The Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility recently welcomed Kate Schoenbach, a multimedia journalist with a background in economics and BBC contributor, for a screening and discussion of her short film, “The Greek Refugee Crisis.” Schoenbach was joined by Dr. Noemi Mena Montes, a journalist with expertise on migration and intercultural communication, to host a discussion following the film about their work with refugees in Greece and in the field of global migration.
Kate Schoenbach and Dr. Noemi Mena Montes have covered a wide array of cultural phenomena throughout the globe. Schoenbach’s most recent piece depicts Moria, a Greek refugee camp on the island of Lesbos. With the increasingly restrictive immigration policies of European Union countries, tens of thousands of refugees have limited options for asylum. Despite the official capacity of 3,000, during May of 2018 an estimated 7,300 people lived within the Moria camp which had grown drastically to over 14,000 migrants by October of this year. Most remain in the dire conditions of refugees. To put this into perspective, Schoenbach shared the estimate that there are upwards of 100 women per toilet, most of whom cannot go at night due to their fear of sexual assault. Overpopulation and delayed legal integration into the European Union have been cited as the primary reasons for the terrible conditions and as global migration persists, there is little being done to resettle the thousands who have taken the treacherous journey overseas to what they had hoped would be a safe and fulfilling life. Below are highlights from an interview with Kate Schoenbach following the screening of her 2019 film, The Greek Refugee Crisis, along with her colleague and migration expert, Dr. Noemi Mena Montes.
“[We] hope not to lose hope” – Narrating Hope in Moria
These words are spoken by a refugee woman at Moria who Schoenbach interviews in her film. To show this sense of hope within the communities, Schoenbach’s reporting sheds light into the plight of migrants yet demonstrates a deep acknowledgement of their strength and steadfast hope for a new start, safety, and opportunity. Striving to capture the essence of people, she asserts that journalism should “maintain honor of the person,” and attempts to connect the humanity of her subjects with the reality of their backdrop. Dr. Mena Montes furthers this assertion by stressing the importance of coming together on global issues of human rights and finding value in every person throughout crisis. To do this, a journalist must discover a way to truly balance circumstance with the reality of a situation — and to dive deeper into cultural significances, discovering what drives people for a better future. Part of Dr. Mena Montes’s work is consulting with non-governmental organizations and educational institutions on intercultural communication.
Limitations of Mainstream Media – Balancing Truth with Perception
Schoenbach relates that she seeks to “balance truth with perception.” She often considers the mainstream media as biased as they tend to depict the extremes of complex issues, allowing for only short segments of a published article or a report is “summed up” in a two-minute TV spot. To remain informed, Schoenbach urges the public to be mindful in choosing their media outlets — one must “read longer articles and books, speak with people, and go to museums.” Larger publications do not always want to cover “what may not get clicks” and only work to meet quotas for specific regions or taglines, rather than publish what journalists on the ground deem to be the most pressing stories to report. Dr. Mena Montes voices the concern that journalists and researchers may also be limited in their freedom of movement, “given limited access through tours” where the complexities of stories cannot be summed up sufficiently without the possibility of seeing the true condition of places like Moria or other refugee camps, such as Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. This is complicated even further considering that perception and truth are convoluted. To understand the landscape and people involved in the migrant crisis requires that journalists ensure they capture the full essence of humanity in their subjects. Reporters must maintain their honor as individuals with a family and roots, connected to the larger human reality.
“I aim to reach the people in the middle of the road [and] engage isolated people, rather than the politicians,” says Schoenbach, who uses photography to coincide and compare with long-form journalism while aiming to give the reader a visual depiction to aid their perception of a place, people, and culture. Schoenbach notes that in an increasingly fast-paced world, visual narratives are vital to portray stories to the public. She aims to give the reader a visual depiction to aid their perception of a place, people, and culture. Dr. Mena Montes emphasizes the need to find common values despite circumstances to relate the story of one population to a wider audience. While faces often are the most compelling, both Dr. Mena Montes and Schoenbach both stress that there is a high importance to consider the safety and privacy of those they work with while balancing how to depict the humanity behind the headlines. Schoenbach typically avoids depicting identifying features without expressed consent and understanding of the person. One must do their “due diligence in understanding the language” and “be as fair and balanced as you can be” in order to creatively and effectively portray a story.
Agreeing, Dr. Mena Montes adds that the public needs to understand the media, how to differentiate between “fake news” and accurate reporting, and advocate for critical needs of migrants. People need to be shown the hope that migrants have for a clearer future and to be called to action during this humanitarian crisis. Attesting to her own recent projects, Dr. Mena Montes explains her recently launched organization, Re-Starter, which aims to address the plight of those facing idleness and obstacles to rejoining the workforce and making an income through active engagement with local communities. Re-Starter provides opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives by connecting them with others who have similar professional backgrounds, leading to mentorship, training, and employment.
Through their work, Dr. Noemi Mena Montes and Kate Schoenbach depict the narratives of thousands of refugees in Moria and throughout the international migrant crisis. By engaging with individuals, they illustrate the trauma, humanity, and hope of those who are often unable to speak about their circumstances to a wider, global audience. Dr. Mena Montes’s expertise on migration and intercultural communication places her in a unique position to research, consult, and present on these topics and continue to build Re-Starter directly with the populations that have been most affected by these crises. Schoenbach’s background multimedia and economics enables her to create a narrative leading to create connections between different cultures. Both encourage the public to engage with ideas and people that may fall “on the other side of the aisle” stating that “this could be you!” Ending the interview, Dr. Mena Montes urges with a smile that all “need to come together, not remain fragmented, and establish connections between actors.”
Meryl Makielski is the Administrative Coordinator for the Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility. She holds a Master of Social Work degree from New York University and a Bachelor of Arts in Human Rights and Fine Art from the University of Dayton. She is a former fellow of the B. Robert Williamson Jr. Adaptive Leadership Fellowship Program.