The Representation of Laji’een (Refugees) and Muhajireen (Migrants) in the Headlines of Jordan News Agency (PETRA)


This paper explores the representation of Laji’een (Refugees) and Muhajireen (Migrants) in Jordan News Agency (PETRA). It uses the headlines of a 2.5 million word corpus of Arabic news articles in a time span of 5 years from 2012 to 2016. Chronologically analyzing the headlines shows a change in the representation of and attitudes towards refugees and migrants over the investigated period. The analysis of the headlines shows that 2012 starts with providing the assistance to the refugees then at a later stage of 2012 and in 2013 and 2014, the language is shifted to calling for assistance to the country to contribute to solving the problem. In 2015, the language is changed to be more alerting about the scarce in funding. In 2016, the headlines have changed the focus to Europe due to the migration of the refugees. This motivates the National News Agency of Jordan to highlight the suffering of Europe because of the refugees despite having the capacity and resources to host the migrant refugees. The paper concludes that language in general, and the language of media in particular can change the attitudes of people and governments toward critical issues and phenomena like migration and asylum.


The contentious topic of migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons (IDP) and asylum seekers is of paramount importance as the unstoppable bloodletting itself that occurred in the war-torn countries including Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and more recently Syria and Yemen. A large number of people have been forcibly displaced of their homes. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR [1] reported that the number of people whom were brutally forced to flee their homes as a result of persecution, unsanitary life conditions and other human rights violations in 2013 is believed to be the highest since records began with 51.2 million people worldwide. The refugees are now estimated to be over 65 million all over the world [2]. Clearly, major wars, natural disasters, and terrorist attacks resulted in an increased focus on these groups of displaced people.

Internally displaced people, refugees, asylum seekers, and migrants are categories of migration. All of these categories generally mean migrant but the circumstances and reason of migration identifies the migration category. Before embarking on the examination of the representation of the two investigated groups in this study; namely refugees and immigrants, it seems pertinent to consider the existing “official” definitions of these interrelated groups. In the process, we consulted Almaany Online Dictionary (, and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) (see Table 1).

Table 1 Contrasting definitions of the investigated groups in this study

UNHCR defines refugees as persons fleeing armed conflict or persecution. There were 21.3 million of them worldwide at the end of 2015. Their situation is often so perilous and intolerable that they cross national borders to seek safety in nearby countries, and thus become internationally recognized as “refugees” with access to assistance from states, UNHCR, and other organizations. They are so recognized precisely because it is too dangerous for them to return home, and they need sanctuary elsewhere. These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences. UNHCR defines migrants as the people who choose to move not because of a direct threat of persecution or death, but mainly to improve their lives by finding work, or in some cases for education, family reunion, or other reasons. Unlike refugees who cannot safely return home, migrants face no such impediment to return. If they choose to return home, they will continue to receive the protection of their government [3].

Therefore, the migrants arriving to Europe in this context, and facing complaints and tough counter procedures, are illegal entering the countries through sea trafficking seeking better living and working conditions without obtaining the entry permits. They are not in a position to move forcibly from their native country. On the other hand, the refugees are obliged to flee their country due to many circumstances like violence and war, seeking a safe heaven to live in peace and rescue their lives. Here, despite of the fact that the refugees enter the host country illegally, they are eligible for assistance of the states and the humanitarian organisations because they are protected by the international law; the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol as well as other legal texts, such as the 1969 OAU Refugee Convention, remain the cornerstone of modern refugee protection [3].

In the Euoropean context, 90 percent of refugees and migrants who attempt to reach Europe by sea come from ten countries, in descending order: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Gambia and Bangladesh [4]. With regard to migration, the migrants including illegal migrants and who are given the refugee status look for better living conditions and work or peace and safety. Most of the migrant nationalities in Europe are from Africa, while most of the refugees, as will be shown in this study, are from Syria [5]. There are 4 reasons for the migrants mainly in Africa to leave their countries. Collier [6] calls them traps; conflict trap, the natural resources trap, landlocked country with bad neighbours trap, and bad governance in a small country trap. Not all traps cause forced migration but at least these are reasons for the people to journey to other better countries like Europe which might be a trap due to the tough procedures, hostility and anxiety of the communities in addition to the financial, economic, social and security costs which the governments attempt to avoid in Europe as well.

Although it is very important to have clear description and definition of the migration categories in order to protect the rights of each category, we all people should be treated humanely, respectfully and reserve the dignity of the person. Whether these people are illegal migrants or migrants who are given the refugee status, all should receive the required assistance. However, in this context, the refugees have legal rights in spite of entering the host countries illegally because of their predicament [3].

Language plays an important role in influencing and forming people’s attitudes and ideologies, urging them to act in a specific way rather than another [7]. Media, being mainly controlled by power elites [8], use language to legitimize certain events and delegitimize others. To investigate how refugees and migrants are represented in a news agency published in Arabic and located in an Arab country that is affected by the refuge phenomenon, this study uses a sub-corpus of headlines that was taken from a 2.5-million word corpus of news articles about refugees and migrants published by the Jordanian News Agency PETRA.

Jordan is selected as a focus of this study as the country since its independence in 1946, hosted the people of the Arab countries who were affected by wars and conflicts especially from Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Iraq. The Middle East region where Jordan lies has been subject to wars, aggression and calamities over times. At the time of the Arab-Israel war in 1948, many Palestinians moved to live in Jordan. The second Palestinian migration to Jordan was after the 1967 war where Jordan received the displaced people from the West Bank that was occupied by Israel. After the Lebanese war in 1974, Jordan received the Lebanese businessmen, and many international institutions moved from Lebanon to Jordan. During the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, some Iraqi and Palestinian families moved to Jordan. At the time of Iraq’s attempts to occupy Kuwait in 1990, most of the Palestinians living in Kuwait moved to live in Jordan putting pressure on its natural resources and the economic needs, and affecting its culture and social structure. After 2003, when America invaded Iraq, many Iraqis and the remaining Palestinian families living in Iraq moved to Jordan significantly affecting the prices of materials, especially apartments and real estate. More recently, since late 2011, many Libyans and Yemenis have been receiving treatment in Jordan, filling the capacity of hospitals and creating a financial crisis for hospitals and hotels that are still reactive [9]. After that and as a result of the era of the Arab Spring, many Syrian refugees have been moving to Jordan, fleeing the escalating situation between the Syrian government and its opponents. Different refugee camps were established in the north of Jordan, and some countries and international bodies have been helping Jordan to cover these rising costs on the Syrian refugees [10]. Such a huge number of refugees have affected the Jordanian society because of the decline in the economy and the increase of prices [11]. This has led to a growing budget deficit of about two billion United States Dollars.

