How maps in the media make us more negative about migrants

It’s like one of those optical illusions: it looks like one face at first, but it’s actually two. Once you see the second face, you can never unsee it. 

In this case, the illusion is how we view migration – it’s the maps we see so frequently that visualise migration for us.

These maps are everywhere. in textbooks, on the news and in policy documents. Maps that show arrows pointing towards Europe, representing on their way to the EU. 

Those maps may look informative and factual, but are actually anything but neutral. In fact, they subconsciously strengthen the ugly underbelly of anti-migration sentiments in Europe.

Far more than we realise, the maps dictate the opinions and emotions that we form about migration. How is that possible? And above all, is there a better way to do it

We – professor of political geography Henk van Houtum, designer Leon de Korte and correspondent Maite Vermeulen – decided to take a stab at answering that question. In words, but first and foremost in images. Because once you see it, you can never unsee it.