In 2019, the High Level Panel of Legal Experts on Media Freedom designated the issue of safe refuge to journalists at risk as one of its key priorities. The High Level Panel followed this up in 2020 by publishing its advisory Report on Safe Refuge for Journalists at Risk, authored by Prof. Can Yeginsu. The report provided a series of recommendations for MFC member countries, the headline recommendation being the creation of an emergency visa for journalists at risk. This was followed by a number of important adjustments to states’ existing frameworks for safe relocation.
Since the publication of the report, several Coalition members have given effect to these recommendations or moved to expand their existing mechanisms in this area:
The Czech Republic: at the Global Conference on Media Freedom in Tallinn in February 2022, the Czech Republic pledged to provide rapid emergency visas to journalists in danger. Since then, the Czech Republic has given hundreds of these visas to journalists, predominantly those fleeing Russia and Belarus. The scheme, launched in May, is targeted at journalists in danger as well as civil society activists. It also works in partnership with Czech NGOs to support the relocation of journalists once they are in the Czech Republic.
>> Watch H. E. Mr. Jan Lipavský, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Czech Republic, explaining this scheme here
Canada: in 2021, Canada launched a dedicated refugee stream for human rights defenders, including journalists, as well as their family members, through its Government-Assisted Refugees Program. Working with Front Line Defenders and ProtectDefenders.eu, this dedicated refugee stream provides a safe haven for human rights defenders and journalists at risk who are fleeing persecution in their home country. Initially Canada pledged to resettle up to 250 people per year through this program – but in 2022 the scheme had already exceeded this commitment, having resettled 270 people as of August 2022.
Latvia: for several years, Latvia has provided safe refuge to Russian media organisations that were not able to operate in Russia. More recently, in 2020, Latvia assisted Belarussian media workers forced to flee the crackdown on independent media in Belarus. Assistance to independent exiled media expanded drastically following the full scale Russian invasion of Ukraine. Since February, Latvia has issued over 250 visas to independent media workers from Russia, plus around 200 visas to their family members. The government of Latvia also helped to establish an NGO-led media support hub in Riga, which provides emergency support to media workers relocated to Latvia and helps exiled media based or represented in Latvia to adapt their work models to the new circumstances.
Lithuania: from February to March 2022, Lithuania issued over 300 visas to journalists from Russia. Many journalists from Russia and Belarus are now continuing their journalism in Lithuania, while many associated media outlets are officially registered there. Lithuania’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also been working with other state institutions to support these journalists in obtaining legal permission to stay in Lithuania – this is an important step which allows them to, for example, register their activities and make and receive payments.
Germany: in October 2022 Germany launched a new programme to support and protect journalists, media professionals and defenders of freedom of expression in crisis and conflict zones abroad as well as those in exile in Germany. Journalists at risk from Afghanistan, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus will be supported as a first step, specifically through emergency scholarships, training measures, regional scholarship programmes and centres for journalists in exile in third countries, as well as with corresponding measures for those in exile in Germany.
Costa Rica has, for several years, provided safe refuge to journalists from Nicaragua – as well as other individuals including human rights defenders. Costa Rica’s aim is for those individuals who meet the requirements for refugee status recognition to obtain their documentation as soon as possible, while taking into account the personnel and resources of the concerned institutions.
Member states have also shared some important lessons from their efforts to provide emergency visas to journalists. These included:
- The importance of working closely with national or local NGOs on an emergency visa scheme. NGOs can help identify journalists in need of support, and can support those journalists, or act as an advocate for them, during the process.
- The importance of coordinating with multiple ministries and regularly exchanging information.
- Considering what support might be provided once journalists have been resettled. This may include support for individual journalists and their families (such as facilitating legal or administrative processes) or support to media organisations (such as finding premises or becoming registered in their new host country). The issue of registration is further complicated by the fact that many news organisations operating in exile are dispersed across multiple countries.
Can Yeginsu, the author of the High Level Panel’s report on emergency visas, said: “We have the beginnings of some momentum from the MFC member states. It is important that these efforts are sustained and put on a strong legal footing, and more states need to establish an emergency visa for journalists at risk. We recommend member states pledge a minimum of 50 emergency visas a year, which would have an enormous impact if implemented by the entire Coalition. There is no reason why safe refuge does not become a legacy initiative for which this coalition of democracies can be proud.”