How disinformation about migrants is spread in Serbia?

Author: Žikica Stevanović 

Six years ago the migrant crisis started in Europe and with it the disinformation campaign against the refugees and migrants in transit states began. UN sources show that despite the de-facto closure of the Balkan route in early March 2016, a constant stream of refugees and migrants arrives in Serbia, mainly from North Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bulgaria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina.


"As someone who deals with fact-checking with a focus on the migrant crisis, I can say that portals with extreme right-wing editorial policy are more prone to biased reporting on the migrant crisis compared to traditional media. So, I am talking mainly about portals without imprints, generally inclined to place fake news, whose texts are divided by anti-immigrant and right-wing groups on social networks", Petar Alimpijević, fact-checker from Vojvodjanski istraživačko-analitički centar (VOICE), said for the Youth Newsroom.


Since 2015, more than 1.5 million refugees and migrants have passed through Serbia, of which between a third and a quarter were children. During 2020, the number of refugees and migrants present in Serbia at any given time was around 7,000 and of those who were accommodated in reception, transit and asylum centres around 6,000. 


Alimpijević, who worked on Independent Journalists' Association of Vojvodina (NDNV) publication "Between Manipulation and Ethics - Reporting on Migrants", stressed that it is not just about spreading false news, but also about presenting manipulative facts and an extremely negative narrative that contradicts the ethics and code of the media.


"Thus, the "treatment" of migrants by the media cannot be generally defined and it varies depending on the professionalism and editorial policy of the media. The problem is the domain that some anti-immigrant portals have on social networks, which are the biggest hotbed of hatred and spreading false news", he added.


The publication cites as the dominant anti-immigrant narratives the claim that refugees are criminals, thugs and rapists, and the manipulation of numbers and official data is very present. Also, that "clickbait" is attractive to readers due to the lack of media literacy, and there are examples of abuse and violence against women for anti-immigrant purposes.


"Given all the above, the coverage of certain media certainly affects the spread of hatred of the domestic population towards migrants. Particularly sensitive are citizens living in municipalities affected by the migrant crisis, unaware of the real picture and the situation when it comes to this issue", Alipijević said.


He assessed that this is primarily a consequence of the great popularity gained by anti-immigrant portals in right-wing groups on social networks.