Code for Ethical Journalism on Migration


Journalists converged on Benin City recently to brainstorm on the code of conduct and guiding principles of ethical journalism on reportage of migration issues. Adibe Emenyonu and Chinecherem Ojiako report

For most journalists, reporting issues of migration and irregular migration is a delicate line that involves, first, empathy, and then utmost professionalism. To try to ensure a sense of balance and professionalism in the reporting of migration issues, especially irregular migration, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the United Nations (UN) body saddled with regular and irregular migration worldwide, recently organised a media workshop in Benin City, the Edo State capital.

Established in 1951, IOM as the leading intergovernmental organisation in the field of migration, which works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners, engaged the media and other stakeholders in a three-day brainstorming session.


The workshop was organised in collaboration with the European Union and the Netherlands Government. The workshop was funded by the EU-IOM Joint Initiative for Migrant Protection and Reintegration which facilitates orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration governance through the development of rights-based and development-focused policies and processes on protection and sustainable reintegration. The EU-IOM Joint Initiative, funded by the EU Emergency Trust Fund for Africa, covers and has been set up in close cooperation with 26 African countries, 13 of which are in West and Central Africa.

The workshop started with welcome remarks and overview of the workshop by Jorge Galindo, Public Information Officer, IOM Nigeria and afterwards, a brief presentation on IOM in Nigeria was done by Ikechukwu Attah, Communications Assistant IOM Nigeria. The first session for the day was on Return and Reintegration Programme Presentation (EUTF-IOM), which was anchored by Aigbeze Uhimwen, Senior Project Assistant, Benin sub office, IOM Nigeria.

Afterwards, a presentation on IOM key awareness raising activities in Nigeria was anchored by Adaora Okoli, Communications Assistant, IOM Nigeria, while Key Migration terms was handled by Florence Kim, IOM Regional Public Information Officer for West and Central Africa. She went on to take an overview on irregular migration: West Africa and the Mediterranean before power of videos and photographs in journalism and emerging issues related to social media, citizen journalism and blogging (1) was handled by Julia Burpee, Media Development Specialist, IOM. The day was wrapped up after Kim again handled the role of media and reporting tool kit.

On the second day, data protection, principles and techniques of interviewing returnees and IDPs, with a focus on vulnerable migrants and IDPs, was handled by Burpee, as well as covering IOM Humanitarian response in the North-east. The Zone 2 Public Relations Officer, National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA), Mr. Ibrahim Farinloye went through a presentation on guidelines for reporting emergency situations.

Media Ethics and Legal Considerations in covering counter trafficking and gender based violence stories was done by Nduka Nwanwene, Zonal Commander, National Agency for Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), while emerging issues related to social media, citizen journalism and blogging (2) was handled by Marshall Patsanza, Digital and Engagement Officer, IOM Media and Communications Division (MCD).

The participants later went on a field trip to the returnees’ collective reintegration project, which was coordinated by Uhimwen. Upon their return, the session on migrants as Messengers Campaign overview and activities was reviewed by Burpee, while Patsanza handled using social media to drive online engagement on migration stories. He also coordinated the group sessions on social media engagement. The workshop ended but not before a post evaluation was conducted and certificates presented to participants.


According to IOM, the objective of the workshop is to build the capacity of journalists and media organisations for proper dissemination of quality and realistic information on migration and migrants, as well as enhance an effective partnership between IOM and media organisations on migration and migrant related issues in Nigeria.

Back in 2001, IOM began their work in Lagos with the Assisted Voluntary Return and Reintegration (AVRR) program; one of the organisation’s global initiatives which helps stranded migrants who wish to return home and support the most vulnerable to get back on their feet. In 2002, IOM signed a cooperation agreement with the government of Nigeria and launched the country’s mission. Some of IOM Nigeria’s key programmes include; Emergency Response, AVRR, Immigration and Border Management, Labour Migration and Migration Health.

Reintegration Programme

In his presentation on Return and Reintegration Programme, Uhimwen gave an overall objective of the programme, which he said was to enable returnees reach levels of economic self-sufficiency and social stability within their communities and psychosocial well-being.

Uhimwen further pointed out three aspects of IOM’s reintegration programme to include- individual, collective and community reintegration. Speaking on the effect of reintegration on a migrant, Uhimwen said, “IOM believes strongly that the change must start from the mind”.

According to Uhimwen, the vulnerable group which includes: pregnant women, victims of rape, and nursing mothers are treated specially with a higher kind of reintegration with an entitlement of 1200 pounds, if they come with a child, the child is also entitled to 700 pounds.

He said, “It is interesting to know that most communities have up to 200 returnees, especially in Edo State. However it is important to note that the success of IOM reintegration programme requires all of the society and all of government.”

Right Terminologies

As one of the key reasons why the training was organised, it was not surprising when using the right terminologies was stressed by the trainers. This was handled by Kim, who highlighted the importance of using the right terminologies as it concerns issues of migration. Kim further stressed that the term “irregular migrants” should be used instead of “illegal migrants”.

