Baynana, Spain's self-proclaimed first refugee-run media outlet, focuses on "the good face of migrants in Spain". The new online news magazine was founded by four Syrian journalists who fled to Spain in 2019.
"The Lebanese woman who helps refugees integrate into Spain thanks to cooking"
"What drives Spaniards to learn Arabic?"
"The young influencer who fights against racism and Islamophobia from YouTube"
These three headlines -- translated from Arabic -- are typical stories published on Baynana.es, a news website run by refugee reporters in Spain. The stated goal of the new media outlet is to "provide useful and important information to the Arabic-speaking community in Spain, and to build bridges between migrants, refugees and Spanish people of foreign origin, and the rest of society."
In the words of Ayham al-Ghareeb, Baynana's aim is to show "the good face of migrants here in Spain," he told Agence France Press news agency. The 32-year-old, who came to Madrid with his wife and two young daughters, co-founded Spain's first refugee-led digital magazine together with three other Syrians.
Launched on April 7, Baynana is an innovative online 'magazine' whose Arabic name means "Between us". Articles are published in Arabic and Spanish.
From Syria to Spain
Before arriving in Madrid, Muhammed, Ayham, Okba and Moussa worked as journalists during Syria's bloody civil war. All four are originally from the southwestern Syrian city of Deraa, where Syrians first took to the streets in March 2011 to protest against President Bashar Assad.
In early 2019, the group fled to Turkey, then flew to Madrid in May with the help of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based press freedom watchdog.
"When the war started I was 12, but I knew very well what was going on because many people were out protesting -- near my home, in the mosque," Okba Mohamed, the youngest of the four who is now 22, told AFP. Just four years later, Mohamed began working for local news outlets, "recording protests, bombings".
Another founder, 31-year-old Muhammed Subat, told AFP he first studied psychology in the Syrian capital Damascus before starting to work for Syria TV, an Istanbul-based opposition television channel. Subat first worked in Syria, then in Turkey.
Although Spain was a place he had always wanted to visit because of soccer, he'd never imagined being there "as a refugee or migrant," he says. "I imagined coming here as a traveller or as a student. But that's life."
The fourth member of the team is Moussa al-Jamaat, 39, who also worked as a journalist in Syria. He built and maintains the Baynana.es website.
Focus on success stories
So far, the founders have emphasized successful migrant stories, such as that of Malak Zungi, the Lebanese founder of a project to train refugees as chefs in Spain, or Ashraf Kachach, a YouTuber with Moroccan roots who fights Islamophobia.
Another report profiled Sevilla striker Youssef en-Nesyri. The soccer player's success in La Liga, Spain's top soccer league, embodies the dreams of many youths in the Middle East and northern Africa.
As mentioned above, Baynana also seeks to provide "useful information" to Spain's Arabic-speaking community, especially migrants who face many challenges in their daily lives.
"There is not a lot of information in Arabic on how to get your residency papers," says co-founder al-Ghareeb. "It's a problem they themselves have faced while they wait for their asylum claims to be processed," AFP reports.
According to the Spanish NGO Commission for Refugee Aid (CEAR), more than 20,000 Syrians have sought refuge in Spain since 2011.
"I have been in Spain for nearly two years and I still can't travel so I can't see my family," says Mohamed, whose relatives still live as refugees in Jordan, the country bordering Syria that hosts the third-most Syrian refugees after Lebanon and Turkey.
The last time Mohamed saw his relatives was in 2014. Although life in Spain is "very safe," there is "racism against migrants and refugees," al-Ghareeb says. One example is how difficult it can be to rent an apartment.
Read more: The Refugee Journalism Project
Even when refugee and migration topics are covered in the media, the voices of migrants and refugees themselves are rarely heard. According to a study from January 2020, migrants and refugees tend to be the "silent bystanders of migration coverage." The study also discovered clear differences in the way the media in European countries report on migration and refugees, both in terms of quality and quantity.
What's more, migrants also tend to be underrepresented in newsrooms across Europe. In Germany, for instance, a survey by "Mediendienst Integration" from May 2020 found that only roughly one in 20 editors-in-chief had a so-called migration background.
Baynana presents itself as Spain's first refugee-run media outlet. One similar project in Germany, called Amal, Berlin! (Arabic for "Hope, Berlin!"), employs journalists from Afghanistan, Egypt, Iran and Syria. In late 2019, Berlin got its first Arabic-speaking radio station (Radio Arabica).
Baynana's potential audience within Spain -- home to around one million Arabic speakers, mostly from Morocco -- "is very broad", its Madrid-based editor Andrea Olea tells AFP. Among other things, the Spaniard translates her Syrian colleagues' articles into Spanish.
Moreover, there is a great deal of diversity among Spain's Arabic-speaking residents -- they include Moroccans "who come over to work on farms" and refugees with university degrees, Olea says.
"Baynana's staff share a modest office at the headquarters of Spanish foundation Por Causa which promotes investigative journalism about migration and is providing them logistical support," AFP reports.
Still, funding for the project remains tight. This is why the Baynana staff has launched a crowdfunding campaign, which has reeled in more than €3,500 since its start on April 7.
This article is based on a feature by AFP