Beyond victim and hero representations? A comparative analysis of UNHCR’s Instagram communication strategies for the Syrian and Ukrainian crises

  • Ongenaert D
  • Soler C
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Abstract

The Ukrainian crisis has received substantial Global Northern policy support and favourable news coverage, contrasting sharply with Global Southern crises. Nevertheless, refugee organizations can influence public perceptions through social media. This study comparatively analyses UNHCR’s Instagram communication strategies for the Ukrainian and Syrian crises (2022–2023). Applying a multimodal critical discourse analysis on UNHCR’s Instagram posts (N = 90), we discern interacting humanitarian and post-humanitarian appeals, involving inter- and intra-group hierarchies of deservingness, expanding research on humanitarian communication. While UNHCR mainly represents forcibly displaced Ukrainians as victims and focuses on ‘ideal victims’, it mostly portrays forcibly displaced Syrians as empowered individuals, likely due to context-specific differences and partially countering news and policy narratives. Both humanitarian representations often intersect with post-humanitarian strategies, facilitated by Instagram affordances. This study thus contributes to the literature on humanitarian communication with comparative crisis-specific and platform-specific insights and causes. Moreover, it nuances the often-assumed importance of post-humanitarian imageries on social media.

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Ongenaert, D., & Soler, C. (2024). Beyond victim and hero representations? A comparative analysis of UNHCR’s Instagram communication strategies for the Syrian and Ukrainian crises. Journal of Refugee Studies. https://doi.org/10.1093/jrs/feae035

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