International Migrants Day: The Right To Move as a Basic Human Right

Each year the 18th of December is pinned down in the calendar for marking International Migrants Day. This event is observed annually with the aim of creating more dialogues and interactions within countries and regions, as well as propelling experience exchange and collaboration opportunities.

We will emphasise the contribution of Migration Matters, a non-profit organisation that was founded in January 2016 by Julia Karmo, Sophia Burton, Kelly Miller, and Elina Ribakova in response to media coverage about the refugee crisis.

Its mission is for the public to have more nuanced and evidence-based conversations about migration. They produce bite-sized video courses that mixes commonly held pre-conceptions with original ideas, research, and solutions-oriented perspectives from leading thinkers in the field: researchers, practitioners, as well as migrants and refugees themselves.

Sophia Burton Picture from Migration Matters 2
Sophia Burton

Sophia Burton, a co-founder and the current managing director of Migration Matters, in this interview with Youth Time, elaborates on the nature of their work, gives a message for this day and also speaks about how young people can stay engaged in activities promoting migrants’ rights.

Let’s remember that according to World Migration Report 2020, the current global estimate is that there were around 272 million international migrants in the world in 2019, which equates to 3.5% of the global population.


‘Migrants are humans, and humans have rights’


In the beginning of her conversation with Youth Time, Burton gives a basic explanation for our readers regarding the importance of respecting migrants’ rights in today’s interconnected world.

“It’s pretty simple, really. Migrants are humans, and humans have rights.

“Unfortunately, the term ‘migrant’ and even ‘refugee’ are so politicised and demonised in today’s society that we forget this.

“Migrants and refugees are also often dehumanised in media and political discourse, or talked about as a monolithic group that ignores the diversity of those moving and their unique stories and reasons for migrating.”

According to her, migration is part of our globalised, interconnected world as much as trade or technology is.

“The right to move is a basic human right and the right to seek asylum due to persecution, war, or conflict is enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention.”


Differences occurring from 2016 to nowadays

She further explains the main differences she has noted on the migration issues from 2016- when she co-founded Migration Matters, to nowadays, and about the differences in media coverage about the so-called refugee crisis.

Leading a workshop at Dialogue Place in Naples Italy Picture from Migration Matters 2
Leading a workshop at Dialogue Place in Naples, Italy

She notes that when they came up with the idea for this project back in 2015 during the so-called ‘refugee crisis’, the media discourse was very focused on migration and the topic became very salient, which basically just means it was discussed a lot.

“It became a topic on everyone’s radar and the dominant narrative focused on ‘pros’ and ‘cons’. The discourse also varied between countries, some took a more humanitarian lens whereas others focused more on economic or security narratives.”

After a while, she went on, there was also a shift from discourse about welcoming, or not welcoming refugees to discussions about integration.

“After the 2016 Paris terrorist attack and Cologne New Year’s Eve incident, there was also a strong shift away from a welcoming discourse to one that feared and demonised migrants and made the discussion more about security and terrorism.”

She further adds: “Nowadays, discussions about migration still exist but they are often part of larger discussions around climate change, nationalism and populism, or racism and police brutality.”

Creating an environment which promotes solidarity and inclusion

She shares her point of view about how we can create an environment which constantly promotes the importance of solidarity, inclusion and respect for migrants’ rights.

Burton states that there is a lot of research and evidence out there about the complexity of migration that rarely makes it to public discourse.

Teachers in Latvia learning how to discuss migration in the classroom with Migration Matters videos Picture from Migration Matters 1
Teachers in Latvia learning how to discuss migration in the classroom with Migration Matters videos 

“What we read in newspapers or hear our politicians talk about is often the acute story of the day and just part of a larger story that has historical context or structural factors to consider. We aim to bring more of that research to the public in an accessible way that does not tell them how to think about migration but gives them more perspectives and arguments to start to form their own more informed opinion.”

“We also like to interview the public and speak to migrants and refugees who are experts in their own right about their own experiences and whose voice is often missing from public debate.”

Migration Matters forthcoming projects in 2021 will focus more on stories from migrants and refugees for this reason.

In the past five years, Migration Matters has produced eight video series on various topics connected to migration and over 120 total videos, many subtitled into different languages.

The important role of media toward raising awareness

Since Migration Matters provides numerous materials free to use online, and also taking into account that it was found in response to media coverage about the so-called refugee crisis; Burton shares her opinion about how important raising awareness is, and the media’s role in migration issues.

She says that the media play a hugely important role in the narrative around migration and unfortunately coverage is not always driven by facts.

“Even when well-intentioned, the media can still spread misinformation. I think it’s important to emphasise that the media is often not intentionally spreading false information about migration (in some cases this may be different but not for the most part).

“Also the mainstream media is not the only source of information anymore. In our digital age there are many competing sources of information that also play a role, especially with young people.”

Raising awareness is important, she asserts, because we need to move away from polarising frames (pro vs con) for complex topics like migration that require complex approaches.

International Migrants Day 2020: Migrants deserve our respect

Burton recalls that migration is a process that is as old as humanity itself.

“I encourage all of you to think about people you know who have left home to pursue a life elsewhere, whether to study, for a job, for a relationship, or maybe even just for an adventure (likely a combination of many factors). Migrants are all sorts of people with all sorts of stories, and each deserves our respect.”

According to her, youth can get involved in so many ways in migration issues.

“Becoming more informed and engaging in difficult conversations about topics like migration, diversity, or refugees with people who have other opinions is a great way to make a difference in your communities. We hope that our videos make it easier to do that.”

All Migration Matters videos are free to use for non-commercial, educational purposes. You can embed them from YouTube into articles and blog posts, you can use them in classrooms and training, and you can share them on social media.

A few examples of how their videos are currently being used: in virtual exchange programs through Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange and in teacher professional development programs, social media campaigns, and global education activities through the “I Am European: Migration Stories & Facts for the 21st Century” EU-funded project.

Follow Migration Matter on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Get in touch with them at team at

Photos: Shutterstock / Photomontage: Martina Advaney

How are others helping out around the world. Well on International Volunteers Day, earlier this year, we spoke to one Kosovar making tracks in Lisbon:

International Volunteer Day: A Kosovar’s Journey in Lisbon

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