Heroes, Hope, and How Migrant Stories Need Both

Amy Streator Wilson
3 min readJun 25, 2023

I’m sitting in a beach bar on Meganisi, one of the smallest populated Ionian Islands. It is beautiful here: turquoise waters, hazy mountain ranges on the distant mainland launching themselves over a millpond calm sea.

This tranquil part of the Mediterranean is only a few hundred kilometres away from the site where perhaps 600 people lost their lives last Tuesday.

The magnitude of this tragedy is put into bleak contrast with the Titan submersible story. Where the world’s media descended into a bizarre feeding frenzy around the search for 5 willing souls who paid for the privilege of plunging into the depths.

I’m not quite sure how to fit both of these stories inside my head. The enormity of the shipwreck tragedy feels like a creature from the deep, its gigantic maw surging up to engulf me entirely. I need to keep looking away, averting my eyes from the scant number of articles covering it.

The submersible story is far more engaging for several reasons:

  • There are five people involved, not 500. Our primitive mammalian brains can’t hold a number so high. Five is a manageable amount.
  • There are all the components of a great story here: an epic mission, several intrepid adventurers, a villain, an unforseen challenge…. and a time limit.
  • The outcome, for days, was uncertain. Could there be a heroic triumph over the odds? Would we find five corpses in a carbon fibre tube that’s locked from the outside bobbing on the surface days later? Or did they die instantaneously following a catastrophic implosion?

That the outcome was so definitive — a catastrophic implosion causing instant death, rather than days of trapped agony — was a relief to everybody.

It’s so much easier to engage in a story focused on misguided hubris than it is to give attention to a tragedy so huge we can’t fully feel it on a personal level.

Here are a few points that have struck me over the past week around the latest Greek tragedy:

  • Stories around illegal migration are full of villains and victims. This must change.

Why am I seeing more coverage about the human traffickers than I am about the brave individuals who decided to seek a better life? And why do most of the lucky survivors remain unnamed and portrayed as victims?

By focusing on the villains of the piece, the media are contributing to the “othering” of the people on board.

  • The world champions heroes and pities victims. So let’s focus on the former.

We need to reframe the tragic stories of faceless victims and see them for the heroic individual feats of bravery that they are.

Jack Dawson, the fictitious character played by Leo di Caprio in Titanic, was made famous by his show of strength and sacrifice in the 2001 blockbuster. But his story is the same as many illegal migrants. He paid a fare and joined a community excited about a promising new future he planned to forge for himself in a new land. And he lost his life in a cruel, brutal way.

Right up until the end, though, we held out hope for his survival. And this is the trickiest part of the illegal immigration story

  • We fail all illegal migrants through a lack of hope.

We need to not only reframe individuals from victims to heroes but we also need to tell a compelling story of hope.

What does an ideal outcome look like for a migrant who successfully washes up on the shores of Europe alive, yet lacking paperwork? I’d like to see fast-tracked work visas given to anyone willing to fill the positions so desperately needed in countries like the UK: fruit pickers, vegetable packers, cleaners, and entry-level care workers. I’d like to see stories of successful family dynasties invigorated by younger relatives. I’d like to see brilliant students and academics given the scholarships they deserve.

I want to see more stories of refugees and migrants that showcase who they really are: the genuine heroes of our time, not a difficult problem we need to bury beneath more popular headlines.

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Amy Streator Wilson

Interested in everything and everyone… yet hiking, travel, mountains, space, energy and sustainability really float my boat