Research Gap, Objectives, and Questions

Different studies have investigated the representation of minority groups including refugees and migrants in media texts. Abid et al. [12] examined the use of metaphors in the representation of Syrian refugees in the online media news reports of host and non-host countries, and found that media tended to discriminate the immigrants considering them as a security, economic and hygiene threat. The study also showed that both the host and non-host countries use similar metaphors of immigrants except for description of the entry of refugees and the burden they are inflicting on the host countries which seem to be more in the host rather than the non-host countries.

Fotopoulos and Kaimaklioti [13] investigated how the Greek, German and British press represented the issue of the refugee crisis in Europe between 20 March and 31 May 2016. Analyzing 1340 articles using a combination of methods, namely corpus linguistics and discourse analysis, the authors found that the investigated newspapers mostly presented the refugee crisis in numbers, and focused on the managerial aspect of the refugee crisis, and the issue of child refugees.

KhosraviNik [14] examined the representation of refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants in the British newspapers from 1996 to 2006. The author downsized the number of articles to be investigated based on the newspapers’ ideological stands, their types, and the different world events at the time of investigation, and found that all newspapers tend to have similar negative macro-structures of their representation of the immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees.

This study contributes to the growing body of studies about refugees and migrants by examining the representation of these minority groups in a news agency published in Arabic and located in Jordan, one of the mainly affected countries of this problem since its establishment. Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011 which led to civil wars in some Arab countries, mainly in Libya and Syria [15], and the displacement of civilians internally within the states, or externally to other countries, many scholars have conducted several studies about this phenomenon from different points of view—politically, economically, socially, and linguistically (see [16,17,18]). Some of these studies discussed the mass media coverage of these minority groups (see [12]). However, most of these studies used a relatively small amount of data, and paid little or no attention to the news sources in Arabic. Therefore, one of the research gaps that this study fills is working on a relatively large amount of (Arabic) data to examine the discursive strategies news agency used to cover refugees in general and refugees in Jordan in particular.

The objectives of this study can be categorised into two types, namely: refugee crisis related objectives, and media related objectives. With regard to the first type of objectives, the study contributes to uncovering some discourses about the representation of refugees and migrants in general and after the Arab uprisings in particular. In addition, the study contributes to uncovering how some institutions in Jordan read what is happening in the country, and so take actions based on that. For example, welcoming refugees, on the one hand, and complaining about the financial burden the country incur on the other hand.

Regarding the media related objectives, this study investigates how language is used in the media to represent social events and form some social practices. As the main interest of this research is to highlight the refugee problem after the Arab uprisings, this study attempts to show how refugees especially Syrians are represented in media, especially in Jordan News Agency. This research examines the language of PETRA and its role in influencing the attitudes and ideologies of the Jordanian people, being the main target of the agency, based on its agendas. This study also examines how language can be affected by governmental policies, i.e. how the language of media is influenced by the ideology and agendas of the country where the media organisations are located.

Using a 2.5 million word corpus of news articles published by Jordan’s News Agency (PETRA), the objectives above are examined via 2 research questions, which are:

  1. 1.

    In what ways are refugees and migrants constructed in the headlines of Jordan News Agency (PETRA)?

  2. 2.

    Are there diachronic differences on the perspectives of PETRA towards these groups in the investigated period from 2012 to 2016?

As discussed above, this study examines the representation of refugees and migrants in the headline of PETRA, so research question (1) investigates how these minority groups are represented in Jordan News Agency. Research question (2) is related to research question (1) with more focus on the different themes discussed in the 5 year time period. Since the investigate period of this study extends for 5 years (2012–2016), Question (2) examines whether the perspective and tone of PETRA towards refugees and migrants have changed overtime because of the pressure they form on the already scarce resources of Jordan.

Answering these questions will contribute to having a better understanding of how refugees and migrants, mainly in Jordan, are represented in Jordan news agency over a time period of 5 years.


Jordan News Agency (PETRA) is the largest and oldest press agency in Jordan. It is established in 1969 and linked to the Ministry of Information, and is considered as the official news agency for Jordan. The Agency provides news services in Arabic and English on its main outlet, and its archive is used by most Jordanian newspapers including Al-Rai, Al-Dustour, Al-Ghad, and Jordan Times.

The news articles, used in this study, are compiled using Factiva News Database. For the articles to be included in the corpus, it should occur in the specified time span (2012–2016), and include one of the query terms:


Translated as

Refugee/s (masculine, feminine, singular, plural, definite, indefinite)

Immigrant/s (masculine, feminine, singular, plural, definite, indefinite)

Internally displaced person/s (IDPs) (masculine, feminine, singular, plural, definite, indefinite)

Forcibly displaced person/s (masculine, feminine, singular, plural, definite, indefinite)

The search resulted in 6904 articles (headlines) as Table 2 shows.

Table 2 The Number of headlines in PETRA from 2012 to 2016

In this paper, we only analyze the headlines that contain the words refugees and migrants.