Kim said, “To better cover migration, we need to ensure that we know the context because the migration phenomenon is both a regional and global context. This is because in the migration context, a report is more than just a label. A migrant is any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a state away from his or her habitual place of residence regardless of the person’s legal status, whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, what the causes of the movement are or what the length of the stay is.

“This therefore means that every individual is a migrant and migration is not a crime, thus, there is no difference between an expatriate and a migrant.

“Out of about seven billion population in the world, about one billion are migrants with Africa assumingly taking the lead on the list. However, it is important to know that statistically, out of 250 million international migrants, Asia has the highest population with 104 million migrants, 62 million from Europe, 37 million from Central and Latin America, and 35 million from Africa, which is 14 per cent of 250 million international migrants.”


In highlighting the power of videos and photographs in journalism, Burpee said while covering migration, the videos and photographs should be able to capture the emotions of the migrants, focus on relatability and humanity, while showcasing individuality. This is because a picture is worth more than a thousand words.


During the field experience, when the media were taken to hear the stories of returnees, some shared their experiences. Speaking on his ordeal, 22-year-old Victory Imasuen shared his terrible experience of being sold and resold in Libya, watching his friends die and surviving with almost no feeding. Indeed, his name “Victory” worked for him.

The Edo State indigene said he lost his father in 2006 and automatically became the bread winner of the family. This forced him to put aside his secondary school classes and took to hairdressing to support his mother and siblings.

He said, “That was how I met a customer who appreciated my hair cutting skills and encouraged me to try Europe via Libya so as to make enough money. Our first trip was Kano, where we made our way to cross the desert, it took us six days, lots of people died but some of us managed to get to Libya. We were sold by our Nigerian brothers to Libyans for hard labour; we were used as labourers for building and construction sites without pay.

“The money they were supposed to pay us went to our buyers so as to get back the money they spent in buying us. We were fed with only a piece of bread daily and locked up once the labour work is over. I lost N1.5 million in the process before IOM came to my rescue.”

Meanwhile, as part of IOM’s initiative for migrant protection and reintegration in Benin City, journalists were shown sites of successful individual, collective and community reintegration.

In one of the sites for collective reintegration, a team of four led by one of the returnees, Ernest Omobude has an established poultry with 1000 birds. According to Omobude “If not for IOM, I don’t know what would have happened to us after our ordeal in Libya. They did not only bring us back, they also reintegrated us as we received the sum of N1.413million to run this business. We thank IOM for their support”.

After this, IOM’s Burpee also stated the importance of protecting a returnees’ data, noting that the journalist must always uphold the dignity of migrants by seeking their consent first before each interview.

Guidelines for Reporting Emergency

As an expert on emergency issues, given his position as the South-west spokesperson for NEMA, Farinloye emphasised the guidelines for reporting emergency situations and disasters.

He said, “Anything that happens in a community and the community cannot cope with it, it’s a disaster.” He explained that NEMA expected the media to help achieve its operational aim by helping to create a helpful public attitude, provide emergency information and help to limit damage escalation. He said NEMA’s Disaster Victims Management aims at promoting the proper and dignified management of the dead bodies and maximising their identification.


Nwanwene, from NAPTIP, spoke on media ethics and legal considerations in covering counter trafficking and gender based violence stories. He said human trafficking has become a global menace with huge consequences to the society. In Edo state, he said the number of migrants an individual or a trafficker has in a foreign country determines his voice in the community. He highlighted that the treatment of trafficked person is seen in section 61 of the Trafficking in Persons Prohibition Enforcement and Administration Act, 2015. However, some trafficked persons remain in the foreign country because of greed and societal tag.

Migrants as Campaign Messengers

Migrants shared their experiences on the ills of irregular migration. This is one of IOM’s key projects, which is aimed at equipping migrants to tell their stories so that intending irregular migrants would have an independent knowledge of the ordeal they would go through if they embark on such an irregular migration.

The primary target audience includes aspirant migrants, men and women between the ages of 15 and 45years, while the secondary targets are the community leaders, parents and relatives of aspirant migrants, and the international communities.

Code of Conduct

To draft an ethical guideline for journalists reporting on migration issues, about 45 people drawn from the broadcast and print media came together to draft the first code of conduct for ethical journalism on migrants, returnees and displaced populations in Nigeria. According to IOM, drafting the code was essential to guide to media professionals from print, TV and radio with the tools and right terminologies to report about migration.

It also served to sensitise journalists about IOM’s work in Nigeria, including the assisted voluntary return and reintegration programme which has assisted over 10,000 Nigerians to come home from Libya mainly, the humanitarian response in the country’s North-east region and the Migrants as Messengers initiative, a peer-to-peer messaging campaign that works with returning migrants to share their stories about the realities of irregular migration.

Kim stated, “Media professionals play a key role in the Nigerian society. They have the power to initiate a national dialogue on topics, such as migration. In a migration-prone country, such as Nigeria, we need to ensure that journalists can cover migration in an informed way.

“For the first time in West Africa, 45 journalists decided on the guiding principles they will follow to better inform the public on migration. This is one of IOM’s largest and most promising media engagement achievements in the region.”