Refugee crisis: call for emotions

Today, we are witnessing several never-ending armed conflicts around the world that are destroying our civilization and therefore, humanitarian aid is becoming more and more urgently required.

For instance, the Refugee conflict, that has been present for a long time now, has been calling for help from people since the beginning, as some governments have turned their backs.

Governments, non-governmental organizations, activists, communication professionals and individuals, have contributed over the course of 5 years to spreading awareness and mobilizing citizens.

These tasks have been crucial to present the reality of the conflict, the truth out of many truths. Nonetheless, all those actors have used a strategy in order to get a reaction from people.

In this post I explore EMOTIONS as one of the factors that make people taking action. Moreover, I give context describing sensitization campaigns within different platforms.

Emotions and social movement

“Society is the unique whole to which everything is related”
Primitive Classification, Emile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss

Society, as a conceptual form, has established a structure where emotions, among other factors, are culturally constructed. In this regard, emotions are rational since they are collectively shaped and based on cognitions.

According to the sociologist James M. Jasper:

“strong emotions accompany protest but such emotions don’t render protestors irrational; emotions accompany all social action providing motivation and goals. Social movements are affected by transitory, context-specific emotions, usually reactions to information and events”
The emotions of protest: Affective and social reactive emotions in an around social movements, James J Jasper.

Jasper presents emotions as causal mechanisms shared in a group that constitute our ideas and desires. He looks at different emotions and how they contribute to social mobilization and engagement, and states that not all work the same way. Also, he explores how different emotions interact with one another.

He defines three kinds of emotions: reactive, that creates temporary responses to events such as anger, grief, indignation and shame; affective, as more permanent feelings such as hatred, love, loyalty, trust and respect; moods, somewhere in between such as compassion, cynicism and enthusiasm.

As a case study, I will look at which routes of protest have been taken within communication during the refugee crisis and which emotions have been addressed to.

Refugee crisis: Call for emotions

I have chosen recent and old campaigns that speak for themselves and I have tried to gather a variety of examples addressed to different emotions.


UNHCR, 2007,”It’s great to be a refugee”| Agency: BBDO Canada
See all campaign


UNHCR, 2009, “Stockings” | Agency: Y&R
See all campaign


UNHCR, 2009, “Cigarette” | Agency: Y&R
See all campaign


UNHCR, 2012, “Dilemma 2” | Agency: Y&R
See all campaign


UNHCR, 2016, “Electric Pole” | Agency: Y&R
See all campaign


The Hamdi Foundation, 2014,”What if Manhattan”| Agency: Miami ad school
Whatch video
See campaign


Amnesty International, 2015,”Refugees”| Agency: Cossete
See all campaign

alan kurdi.jpg

Exhibited at Arcola theatre, London, 2016,”The misplaced child”| Anonymous
See exhibition


Caritas, 2015,”Barbed wire”| Agency: DDB
See campaign


Nike, 2015,”Miles for refugees”| Agency: Miami ad school
See campaign

rij-rusted_spoon_poster_copy_aotw.jpgRefugees International Japan, 2016,”Rosted Spoon”| Agency: Ogilvy
See all campaign


Kizilayi, 2016,”Ireland”| Agency: Lowe
See all campaign


Oxfam Intermon, Siria, 2013 | Pablo Tosco
See exhibition Sin Filtros, in Madrid, 2016


Doctors without borders, 2016,”Vlog ep. 01″
Whatch video

And to finish with, I present, in my opinion, the best initiative that has been launched in order to engage people into the refugee crisis.  This campaign, allows viewers to follow in the footsteps of migrants and refugees as they complete their journey. I recommend to experience it.

two billion miles.png

Channel 4 news, 2016,”Two Billion Miles” | BBC
See the initiative

Jasper defines emotions as a social construction and therefore they can be rational. However, emotions need a interpretation to become effective and therefore are subjected to a personal “construction”. Whatever are the emotions these campaigns arouse and whatever are the tones of communication, in my opinion and according to my interpretation, they make feel something.

“a photograph is not the reflection of reality, but the reality of that reflection” (Shaughnessy and Stadler 2005:78)

These campaigns have shown us the truth out of many truths or, in other words, the reality out of many realities. But it’s just through emotions and therefore feelings that we can approach to it because it’s something we all have and recognize, although in different forms; irony make me feel sad “It’s great to be a refugee”, the comparison of the refugees situation with ours make me feel bad “they would like to have the same problems as you have” or questions that make me feel scared to imagine I could be in their situation “stay and risk your lives in the conflict? or flee and risk kidnap, rape, torture or worse?”.

Emotions are what secure mobilization. And this mobilization starts from within.



Shaughnessy and Stadler. 2005. Media and Society: an introduction.

Jasper, James M. 2003. Rethinking social movements : structure, meaning, and emotion.

Ads of the world. Available in:

2015. Channel 4. BBC. Available in:

2016. Expo sin filtros. Available in:

Anonymous. 2016. The misplaced child. Exhibited in: Arcola theatre, London.








2 thoughts on “Refugee crisis: call for emotions”

  1. Thanks for the blog. It is a really interesting read, especially as you have have used a current issue to present different types of campaigns communications, such as photos, posters and film, to show how campaigners can use imagery and messaging to shock people and evoke different emotions in order to mobilise people to action.


  2. The power of these campaigns is the fact that they provide new insights, a re-framing of what mainstream media (or some people’s gut) say. These stories make us feel ashamed of our ‘little problems’ we often complain about. And above all, they make us feel ashamed of our certainties. What’s awful for me is the way history repeats itself: many peoples and communities have already faced what Syrians are facing today. And still, nothing has changed.
    This contrast between ‘us’ and ‘them’, our ordinary life and their tragedy is well represented in the documentary film Fire at Sea (in Italian “Fuocoammare”), directed by Gianfranco Rosi who won the Golden Bear last year. It is set in Lampedusa during the European migrant crisis, and shows the migrants’ dangerous Mediterranean crossing against a background of the ordinary life of people living in the island. I definitely recommend it!


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