The content of the compiled corpus looks like the examples below:

  • <title > الشرطة السُويدية تعتزم ترحيل 17 ألف لاجئ </title>

  • <title > واشنطن: ملتزمون بتوطين 10 آلاف لاجئ سوري </title>

Translated as:

  • <title > The Swedish police plan to deport 17,000 refugees </title>

  • <title > Washington: We are committed to settling 10,000 Syrian refugees </title>

We used ‘Tagstring_only tags’ function in the corpus analysis software WordSmith Tool 7 (WS7) [19] (a computer program that can produce a concordance from a specified text or corpus) to generate concordance lines (KWiC/key words in contexts) for the node words (refugee* لاجئ and migrant*مهاجر) as concordance 1 shows.

Concordance 1

A screenshot of Wordsmith7 after applying the function of Tagstring only

In the data analysis, we used the corpus linguistic technique of concordance which investigates a particular linguistic item (refugee* and migrant* in our case) in its co-text by considering the surrounding words that might range from one word to the left or right of that item to the whole text if needed [20]. The selected word for investigation that appears in the centre of the screen is called the node word (see concordance 1 above). Using WordSmith Tools 7, we could sort the concordance lines in different ways, for example one word to the left/right (first sort preference), and then two words to the left (second sort preference) as concordance 2 shows.

Concordance 2

A screenshot of WS7 operating concordance

In some cases, concordance’s search generates tens of lines. In such cases, to avoid bias, some justifications are made every time a decision is made of which concordance line to include and discuss. For example, if a particular theme dominated a set of headlines in a particular year, they will be further analyzed [15]. If the number of concordance lines about a specific theme is small, all instances are included in the concordance figure. Other times, the number of the concordance lines for some themes are large, and the process of going through all of them one by one may be time consuming and daunting. However, we have done so since examining few cases does not reflect a full picture about the different ideas in the text. To make sure that the included lines in the study are representative, if different lines are related to a particular issue or mentioned in the same context, only one or two of them will be included in the concordance figure. By doing so, the results are likely to be more illustrative of wider trends.


Jordan News Agency has used many expressions to report news about refugees especially the ones who fled to Jordan bearing in mind its limited resources as well as the deficit in the budget. The economic situation in Jordan adds a huge force in the way the news headlines are formed aiming at reflecting the struggle or dilemma the country experiences. The Arabic headlines of Petra pertinent to the refugees vary. As Jordan has hosted refugees from many coterminous and neighbouring countries, the use of words differs according to the reasons and effects of refuge on Jordan. Below is a chronological analysis of headlines that contains the words refugees and migrants from 2012 to 2016.


Year 1 (2012)

In 2012, there are 133 headlines that contain the word Laje’a (لاجئ)/refugee with its derivatives. There are 2.6 million refugees living in camps worldwide; some of them have been displaced for 5 years and some for over a decade [21]. In accordance with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), Jordan hosts 661,114 Syrian refugees scattered throughout the country [22] further to the refugees from other countries like Palestine, Iraq and Yemen. Petra’s headlines about the refugees in 2012 indicate the good aspects and attempts of Jordan towards refugees highlighting their vulnerability and needs. Some themes like acceptance, tolerance, and assistance not only by the government but also by the Jordanian people were widespread in the headlines of this year. These aspects reflect the Jordanian people good deeds, generosity, sympathy, humane, charitable and social cohesion, traditions and value towards hosting guests. It also reflects the Islamic and Prophet Mohammad’s instructions of helping the vulnerable, and stresses the notion of brotherhood-neighbourhood relief.

In the 2012 headlines, there are many activities about refugees that Jordan participates in (concordance 3). Jordan takes part in conferences and meetings about the refugees (headline 1), and its ministries, trade unions, and officials held different meetings to discuss the issues and problems of refugees (2–5).

Concordance 3

Headlines showing the interest of Jordan in refugee issues

This indicates that Jordan is willing to play a role in managing the refugee affairs and interested in this issue since it hosts a huge number of refugees. Therefore, these headlines imply the obvious care, attention and responsibility Jordan provides to the refugees on its land. Further, this implicitly points out the concerns of the government to face and/or solve the ramifications which maybe resulted by hosting.

The hereafter headlines (concordance 4) show the perspective of Jordan towards the refugees. The king himself states to hold the responsibility towards the burdens of the Syrian refugees who fled from war but at the same time he requests not to neglect the peace issue (headline 6). Further, the government of Jordan opens many camps for the Syrian refugees in Jordan (headlines 7 and 8). The head of the country and his government draw the policy they follow in dealing with the refugees. This humanitarian aspect of the policy depicts the sympathy, tolerance and assistance to the people who flee from war and provide them with a safe place to live in. The king of Jordan’s use of the word أعباء A’ba’ which means “burdens”, and the government’s decision to open camps in many locations indicate the increasing number of people refuging to Jordan. The Jordanian minister of health in 2012 states that Jordan is burdened and urges for support to help the Syrian refugees referring to the limited capacity in comparison to the number of people in need of health assistance (9 and 10).

In headline (11), Petra mentions the word عاصفة “storm to describe the huge number of people refuging to Jordan. This means that the country should exert huge efforts to deal with this storm.

Concordance 4

Perspective of Jordan towards the refugee

The word تدفق “flow” is also used metaphorically (concordance 5) to describe the big number of refugees coming to Jordan. This word in this context contains negative implications for hosting the refugees; a storm in headline 11, and then a flow in these headlines. Two words of 2 disasters strike in the same country which can’t stand in the face of 2 catastrophes implying a destructive nature at the same time. Two catastrophes represent the massive influx of people from their origin to a host community with limited capacity and resources. Then, it is asked who pays the cost (headline 12) while the minister of health emphasizes the urgent need of support (headline 13). This means that there are incurred economic and financial burdens that require funds to alleviate the effects of the flow and storm.

