMNBmk

[2] https://qz.com/766267/nobody-is-ever-just-a-refugee-chimamanda-ngozi-adichies-powerful-speech-on-the-global-migrant-crisis/

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQCNQeh3zZo

[4] http://www.npr.org/2016/10/18/498358771/study-immigrants-face-backlash-but-do-the-same-to-the-next-group

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQCNQeh3zZo

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQCNQeh3zZo

[7] http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/song/readings/inventions_gifts.htm