accessibility & help

Images of refugees

Begin with a heart-warming picture of migrants being welcomed into Europe. Explore what it says about the humanitarian instinct. Ask what difference kind gestures make to people fleeing their lives and homes.

Move on, using this powerful new material, to help young people think through the journeys of those affected by conflict.

Learning objectives

By the end of this activity young people will be able to:

  • Identify typical and unusual components of media images of refugees and vulnerable migrants.
  • Explain why they think some photographs are, or are not, a good representation of the reality facing refugees and migrants.

*Please note: consideration needs to be given when using this resource due to the nature of the topic in discussion. This resource contains some sensitive content that could be upsetting. Please consider your group of young people when selecting this content.

A friendly welcome

Explain to the group that they are about to see a photograph of people arriving in a European city, some are refugees.

Show this photograph and invite responses. Compare the photograph with other recent media images young people can recall. For example, of people in Calais or of boats arriving on Mediterranean shores. Can young people articulate the key differences?

Refugees arrive at munich central train station© Info

Explain the background to the photograph. It was taken in early September at Munich central railway station. Over a single weekend, more than 50 trains carried around 14,000 migrants, many of them refugees from the conflict in Syria. Hundreds of German people waited to welcome the arrivals with cheers, sweets and toys. The man and boy in the photograph are among those who arrived from Salzburg in Austria.

Try to agree some words to describe the photograph, the feelings it shows and inspires. Invite young people to contribute their own, or use the grid below.













Look at the detail in the photograph. Who noticed that the person offering the soft toy is wearing protective gloves? The uniformed man in the background has a mask and gloves. How does this look? Discuss why people might be wearing gloves or masks. It is to prevent cross infection, which is important for migrants whose immune systems are likely to be weakened by exhaustion or illness.

Many of those who offered welcome had been deeply moved by the photograph of Alan Kurdi, a three year old who was found dead on a beach in Turkey. Discuss the change in the public mood in the UK following that picture. Why might such an image of an individual be more influential than statistics about vulnerable migrants?

Only one mainstream news outlet in the UK printed the picture of Alan lying face down on the beach. Others decided against it. Discuss why. If you had been on the news desk that day, would you have shown it? Bear in mind that editors see many images of dead bodies in conflict zones every week. What might have made this one unique?

Look back at the main photograph and consider the different representations of reality. This picture is factually accurate, it shows what was happening. Does it give a true general picture of the way migrants are greeted? Will the friendly welcome continue in the days, weeks and months ahead? Take a show of hands. Who is optimistic and who is pessimistic? What do young people base their views on?

The soft toy offered to the child was a gesture. But anyone settling into a new country has a series of practical and emotional challenges. Invite the group to draw up a list of what help the two in the photograph might appreciate from others in the future. Would help in finding other members of family be on the list?

First aid for migrants

The man and the boy in the photograph appear fit and healthy. But a refugee's journey can be arduous and debilitating, even for the strong.

A significant proportion of those who arrive as refugees are ill or injured. Why? Ask the group to think about the journeys and list potential injuries or health conditions people may experience.

Use the following as prompts. Some refugees:

  • cross barriers, including barbed wire fences
  • travel far, perhaps over difficult ground or with inappropriate clothing or footwear
  • carry large and cumbersome loads
  • jump on moving trains or vehicles
  • have a lack of access to routine medications
  • are crowded or crushed in small spaces
  • are out in the hot sun, or sleeping in bitter cold
  • have difficulty accessing food or water.

What first aid might help in these situations? Do learners know some basic but effective first aid? See our brand new first aid teaching resource for ideas.

Focus on the vulnerable

The UK government has a “vulnerable persons' relocation scheme” to provide a route for selected Syrian refugees to come to the UK.

 Discuss who might be prioritised as a ‘vulnerable’ person. After exploration, consider against the scheme's list – which “prioritises victims of sexual violence and torture, and the elderly and disabled”. 

Ask young people to comment on the implications of a scheme like this – where selected refugees are resettled. As opposed to people travelling and seeking refuge by whatever means they can find. 

Imagine you were a community planner, preparing to accept refugees under the scheme. What services would you want available to help people settle in the UK? Should there be special considerations for particular groups of people? How do learners feel about a focus on the ‘most vulnerable’?

Never met a Syrian who wanted to leave their country

Radio journalist Lyse Doucet has experience reporting for the BBC World Service from conflict zones around the world. In this brief audio clip she answers a question from an interviewer, Nuala McGovern, about why people leave their homes. 

Play the clip. Start from 1:50. It then lasts less than a minute. Or download the transcript. 

Invite young people to pick out what they felt was most striking within the interview. What did it make them think, feel or consider? 

What help might people, who never wanted to move from their country and whose family and neighbourhood networks have been broken, need? For project work, ask young people to think of ideas about what could be done to help rebuild people's lives. Ask them to research online for examples of work being done, by governments and other agencies. They can compare their ideas with their findings.

This resource was written by PJ White and published in September 2015.


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