Concordance 5

The metaphorical use of the word تدفق “flow” in 2012

In concordance 6, UNHCR calls the international community to provide assistance to the Syrian refugees (headline 14) then it musters winter assistance for the Syrian internally displaced people. The word تحشد “Tashud” (headline 15) which means “muster or gather” indicates the massive number of vulnerable people who need the assistance. The United Nations states that the progressive flow of the Somalian refugees is caused by conflict and drought (headline 16). Then, the hosting Arab countries for the Palestinian refugees, in the last headline, refuse the services reduction of UNRWA (headline 17). This leads to the understanding of dependence of these countries on the UN agency “UNRWA” to provide the needed services to the Palestinian refugees.

Concordance 6

Providing assistance to the refugees

In light of the above headlines from year 2012 by Petra, the language is used to draw the attention to the crisis of refugees. It uses metaphors to depict the massive influx and negative consequences affecting host countries in general and Jordan specifically. On the other hand, the humanitarian aspects are shown towards the refugees. Further, the headlines show how refuge is coped with through providing the assistance and services.

Year 2 (2013)

In 2013, the headlines become more alerting to the crisis of the refugees (concordance 7). The United Nations states that the increasing flow of the refugees from Syria has not happened for 20 years (headline 18) while the International Organization for Migration declares that there is an increase in the flow of the Syrian refugees through the Jordanian borders (headline 19). Also, the United Nations Commissioner for refugees warns against the humanitarian situation in Syria (headline 20). Therefore, the UN bodies shift the statements from urging and calling for assistance to warning against the increasing influx of refugees in order to alert the international community of the negative consequences and the burdens incurred due to refuge. This alert is shown in headlines 21–24; Jordanian official committee from the Upper House reviews the consequences of the Syrian refugee’s flow (21) while another Jordanian official declares that the assistance provided to Jordan does not exceed 30% of the cost of hosting the refugees (22). The refugees are also said to deplete the resources of Jordan (23 and 24).

Concordance 7

Alerting the international community of the negative consequences and burdens incurred due to refuge in 2013

Year 2014

In 2013 and 2014, after addressing the dire need for assistance in the headlines, humanitarian efforts are exerted to provide the fund and in-kind donations (concordance 8). The alert and warning in addition to the request for support by the hosting countries which have limited resources help raise the awareness of the international community of the adverse consequence of refuge. It also contributes to receiving some of the required fund and assistance to the refugees and hosting countries. The headlines below refer to providing assistance and donations which may alleviate the economic and financial burdens incurred by the hosting countries specifically Jordan. The World Bank (headline 30) states that fewer than 100,000 of 630,000 Syrian refugees who have entered Jordan live in camps; the rest live amid local communities causing population pressure and gaps in the public services, therefore, the World Bank launches a programme for Emergency Services and Social Resilience to address the impact and help Jordan manage the effects of the crisis [23].

Concordance 8

Providing the fund and in-kind donations in 2014

Year 2015

In 2015, the humanitarian organisations began suffering from a financial crisis due to lack of fund. The cost of hosting the refugees is inclinational. The shortage of needed money may cause limiting the assistance and services for the refugees (concordance 9). In an indication to reducing the assistance, the World Food Programme minimises its assistance to the half (headline 32), and there was a protest in front of UNRWA in Beirut against suspension of the assistance to the Syrian refugees (headline 33). Petra headlines in this period focus on the shortage of money to help the refugees which may attract the attention that the hosting countries mainly Jordan also suffer from a financial crisis and solicits fund to alleviate the burden. This is considered as an indirect way to raise the issue. It is mentioned that Lebanon has the highest rate of refugees in the world (headline 34). The Lebanese foreign minister criticizes the UNHCR for registering new Syrians refugees and states that it’s illegal (headline 35). This clearly shows the firm perspective of the Lebanese government towards the refugees because of the negative impact and ramifications that affect the country.

This matter leads the refugees to finding jobs and as stated below, the Syrian labour occupies a good rate of the market in Jordan and they increase the pressure on it (headline 36). According to The World Bank:

Adverse regional developments, in particular the Syria and Iraq crises remain the largest recent shock affecting Jordan. This is reflected in an unprecedented refugee influx, in disrupted trade routes, and in lower investments and tourism inflows. The large number of Syrian refugees entering the country is having a strong impact on the country’s economy and social fabric. Other major challenges facing Jordan include high unemployment, a dependency on grants and remittances from Gulf economies as well as continued pressure on natural resources [24].

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, the call is for assisting the hosting countries in receiving the refugees but the year 2015 witnesses a shift to the call for solutions, by Jordan, for the refuge crisis as the economic situation in the country declines while the refuge cost inclines (headlines 37, 38 and 39). However, escaping from the hard-living environment in the Syrian refugee camps, which is the result of the lack of fund, forces the affected people to seek refuge to better countries that can help and provide a good living condition. For example, 55% of the Syrian refugees’ conditions in Lebanon are considered not safe (headline 40).

Concordance 9

Limiting the assistance and services for the refugees and calling for solutions in 2015

The illegal migration starts through the Mediterranean to Europe (concordance 10). This adds another burden to prevent, organize or control this movement. The flow striking Europe obliges the European Union to respond. Therefore, many countries have announced acceptance to receive a number of refugees, e.g. not only in Europe like Germany, Britain, France, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Sweden, and Ireland but also Canada, the United States, Venezuela, Brazil, and Australia (headlines 41–47).

Concordance 10

Illegal migration of refugees to Europe

The United Nations Secretary General invites Europe to host refugees and migrants (concordance 11, headline 48). All of these actions depict the unstoppable flow and force the countries to deal with it positively. Eastern European countries like Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia consider the refugees a threat and they opt to deal with them firmly representing the inhumane treatment to the suffering people (headlines 49, 50, 51 and 52). Slovenia installs barbed wires on its borders with Croatia (headline 51), Hungary may arrest the arriving refugees (headline 52) while France requests the EU to reduce the number of accepted refugees (headline 53). They have been thrown away from a country to another and are refused to be hosted mainly in Eastern Europe.

