Radio Programmes Where Migrants Are Messengers

“My daughter, who left Niamey as a migrant, will give birth to her first child in Libya... Her husband asked me to come, so I made all arrangements to take a bus and go there. Yesterday, I heard a young man's voice on the radio, who said how much he suffered on his way to Libya... Immediately after, I called my son-in-law and told him that I wouldn't leave...”

IOM transit centers in Niger. Photo: IOM

IOM transit centers in Niger. Photo: IOM

That in a nutshell is the power of local community radio.

My name is Jean-Luc Mootoosamy, and the following is a true story told to me by a vegetable seller while I was working on the “Aware Migrants” project in West Africa at the end of last year.

The message struck home helping her decide not to migrate… Precisely because it came to her via a community radio broadcast, straight from the mouth of a returnee migrant. A trusted source in other words.

In late 2017, I spent several weeks training journalists in Senegal and Niger on how to cover irregular migration. The training would guide journalists to bring facts, based on testimonies of migrants or returnees, so that people who intend to leave can make an informed decision. 20 community and private local radios in these two countries, members of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), produced and broadcast special programs during one month in 11 local languages.

Results were immediate. World Radio Day gives us an opportunity to show how radio can have a determining role in the present migration context. Here is the story of F.K., a woman who decided not to leave Niger after listening to a Radio Anfani program.

F.K. talks about her decision not to attempt the migration journey through Libya.

F.K. talks about her decision not to attempt the migration journey through Libya.

Niamey, 15 January 2018, 08:30pm. I spent my day waiting for this moment. I had to negotiate, via the Radio Television Anfani team to obtain this interview. The long talks were worth it as I was about to hear a personal story demonstrating that the work done with this radio station had an impact. Saoudé Hassane, a female journalist from Radio Anfani arrives with F.K. She has just returned home. F.K. sells vegetables in a Niamey market until late. In her dark green dress and veil, she greets me in Hausa, one of the local languages in Niger. F.K. seems very happy to share her story and curious to discuss with this foreigner who insisted in meeting her! Saoudé reminds me again that F.K.’s husband doesn’t want her to say her name or that we need to protect her identity: that’s the deal. “He really didn’t want her to come to the radio but she wanted to tell her story,” adds Saoudé.

I explain to F.K. my work in awareness raising through radio and the importance for me to make her story known. I also need to find a way to film the conversation. Let’s try this: I know that you don’t want to be filmed, you don’t want your voice to be recognized… Can I film your hands while you are telling your story? F.K.agrees. I make a first shot and show her the results. Thumbs up from F.K! So let’s go! Saoudé leads the interview and F.K shares her story:

“My daughter, who left Niamey as a migrant, will give birth to her first child in Libya. Her husband asked me to come and I made all arrangements to take a bus and go there. Yesterday, during a debate on Radio Anfani about irregular migration, I heard the voice of a young man who said how much he suffered on his way to Libya. People were even dying on that route! After the programme, I immediately called my son-in-law and told him that I wouldn’t leave. I am old, I’m nearly 60 and I can’t go through this. I told him that I pray to God that her delivery goes well and that I am waiting to see my grandson when they come back.”

A powerful and moving testimonywhich caught the attention of all those present in the studio. F.K. smiled,laughed and was grateful that we took time to listen to her story.  

A few days later, I received an audio clip of Baba Sy from Senegal who decided not to leave Dakar after hearing the stories of returnees. “I already had a large amount of money saved and I was in the process of getting organized to leave when I heard your programme on migration. I then decided to stay and invest that money here, in my country,because I was shocked by the testimonies I heard from migrants who came back,the hardship they faced, the abuse, those who were killed and the huge amount of money they lost,” he said adding that he cried a lot when listening to the programme and considered himself lucky not to have left.”

Jean-Luc Mootoosamy shares his experiences with community radio at this year's World Radio Day event in Geneva. Photo: IOM

Jean-Luc Mootoosamy shares his experiences with community radio at this year's World Radio Day event in Geneva. Photo: IOM

For World Radio Day (13 February) this year, IOM hosted a forum to explore radio’s vital role in community engagement in collaboration with the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) Network. Participants learned about initiatives to provide information to communities following a disaster as well as to help people make informed decisions about migration.

The first session focused on the link between the use off radio and the health of disaster-affected communities, sharing the findings of a study that took place in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda in the Philippines in 2013, when all radio and TV stations except for First Response Radio's emergency station were off the air in Tacloban City, the "Ground Zero" of the disaster.

During the second session titled Radio’s Vital Role for Communities on the Move and in Conflict, panelists discussed case studies where radio has played a vital role in situations of population movement. IOM presented the results of the “ Aware Migrants” campaign. UNHCR shared their experiences from working with community radio in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. International Media Support (IMS) talked about working with broadcaster Radio Ergo, a programme dealing with humanitarian issues and topics related to the everyday lives of Somalis, while Fondation Hirondelle presented their Radio Ndeke Luka (RNL) project, a mainstream radio promoting dialogue in the Central African Republic.

Radio is experiencing a renaissance, whether due to the rise of new mediums or in spite of them. But one thing is certain: migrants are listening.

“Some people have argued that radio is a dying medium, but it’s only gotten more popular and will continue to be a powerful tool for community-based communications in and outside of humanitarian contexts," Leonard Doyle, Director of Media and Communications, IOM.