Critical theme: Conflict, climate and migration in Syria – did the media get it right?

IIED's Critical Theme seminar on 3 October, 2016, examined the media reporting of the links between migration, climate change and the conflict in Syria. Did they get it right? Here's what happened:

  1. The keynote speaker was Alex Randall, programme manager at the Climate and Migration Coalition, an alliance of refugee, human rights, and migration rights organisations. He was joined by IIED director Andrew Norton and discussant Megan Rowling, of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
  2. The conflict in Syria has lasted more than five years and has claimed almost half a million lives. The refugee crisis unleashed by the war has pushed the global number of asylum seekers to record highs. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says 13.5 million Syrians need humanitarian assistance, of which 6.6 million are internally displaced within Syria, and over 4.8 million are refugees outside of Syria.
  3. Randall argued that the story presented about the connection between climate change and the Syrian conflict has not always been accurate. His talk unpacked both the media narrative and the scientific evidence – making the case that the role of migration and migrants has been misunderstood by both the press and the public.
  4. Lots of people read about #climatechange & conflict in Syria. But why did media write so much last yr, asks @alex_randall #MigrationMedia
  5. Why 2015? The focus on the tragedy in the Mediterranean, & a pivotal research paper published in the US #MigrationMedia
  6. There was diversity in how media covered the narrative, but when viewed together a causal chain was evident in coverage #MigrationMedia
  7. This conclusion is less clear, but was either explicit or implied by the media, says @alex_randall based on study #MigrationMedia
  8. But: no credible evidence for a resource war in Syria cities + no evidence of any war happening on religious or ethnic lines #MigrationMedia
  9. That doesn’t mean there'll be no cross-border migration but key focus should be on internal movement, suggests @alex_randall #MigrationMedia
  10. Unlikely to be migration en masse & that they'll look like refugees: people will look to find work as livelihoods threatened #MigrationMedia
  11. Will prob be seasonal/circular migration - people likely to move back & forth between rural/urban areas during drought etc #MigrationMedia
  12. Rowling reports on climate change policy, humanitarian crises and sustainable development. She specialises in the impacts of climate change on developing countries, and solutions to the problem, including disaster risk reduction and climate finance.
  13. @AlertNet felt uncomfortable with hype about #climatechange, migration & conflict in Syria stories, says @meganrowling #MigrationMedia
  14. @meganrowling makes solid points about media reporting leaders' words without question #MigrationMedia @andynortondev @IIED @alex_randall
  15. It’s not enough to cover such stories in a simplistic fashion. Media news must ask more questions & get evidence. #MigrationMedia
  16. Issues are complex; media shouldn't be afraid of complexity, says @meganrowling #MigrationMedia
  17. The presentations were followed by a question-and-answer session with the invited guests, hosted by Norton.
  18. What is the negative impact of simplistic media coverage on #climate, conflict and migration, asks @andynortondev #MigrationMedia
  19. One negative is that it's easy to get headlines if you claim something will be a catastrophe, says @alex_randall #MigrationMedia
  20. Also, @alex_randall: "when I’m slightly critical of overblowing the connection [between climate, migration & conflict]..." #MigrationMedia
  21. "...I get a flurry of emails [hailing me] from climate sceptics. That's not a club I want to be in!" #MigrationMedia 
  22. There are limits to adaptation, so loss & damage debate is so important for LDCs, says @clareshakya #MigrationMedia
  23. On 'climate refugee' term: powerful instant appeal but problematic because those to whom it may be applied have rejected it #MigrationMedia
  24. Rich exploration today of moral & political dilemmas in media reporting of #climatechange #conflict links @IIED @alex_randall @meganrowling
  25. The Critical Theme was streamed live on Periscope. Below is Randall's initial presentation:
  26. IIED on Periscope: "Conflict, climate and migration - did the media get it right?"
  27. Rowling's talk is also available:
  28. IIED on Periscope: "Conflict, climate and migration - did the media get it right?"
  29. And readers can find out more about the Thomson Reuters Foundation's coverage of climate issues:
  30. A full recording of the event will follow next week.