Concordance 11

How Europe responded negatively to the refugees fleeing to its countries

The headlines in this year also show a significant shift in the policy of Europe towards the refugees (concordance 12). Due to the pressure and huge burden on the hosting countries, the EU exerts more efforts in an attempt to minimise the number of illegal migrants while setting a plan for dividing the number of the illegal arrivals to Europe; for example, there was a plan for the Swedish government to receive refugees, Merkel emphasises on rapid refugees integration in work, UN determines the instructive principles to cope with the refugees in Europe, the European council invites to a fair refugee distribution and French PM demands EU to limit the acceptance of refugees (headlines 54–60). It is something they cannot avoid and forces them to accept and set integration plans for the refugees. On an adverse aspect, the movement to Europe reduces a bit the number of refugees arriving to Jordan and Lebanon but the crisis has become more serious as its consequences reach other countries than the neighboring and coterminous ones. The crisis escalates from the regional level to the global level.

Concordance 12

A shift in the policy of Europe towards the refugees

Year 2016

In 2016, Europe experiences a suffering and complains for receiving refugees (concordance 13). In headline 61, Germany suggests adding tax on the gasoline to face the refugee crisis. In headline 62, the refugees issue is the Swedish people’s main concern and Sweden takes new procedures to limit the flow of refugees (headline 63). In headline 64, Denmark consolidates border control with Germany to limit the refugee flow while in headline 65; Austria holds the Schengen agreement and intends moving refugees. According to the International Organisation for Migration, in headline 66, the number of Syrian refugees in Europe reaches 83,000 people since the beginning of 2016 until April 2016.

Concordance 13

A suffering and complains in Europe for receiving refugees

Europe has been burdened and has started to get negatively affected due to the incurred cost (concordance 14, headlines 67–70) and probable social consequences in a different Western culture and life by the continuous flow of the Syrian refugees shown in headline 71 as the refugee crisis is the Swedish people concern and headline 72 as the Prime Minster of Hungary states that EU faces the threat of dissociation because of the refugees. The ramifications which might be unexpected have led the European countries to perform adversely for the counter of the refugees attempting to reduce the number of arrivals and manage and limit the movement to Europe.

Concordance 14

Refugees being a burden, and get negatively affecting Europe

The phase of voicing the concerns, as aforementioned, has arrived to an end. It is evident that there is a paradigm shift not only expressed but also performed where actions are taken towards the encounter of the influx of the Syrian refugees entering illegally by sea then crossing the borders (concordance 15). Germany suggests a fuel tax (headline 61) while in a later stage, the chancellor states that Germany will return the refugees once the conflict is over (headline 73). The Swedish people are worried while the country suffers from an increase in the hosting cost (headline 62 and 63). Austria holds the Schengen agreement, intends to move the refugees, and carries out intensive measures on the borders to make them less attractive to the refugees, further; it requests 670 million US Dollars for the issue (headlines 74 and 75). The Danish parties agree to legalise the seizure of the Syrian refugees’ belongings and Denmark consolidates the border monitoring (headlines 76 and 77). Finland intends to move 30,000 refugees who arrived in 2016 (headline 78). Greece may freeze all the agreements with EU because of the refuge crisis (headline 79). A French minister threatens Britain by making it drown in refugees in case of withdrawal from the EU (headline 80). Britain says that the refugee crisis affects the general services negatively in the country (headline 81). Macedonia sets new restrictions for the refugees (headline 81). The Hungarian Prime Minister says that Europe faces the dissociation threat (headline 72). Germany refuses to receive refugees expelled by Sweden. NATO may send ships to the Aegean Sea to stop the flow (headline 82).

Concordance 15

Encountering the influx of the Syrian refugees entering Europe illegally

A crisis occurs in Europe due to the disagreement between the hosting countries and refusal of others to host. These adverse actions have led the United Nations to criticize what the European countries do against the refugees.

In the light of the above, as the crisis is moving from the Middle East to Europe, it has shown the level of endurance, the financial and social capacity of the European community to host some people. The flow effects indicate the weaknesses of the countries which cannot deal with the consequences. The European countries first express acceptance to host a number of refugees but with the increasing number of arrivals, Europe cannot stand and has been financially and socially burdened. As a result, some countries expelled refugees and some refuse to accept them. Some countries set restrictions and firm measures to limit and/or stop the arriving refugees. In this phase, some European countries have been inhumane in coping with the vulnerable people who seek a peaceful good living condition in a safe place in which they expect generous assistance, but the wind is adverse to the flow. The European Union’s incapability to manage the migration of refugees leads to having an agreement with Turkey to serve as a valve and to avoid the flow from heading to Europe through the Balkans. EU provides Turkey with the money to keep the Syrians on its land. On a contradictory aspect, despite having the money and to incur the burden of hosting the refugees, the EU agrees to provide Turkey with the needed money for the refugees aiming at keeping them in Turkey and avoid them from going to Europe. The other factors which play a role in refusing the refugees or the inability to host them are the different culture, language, religion, traditions and lifestyle. These factors cause some integration problems with the European communities. Turkey has some shared factors which enable the refugees to integrate. In addition, Turkey is the gateway to Europe and can control the flow. This is why EU conducts an agreement with Turkey to alleviate the burden.

It is noticed in Petra headlines that the year 2016 is hard and burdensome to Europe. The language in the headlines is firm towards vulnerable people who flee from war and hard living environments. This is considered inhumane and an indication of bad performance in the crisis management.

Jordan responds humanely; opposite to Europe though it has limited resources (concordance 16). For example, the participants in the conference “The Refugees and the Sustainable Development” appreciate the humanitarian role of Jordan (headline 83) and the queen invites for more sustainable support (headline 84). Jordan experiences good management and keeps receiving more and more, e.g. the border guards receive refugees (headline 85). All the country officials including the King and the Queen ask for support. In addition, the refugees are allowed to work and projects are launched for skills and experience exchange between the Jordanians and the refugees in Mafraq (headline 86). Moreover, there were training courses that target female Syrian refugees in Tafilah governorate (headline 87). Also, a charity introduces a vocational diploma programme for the Syrian refugees (headline 88). In the religious occasion of Eid Al-Adha (the sacrifice day), meat and Eid clothes are distributed to the refugees (headline 89 and 90).

