“​What do we say to migrants throughout their journey?”

crédits: D. R. / OIM

Call for abstracts
“​What do we say to migrants throughout their journey?” Disputed communication strategies and informational practices between spaces of origin, transit and destination

Workshop & Journal Special Issue, Université libre de Bruxelles, Belgium, 22-23 April 2021.

Deadline: 30 November 2020.

Convenors and Prospective Editors
Anissa Maâ (Université libre de Bruxelles), Julia Van Dessel (Université libre de Bruxelles), Amandine Van Neste-Gottignies (Université libre de Bruxelles)

Scientific Committee
Pierluigi Musarò (University of Bologna), Antoine Pécoud (Université Sorbonne Paris Nord), Anne-Line Rodriguez (Queen Mary University of London), Melissa Wall (California State University – Northridge)


Throughout their changing routes and precarious stays, migrants are increasingly targeted by information campaigns, everyday communication strategies, and less formal practices of advice and orientation. Led by governmental actors and diverse migration intermediaries, these communication practices intend – in a context of migration control – to act upon migrant’s knowledge and perceptions, and ultimately to frame their agency and itineraries. Nevertheless, the efficiency of these communication strategies is not given, as migrants can oppose exogenous discourses and define their own informational practices. Accordingly, this workshop has two main objectives. On the one hand, it aims to explore the various discourses and communication strategies directed towards migrants and/or asylum seekers in countries of origin, transit and destination. On the other hand, it aims to highlight the endogenous informational practices defined by migrants throughout their journey.


Since the 1990s, Western governments and international organisations have been supporting the implementation of so-called “information” or “awareness-raising” campaigns in migrants’ countries of origin and transit. Despite the questionable  impact of such campaigns on migrants’ behavior (Bishop, 2020; Brekke and Thorbjørnsrud, 2018; Browne, 2015; Schans and Optekamp, 2016; Oeppen, 2016), their development has peaked in the last decade – notably at the instigation of the International Organization for Migrations (IOM). In the literature, deterrence campaigns have been interpreted as policy instruments of border externalisation, aiming “to inscribe in potential migrants’ subjectivities the borders the EU [European Union] fails to control on the ground” (Heller, 2014). By highlighting the risks of the journey and/or the opportunities available “at home”, these campaigns promote a “culture of immobility” (Pécoud, 2010) within departure regions or encourage migrants to return from destination or transit countries (Van Neste-Gottignies, 2018). Doing so, they contribute to the “moralization” of migration by establishing the nation-state system as the ultimate reference to assess the legitimacy of cross-border mobilities (Watkins, 2020).

Nevertheless, the implementation of these deterrence campaigns remains largely disputed on the ground. Pro-migrant groups, non-governmental organisations and charity actors sometimes support the diffusion of alternative narratives which can “counter, contradict or even parody those coming from conservative tiers of the state” (Wall, 2019). In the meantime, international humanitarian actors led by compassionate feelings can engage in the dissemination of depreciatory representations of migration and the promotion of anti-migratory measures (Musarò, 2019; Maâ, 2020; Van Dessel & Pécoud, 2020). Moreover, local figures looking for symbolic and material resources – including artists, religious authorities and the youth – can appropriate and subvert such initiatives (Rodriguez 2017). Besides, migrants themselves and so-called “community-based” agents can be co-opted by governmental and international actors in order to reach the target audience more efficiently. Yet, while these actors share social capital with migrants, their intermediation can simultaneously lead to the transformation of the message they are meant to spread (Maâ, 2020).

Finally, migrants and asylum seekers are far from being mere recipients of exogenous discourses. While some of them can experience a form of “information precarity” exposing them to further violence throughout their journey (Wall et al., 2015), they generally show their ability to create and select alternative channels of information. They do so through the mobilisation of social and family networks and the use of new communication technologies, especially when they harbour a certain suspicion towards information provided by official authorities (Gillespie et al., 2018). Accordingly, the capacity of migrants and asylum seekers to translate institutional discourses and to define endogenous informational practices must be considered seriously. Therefore, it appears crucial to investigate to what extent communication strategies and informational practices give rise to highly contested processes, where heterogeneous actors, discourses, and interests, can combine and sometimes oppose.

