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Festival of Ideas

What’s the Role of a Journalist in Telling the Stories of Refugees? Matthieu Aikins and Sally Hayden

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Journalists Matthieu Aikins and Sally Hayden discuss their experiences of reporting on the migrant crisis and telling the stories of people who have made unimaginable choices to risk everything in search of a better life.

In 2016, a young Afghan driver and translator named Omar made the heart-wrenching choice to flee his war-torn country, saying goodbye to Laila, the love of his life, without knowing when they might be reunited again. Journalist Matthieu Aikins, then living in Kabul, decided to follow Omar, leaving his own passport and identity behind to go underground on the refugee trail with his friend. Their odyssey across land and sea from Afghanistan to Europe brought them face to face with the people at the heart of the migration crisis: smugglers, cops, activists and the men, women and children seeking sanctuary.

In August 2018, Irish journalist Sally Hayden unexpectedly began to receive messages from migrants being tortured, starved and raped inside horrific Libyan detention centres. Her resulting investigation into the migrant crisis across North Africa reveals the reality of thousands of refugees bent on starting new lives in the West, who instead spend years waiting in Sudanese refugee camps, trapped in Libyan prisons and clinging to sinking dinghies in the Mediterranean. Weaving together WhatsApp and Facebook messages Hayden gives us a detailed and damning account of one of the deadliest migration routes. 

In conversation with Zoe Steadman-Milne, Aikins and Hayden discuss the ways in which the western world has turned its back on refugees; the role that NGOs, the United Nations and the EU play; the root causes of the migrant crisis; and why people will risk everything.

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