Though Jordan and its people keep assisting the refugees, lack of money and resources do not hinder the Jordanians to help. Because there are some differences between the refugees and the Jordanian people, lectures to raise the awareness are held (headline 91), there are many things in common with the Syrians which motivate the people to help; language, religion, traditions, generosity, values of good deeds. These are examples of factors which make the Jordanians willingly help and be charitable. Having the acceptance of people with the government’s perspective, Jordan shows a significant management of the crisis, therefore, it is praised for the distinguished leadership by the US embassy in Jordan (headline 92).

Concordance 16

Jordan showing a significant management of the crisis


The Arabic word “Muhajer” which is translated as “Migrant” is also identified in Petra headlines. People migrate within the same country or to other countries in search of better work or living conditions. Migration is divided into legal and illegal. The latter causes the crisis and the negative ramifications on the hosting countries.

Years 2012–2013

Europe receives a significant number of illegal migrants who arrive mainly by sea (concordance 17). The illegal migrants are followed to be captured in Britain; for example, a spy plane is to capture the illegal migrants residing in hidden areas in Britain (headline 93). They live in hidden areas indicating to the bad situation they live in. Britain requests the illegal migrants to return to their original countries (headline 94). In Italy, an Egyptian man is jailed for illegal trafficking of migrants (headline 95); this is an indication that it’s an organized work and exploiting the migrants for money to smuggle them to Europe through risky and dangerous trips. On another hand, the International Labor Organization issues a report on types of sexual exploitation for female worker migrants (headline 96). This report will not be done unless there are many cases that deserved the international community’s awareness and attention to the suffering and sexual problems accompanying the migrants.

Concordance 17

Europe receiving a significant number of illegal migrants

Year 2014–2015

During this period, the migrant crisis becomes more serious throwing its effects and consequences on the hosting countries (concordance 18). Europe has become the preferred destination for either legal or illegal migrants. As stated earlier in the refugee part, the Syrian migrants refuge to Europe seeking peace and safety fleeing from the violence and war, while the migrants go to Europe as they consider it a place where they can find work, wealth as well as peace.

In the period 2014–2015, the movement of people to Europe escalates and it’s very alerting to the European Union. The illegal migration through the Mediterranean Sea causes many ordeals. The migrants suffer and risk their lives just to reach one of the European countries in which they want to work and settle. Specialised sailors in trafficking smuggle the people by boats. Many drown and die helplessly. The EU does not welcome the illegal migrants and sets measures to send them back to their home countries. The United Nations urges Europe to exert more efforts to rescue the migrants and respect their rights (headline 97).

Concordance 18

The United nations and migrants’ right

The year 2015 is the year of migrants (concordance 19). The International Organisation for Migrations states that there are one million migrants who entered Europe (headline 98). The UN secretary General—Ban Ki Moon calls it the year of migrant tragedies (headline 99). Also, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zaid Bin Ra’ed, demands expediting solving the sea migrant’s plight (headline 100). In this year, around 2000 people have drowned (headline 101). Due to the increasing number of illegal arrivals (e.g. 340 thousand migrants arrived to Europe in 2015 as headline 102 shows); the EU countries are in disagreement about managing the problem. In headline 103, EU fails in reaching agreement of migrant resettlement, and in headline 104, Denmark suspends all trains to Germany because of the migrants while in headline 105, there was suspension of all trains between Germany and Austria. Further, in headline 106, Hungary summons the Austrian ambassador due to the migrant crisis.

Concordance 19

The migrant crisis becoming more serious on the hosting countries

It is obvious that the migrants are treated in an inhumane manner by the European countries (concordance 20) and some of them are drowned intentionally and a condemnation is expressed by the head of the United Nations Office for Human Rights (headline 107). In headline 108, the British government announces strict procedures against the work of illegal migrants, while as mentioned earlier in headlines 104 and 105, the train transportation is suspended between Germany, Denmark and Austria just to avoid the migrants. In headline 109, an international committee requests Europe and the Gulf to open their borders for the Syrian migrants while in headline 110, there was a riot in a Dutch village protesting against a plan to settle the migrants.

Concordance 20

The inhumane treatment of migrants by the European countries

Therefore, a condemnation is expressed by the UN. Human Rights Watch has been aware to the problem and investigates the rights violations arising when countries contain or divert the migrants, refugees and asylum seekers at or within their borders by placing adults and children in overcrowded and filthy detention centers, sometimes indefinitely. Large numbers of migrants fleeing criminality, poverty and environmental disaster will be without the protections of refugee status. Ultimately, all migrants should be treated with dignity [25].

The European countries do not have the capacity to host the migrants though they are illegal. Meetings, decisions and some measures are set to prevent and reduce the number of illegal migrants. Therefore, as aforementioned in the refugee part, Europe conducts an agreement with Turkey to stop the movement of refugees from Turkey to Europe (concordance 21, headline 111). This is because Turkey hosts a huge number of the Syrian refugees while a lot of them want to go to Europe. It’s the crossing gate which Europe attempts to shut. In 2015, Turkey has done many sea operations to rescue illegal migrants or stop them from going to Europe (headline 112). The security has been on top of the factors after many terrorist attacks were implemented by migrants like the 2015 Paris attack and its effect in Belgium and other EU states. This has led to public anxiety and a sense of insecurity and an exacerbated mistrust between Muslim and some of the European communities [26].

Concordance 21

Turkey’s role in the migration crisis

There is a slow response by the European Union to the migrant crisis with a little evidence on long-term strategic planning, opening rifts between the European Commission and the member states and among the member states over appropriate policies and burden-sharing alongside a shortsighted focus on moral responsibility to implement rescue operations in the Mediterranean [26].

