Refugee Radio: broadcast from Germany | Characteristics

Hamburg, Germany – Larry Macaulay first arrived on the Italian coast in May 2011 after taking a dinghy from war-ravaged Libya.

Having fled Nigeria a few years earlier during fighting between armed groups, he was forced to pack his bags and seek safety again when the uprising against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi erupted in Libya that year.

Sitting in his studio, he remembers the long journey from Nigeria and how he found himself in 2014 as the founder and editor-in-chief of the Hamburg-based Refugee Radio Network (RNN), a project that developed with several sister initiatives in a number of cities across Germany.

Made possible through contributions from its audience and fundraising, RNN operates out of the studio of a local left-wing radio station.

I have been invited to many discussions in the mainstream media and they are always the ones who want to tell us what to do.

Larry Macaulay, Founder of Refugee Radio Network

Inspired by Radio Democracy, a pirate radio project in Nigeria, he says the idea was to “get the news, pick it up in different places, adapt it to our local content and share it with the community and also with refugee groups “.

Between January and April 2015, RNN began by taking phone calls from refugees and broadcasting a one-hour program called Refugee Voices, a radio magazine.

“The phone lines got congested and we couldn’t meet the demand, so I told the guys we had to turn off the phone now and go more into the field to get more reports,” he said. at Al Jazeera.

“It’s now a mixture of news, gossip, politics and poetry,” he explains. “We try to bring positive reports because the [topics] are already in the mainstream [media]. “

The programs include discussions and stories on human rights, self-organization, health, education, migration and more.

Macaulay says the project only became more relevant when the weather warmed up in the spring of that year, when the influx of refugees exploded. At the end of 2015, more than a million refugees and migrants arrived on European coasts by boat, according to the UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency.

RNN started with a team of three, but has now grown to 15 presenters, hosts and technicians [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

“By refugees, for refugees”

RNN has grown from an initial team of three to a team of 15 made up of presenters, hosts and technicians. “By refugees, for refugees – that’s our motto,” says Macaulay.

The Listening Post: Report for refugees in Germany

Although they work in Hamburg, Macaulay and his team now report from across the country and some from elsewhere in Europe. “Our philosophy is not of the mainstream type,” he adds. “I have been invited to many discussions in the mainstream media and they are always the ones who want to tell us what to do.”

Macaulay argues that much of the mainstream media is dominated by “supremacist” voices who dictate to refugees or attempt to reclaim their voices. “We need to start interpreting our stories for ourselves. “

RNN is one of many initiatives taken by refugees to take their story into their own hands.

With more than 1,000 refugees and migrants, the RNN team participated in a large conference organized by refugees in Hamburg at the end of February.

The conference was a very successful attempt to organize and discuss the most pressing issues across Europe at a time when borders have closed for many fleeing wars and economic devastation.

Macaulay remembers the conference as an important learning experience. “I never thought about deaf refugees until I went to the conference. They were also represented there. That’s good, everyone should be included.

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Right push

As the media was inundated with images of German solidarity with refugees in 2015, the influx of arrivals was not without complications.

Like many European countries, Germany has seen a surge in right-wing anti-refugee sentiment as thousands continue to arrive in the country every day.

In early March, the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party made huge gains in regional parliamentary elections in three German Länder.

Originally founded in 2013 as a Eurosceptic party, the AfD has become the most aggressive anti-refugee voice in the country as more than a million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year.

Critics accuse the AfD of Islamophobia and incitement to violence against refugees and migrants. Frauke Petry, the leader of the AfD, proclaimed in January that officers “should use firearms if necessary” to “prevent illegal border crossings.”

“No policeman wants to shoot a refugee and I don’t want to either,” she told regional newspaper Mannheimer Morgen, arguing that “the police must prevent refugees from entering German soil” in all cases. case.

The rhetoric of groups like the AfD is not separate from reality. In 2015, around 159 attacks or incidents of vandalism targeted refugee centers across Germany, according to the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, an organization that tracks racially motivated violence.

READ MORE: The rise of the anti-refugee right in Germany

Macaulay asks, “Why do we always have to blame it all on refugees?”

He argues that Germany must be criticized for its inability to provide protection to desperate people fleeing for their lives, but “we must also give them a boost.”

There were a lot of popular creations, social projects that came out of the bubble… Some are good; most of them are not. But it shows a society that wants to be part of the change – and these are mostly driven by young people. “

The latest addition to RNN is the Afghan Voices program [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]The latest addition to RNN is the Afghan Voices program [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Extension of distribution

The radio project aims to provide refugee communities with a platform to broadcast their news in their own language, as well as in German and English.

In hopes of expanding, RNN recently launched Afghan Voices, a program broadcast in Dari, Pashto and German to report on current affairs concerning the Afghan refugee community in the country.

Leaders of the local Afghan community approached Macaulay earlier in the year in hopes of getting the project started. “They told me they wanted to do it because they wanted to tell the story of what they are facing here and what they went through in Afghanistan,” recalls Macaulay.

READ MORE: Greek anarchists organize for refugees as ‘state fails’

“It is in line with our ideology to bridge the gap between the local community and the refugees. “

Today, several refugees participate on a voluntary basis, coming from neighboring camps to the studio twice a week to record their shows.

Elsewhere, RNN’s shows are broadcast on local radio stations in Berlin, Munich and elsewhere, while refugee groups across the country share content with RNN.

When asked about RNN’s next step, Macaulay says the team are now in the early stages of launching a television project based on the same principles.

“You have to erase it from your mind that [refugees] are zombies. They are human beings, they can create things, ”he concludes with a laugh. “We are from the earth. We are human beings; we have blood in us.

Follow Patrick Strickland on Twitter: @P_Strickland_

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