In this perspective, the workshop and journal special issue will be structured around three analytical and complementary axes:

  1. Who says what to migrants?
    Discourses and/or counter narratives designed by actors invested in the migration field, including representations and moral economies conveyed by these discourses.
  2. How is it disseminated on the field?
    Communication strategies implemented to reach and convince the target audience – including the material and human channels used on the ground – and their interaction and transformation in specific local contexts.
  3. How is it perceived by migrants?
    Informational practices defined by migrants and asylum seekers, and their perception and reappropriation of information-disseminating initiatives.


Given the interdisciplinary nature of the issues raised, the organisers wish to expand discussions beyond communication studies, and will especially welcome contributions rooted in political science, sociology, anthropology, history, social psychology and more broadly social sciences. Submissions based on qualitative research method and fieldwork are particularly encouraged, and so are contributions by junior researchers (advanced PhD students, postdocs). Case studies concerning all geographic areas are welcomed.

Abstracts (up to 300 words) mentioning academic affiliations should be sent to the following address: whatdowesaytomigrants@gmail.com. Abstracts will be selected by the organisers based on four main criteria:

  1. Relevance to the topic and axes of the conference
  2. Use of and contribution to theory
  3. Quality of research methodology
  4.  Originality and/or thought-provoking nature of the contribution

Draft versions of full papers will be read and commented by an appointed member of the scientific committee.


  • 30 November 2020: deadline abstract submission
  • 15 January 2021: notification of acceptance
  • 8 March 2021: full draft papers submission
  • 22-23 April 2021: seminar (format depending upon the sanitary context)


  • Bishop, 2020, An International Analysis of Governmental Media Campaigns to Deter Asylum Seekers, in International Journal of Communication, 14
  • Brekke and Thorbjørnsrud, 2018, Communicating borders – Governments deterring asylum seekers through social media campaigns, in Migration Studies, 8(1). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/migration/mny027
  • Browne, 2015, Impact of communication campaigns to deter irregular migration, GSDRC. URL: https://gsdrc.org/publications/impact-of-communication-campaigns-to-deter-irregularmigration/
  • Heller, 2014, Perception management – Deterring potential migrants through information campaigns, in Global Media and communication, 10(3). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1742766514552355
  • Gillespie et al., 2018, Syrian refugees and the digital passage to Europe: Smartphone infrastructures and affordance, in Social Media + Society, 4(1). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2056305118764440
  • Maâ, 2020, Manufacturing collaboration in the deportation field: intermediation and the institutionalisation of the International Organisation for Migration’s ‘voluntary return’ programmes in Morocco, in Journal of North African Studies. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13629387.2020.1800210
  • Musarò, 2019, Aware Migrants: The role of information campaigns in the management of migration, in European Journal of Communication, 34(6), DOI: 10.1177/0267323119886164
  • Oeppen, 2016, ‘Leaving Afghanistan! Are you sure?’ European efforts to deter potential migrants through information campaigns, in Human Geography, 9(14). URL: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/61744/1/Oeppen%202016%20Info%20campaigns%20paper%20pre-proofs.pdf
  • Pécoud, 2010, Informing Migrants to Manage Migration? An Analysis of IOM’s Information Campaigns, in Geiger, M., Pécoud, A. (Eds.), The Politics of International Migration Management, Palgrave Macmillan UK, London, pp. 184–201.
  • Rodriguez, 2017, European attempts to govern African youths by raising awareness of the risks of migration: ethnography of an encounter, in Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 45(5). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2017.1415136
  • Schans and Optekamp, 2016, Raising awareness, changing behavior? Combating Irregular Migration through Information Campaigns, Nederland Ministerie van Veiligheid en Justitie (Netherlands Ministry of Justice and Security), 39p.
  • Van Dessel & Pécoud, 2020, A NGO’s dilemma: rescuing migrants at sea or keeping them in their place? [Online]. URL: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-cr iminologies/blog/2020/04/ngos-dilemma
  • Van Neste-Gottignies, 2018, Que dit-on aux migrants ? La communication dans les centres d’accueil en Belgique, in Hermès, La Revue, 82(3). URL: https://www.cairn-int.info/revue-hermes-la-revue-2018-3-page-41.htm
  • Wall, 2019, Inducing Information Precarity: State Messaging and Refugees, [Unpublished].
  • Wall et al., 2015. Syrian refugees and information precarity, in New Media & Society, 19(2). DOI: 10.1177/1461444815591967
  • Watkins, 2020, Irregular migration, borders, and the moral geographies of migration management, in Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, 38(6). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/2399654420915607

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