Year 2016

The year 2016 is the year of actions towards the migrants in Europe (concordance 22). The director general of International Organisation for Migration warns against the growth of hostile feelings towards the migrants (headline 113). By starting with this headline, it is implied that the European community is not in a position to accept people from other nationalities to live and work with them in the same country because of different factors like cultures, traditions, ethnicity, religion, colour. Further, hosting the illegal migrants is costly for Europe; for example, 700 million Euros are allocated for the migrants crisis (headline 114). However, apparently, Europe does not want to spend on them. This leads to the perception that the European countries suffer from an economic crisis. However, as mentioned in the refugee part, the movement is metaphorically described as storm and flow which have a destructive nature pointing to the negative consequences Europe incurs as a result. Some countries welcome them like Sweden which announces that one thousand school classes are full of migrant children (headline 115), while Germany refuses closing the roads in front of the migrants (headline 116) and Greece is ready to host the migrants in four islands (headline 117). On the contrary, in other countries, preventive measures are set against the illegal migrants. Poland refuses any plan obliging it to accept a number of migrants as a share (headline 118), Austria moves illegal migrants by military planes (headline 119), and the British people are ready for salaries reduction just to prevent the entry of migrants (headline 120).

Concordance 22

Different reactions towards migrants by the European countries

In 2016, the migrants are still sailing and sinking (concordance 23). UNHCR states that 10,000 people have drowned this year (headline 121). Italy is doing most of the rescue operations because most of the arrivals sail from Libya which is the closest to Europe specifically Italy (headline 122). Libya is now a centre for human trafficking due to the violence and abscence of the government which is busy with the internal conflict on the sovereignty. According to the International Organisation for Migration (headline 123), 183,000 people have entered Europe, 6000 migrants have entered in one day. The number is big and the flow is still striking Europe. France announces that there are 800,000 migrants in Libya await the crossing to Europe (headline 124). It is now alarming and the crisis may cause a revolution in Europe as per the EU (headline 125).

Taking into account the hostile nature in responding to the migrants in Europe, the UN stands with the human rights and organises a campaign for the safety and dignity of the migrants (headline 126) as well as voicing concerns by the High Commissioner for Human Rights about the European Turkish deal (headline 127).

Concordance 23

Migrants flow to Europe, and the international efforts to protect them


The language used by Petra, at the beginning of the crisis, reflects the humanitarian nature of response and the responsibility of Jordan towards helping the vulnerable and affected people fleeing from the conflict. However, the conflict has been taking so long causing a massive influx of refugees to the country; and as a result, the language is shifted to attract the audiences to the burdensome task with the scarce resources and financial problems. The text structure of cause and effect is used in Petra headlines. Then, due to the flow consequences which negatively affect the public services in Jordan, the headlines of Petra are used to solicit the international community’s assistance to get the required fund to help the refugees. Being suffered from a financial crisis with the limited resources in Jordan, Petra headlines are shifted from the calling for assistance to the calling for solutions to alleviate or end the causes of refuge.

In the headlines about the migrants which refer to the illegal migrants who enter the countries just for seeking better living and working conditions or other reasons but not forcibly moved from the country of origin, it is noticed that rejection was the response of the the European countries. The number of migrants and refugees arriving Europe has become warning causing worry. Actions were taken to stop or reduce it. The German Chancellor, Merkel, states that ‘the issue of asylum can be the next major European project’, one that will ‘preoccupy Europe much, much more than the issue of Greece and the stability of the euro’ [27].

Comparing the response of Jordan towards refugees with that of Europ towards migrants and refugees, it is obvious from the analysis of the headlines that the European countries are incapable of hosting big numbers of migrants whether they are refugees looking for safety and peace or migrants looking for work and better living conditions. Unlike Jordan which receives hundreds of thousand of Syrian refugees, Europe shows a low level of crisis management despite having the resources and capacities. The factors mentioned earlier are major to the European communities to refuse while the cost and financial crisis are major for the governments to prevent, expel and return the migrants.

The chronological text structure of the headlines starts in 2012 with providing the assistance to the refugees. Then, in a later stage of 2012 and in 2013 and 2014, the language is shifted to calling for assistance to the country to contribute to solving the problem. In 2015, the language is changed to be more alerting about the scarce in funding. In 2016, the headlines have changed the focus to Europe due to migration of the refugees. It’s a motivation for the national news agency of Jordan to highlight the suffering of Europe because of the refugees bearing in mind that the Euorpoean countries have the financial capacity to deal with the problem when compared to Jordan that is already suffering. According to the World Bank (2016), Jordan’s population is around 9.5 million in 2016; there are 1.3 million Syrian refugees hosted by Jordan. This rise affected pressure on roads, solid waste management, energy, water and jobs, which are already scarce in Jordan. It’s important for Petra to portray Europe suffering despite having the capacity and resources to host the migrant refugees. Petra has shifted the attention to other donor wealthy countries which spend on assisting the refugees in Jordan but having a massive number makes them suffer and face several troubles and burdens. Therefore, Petra uses words that refer to the destructive nature like flow and storm and other words that refer to negative consequences like mentioning the cost and financial burdens.

Over the course of the chronological order of the research, Table 3 highlights the methodology of treating the refugees and migrants in Jordan and Europe from 2012 to 2016.

Table 3 Treatment of refugees in Jordan and Europe in the headlines (2012–2016)

Figure 1 also shows the chronological order of how the refugees and migrants are represented in the headlines of Petra from 2012 to 2016.

Fig. 1

Timeline of the crisis and responses of the hosting countries during the period 2012–2016

When the Syrian crisis has begun, the armed conflict has also started which make the conditions unsafe and risky. The Syrian people find themselves threatened and forced to leave the country. Therefore, they migrate to the neighbouring countries. The host countries namely Jordan, expressed welcoming and acceptance further to providing the assistance. The increasing flow of refugees causes pressure on the resources and the host country is burdened due to the continuous flow, pressure on the public services as well as the lack of necessary fund to provide the assistance. In view of this, the reactions of the refugees vary. Some decide to stay in Jordan. Thus, requests for fund are appealed but the received amount is not satisfactory while the refugees are still flowing. As the cost of hosting the refugees is inclinational with limited fund, a decline in the economy occurred. Therefore, paradigms shift in the perspectives of Jordan towards the Syrian crisis. After calling for assistance and fund, Jordan starts to call for solutions. If solution is given and applied, then the crisis will come to an end but as it is ongoing, refugees will continue arriving to Jordan which will need more funds as the current are not enough affecting the economy but the call for solutions is a shift in the vision.

For those who decide to migrate to Europe to find better conditions, they encounter many problems because of the big number of refugees arriving to Europe. Not well-managed refuge and migration crises make most of the European states refuse the refugees and migrants. Therefore, they are left in suffering of refusal and displacement, then, they find themselves threatened so they continue moving to host countries which will be burdened, as a result.

Figure 2 shows how the crisis is managed by the hosting countries in the investigated period.

Fig. 2

The refugees flow and how the crisis is managed by the hosting countries

As shown in the Methodology section, there were 1177 headlines that refer to refugees (68% in the Jordanian context, 26% related to Europe, 4% in Lebanon, and 2% not related to the research context) and 317 to migrants (84% in the European context, 16% not related to the focus of this study; for example Israeli Migration to Palestine, migratory birds, brain drain, and others). Throughout the years of research, the number of of headlines referring to refugees and migrants increases (see Fig. 3). This is deemed as an indication of the continuous migration. However, the refugee number is bigger due to the forced migration caused by the Syrian conflict which led to a massive movement for the people to the safer countries mainly Jordan and Europe. On the other hand, the number of headlines with the word/s migrant/s is less as it only happens in Europe. The number increases throughout the years of research and intensifies in 2015 and 2016 due to the migration of the Syrian people seeking a better refuge as well as the migration of the people from Africa seeking a better living and working environment.

Fig. 3

The number of headlines with the words refugees and migrants (2012–2016)

Refugees and migrants are mentioned in the headline to refer to similar problems as aforementioned; financial and social burdens. In the context of Jordan, they are categorized as refugees due to giving them the refugee status. Based on the analysis of Petra headlines, people moving from Syria to Jordan are dealt as refugees because they crossed the borders and moved from the original country to another forcibly, and so in Petra, they are only called refugees. In Europe, the people who entered the EU countries coming from different regions are dealt with as migrants first, then, they are categorized based on the reasons and circumstances which make them move. This led to having migrants and refugees in Europe. Thus, in Petra, both categories are used to differentiate between them.

The headlines about refugees express humanitarian aspects to sympathise with the suffering people due to their crisis. However, other aspects of burdens are also expressed but in order to attract the attention of the international community to Jordan’s limited resources and its need of help to be able to provide the required assistance to the vulnerable people. As mentioned earlier, there is a shift from the call for assistance to the call for solutions to end the crisis. In Europe, the headlines used are not as lenient as the headlines of the Jordan context. The European community does not easily accept the intrusion of the migrants and refugees. The headlines express aspects of rejection and burdens further to conflict between some of European countries.

Incidents of refugees were spread throughout the data (2012–2016), however, PETRA began discussing the migration issue in 2013, when people mainly Syrians began moving to Europe. The representation of refugees in PETRA differs based on the year of movement, where they were represented in a friendly manner at the beginning of the crisis due to the people’s sympathy with them. However, such friendly representation turned out to be relatively negative when their number increases being treated as burden and forming pressure on the scarce resources of most of the host countries, mainly Jordan. With regard to the representation of migrants, PETRA mainly focused on the inhumane treatment by the European countries by heavily including headlines that show the suffering of refugees and migrants when they entered Europe in addition to highlighting the disagreement between the European countries regarding this issue.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Future Research

Media is not a simple tool to deliver information, it is a vehicle to guide the ideological stance of the readers [28]. It is one of the most important tools that are used by the elites and government to influence the masses attitudes and control them. In the current study, the representation of the refugees and migrants varied based on the year when the refugees arrived in the hosting countries, their number, the economic and social situation of hosting countries, and many other factors. At the beginning of the crisis (when the Syrian war and internal conflict began), the host countries including Jordan expressed warm welcoming, and provided the assistance they can afford. However, after they began entering the hosting countries in large numbers, and causing pressure on the resources, people’s attitudes towards refugees changed.

This study used a particular type of data (news texts), in a particular language (Arabic), within a defined time-frame (2012–2016), geographical context (Jordan) to answer particular research questions. Therefore, we reflect on some points as limitations and recommendations of this research. The corpus of this study is well-compiled, and will be available for the public use. This corpus can be used by other researchers to examine the representation of refugees, migrants, and IDPs in the content of the articles, not only their headlines. As this study only looked at one Arabic news agency, it is recommended for future research to increase the number of news agencies. This may be accompanied by selecting some countries other than the one investigated in this study. For example, looking at some Turkish or German newspapers can provide a broader view about the investigated phenomenon and how language can be affected by governmental policies. Since this study only looked at news agency’s texts, future studies may examine other media outlets such as radio or TV news channels. Researchers can also compare and contrast media of the countries that hosted migrants and refugees with those which have not to see how the problem is addressed by those affected on the one hand, and those with no suffering or burdens of refuge or migration on the other hand. Another interesting way to broaden the analysis would be including some media outlets published in English. This would give the researchers the opportunity to check the influence language on the type of coverage.


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Haider, A.S., Olimy, S. The Representation of Laji’een (Refugees) and Muhajireen (Migrants) in the Headlines of Jordan News Agency (PETRA). Int J Semiot Law 32, 155–186 (2019).

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  • News headlines
  • Jordan News Agency (PETRA)
  • Refugees
  • Migrants
  • Discourse analysis