JOURNALISTS fleeing from stories and conflict?

It seems almost unthinkable. The common view is, where the action is, the journalists would, or should, be there.

But as the world marked World Refugee Day last week, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has raised concern about the increasing incidence of journalists feeling abroad to escape violence in conflict-torn areas and political crackdown.

In a report, RSF said twice as many journalists fled abroad in 2014 than in 2013 – and the “hemorrhaging” continues this year.

Scores of journalists from Syria, Libya, Ethiopia, and Azerbaijan have fled homes last year to escape violence or state harassment even as “no continent is spared by this trend.”

“It is clear that silencing journalists by forcing them to flee into exile is more than ever part of the repressive arsenal used by the media’s enemies,” RSF said.

RSF said the veritable “crisis” situation spares no continent in the world. “The causes may vary – armed conflict in Libya and Syria, or targeted persecution by governments in Ethiopia and Azerbaijan – but the result is the same. Crises develop, spread and take root.”

“More than 300 Syrian professional and citizen-journalists have fled abroad to escape systematic reprisals since the start of the conflict in Syria,” it said. “At least 43 Libyan journalists fled their country in 2014.”

RSF has also started close monitoring of the situation in Burundi, “where journalists have fled abroad to escape the grave acts of violence against the media that have accompanied the political crisis there.”

RSF said it “tries to assist all journalists who are forced to flee their country, helping these men and women to find a safe refuge or to cope with their most urgent needs because they are the victims of their commitment to freedom of information.”

“And because of the scale of this phenomenon, RSF is working with other international and regional NGOs that defend media freedom and support human rights defenders,” RSF said.

Around 80 percent of the assistance grants allocated by RSF in 2014 went to individuals, many of them journalists who have fled abroad. However, RSF said it also helps independent media and NGOs that continue to provide information despite being exposed to violence and crackdowns.

In its overview of its activities in support of journalists in difficulty in 2014, RSF said its offices in Paris and Berlin that are coordinating the administrative, material and financial support to journalists and media in difficulty,” disbursed 216 assistance grants with a total value of more than €325,000″ in 2014, compared with €163,000 in 2013.

RSF said the amount was disbursed for the following activities:

* Helping journalists who are victims of violence or persecution. Around 100 individual support grants (with an average value of €760) in 2014 was disbursed, RSF said, “to cover immediate needs, or medical or legal bills or to help journalists in danger to find a safe refuge.”

* Support for journalists fleeing chaos.
:In recent months, many journalists have fled the chaos and violence in Libya and Syria, two of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media. The threat of abduction or death drove 43 professional and citizen-journalists to flee Libya in 2014. More than 300 professional and citizen-journalists have fled abroad since the start of the conflict in Syria, where they are targets of systematic reprisals by government henchmen, armed opposition groups or members of Al-Nusra Front, Islamic State and other extremist militias. In 2014, RSF allocated 27 assistance grants to Syrians and 22 to Libyans with the aim of helping them cope with the trials and tribulations of exile.”

* Support for media victims of the civil war in the Central African Republic. “The media have not been spared by the civil war that has devastated the Central African Republic. Targeted in turn by the Seleka and Anti-Balaka, many were vandalized and looted. Journalists were threatened, arrested arbitrarily and held incommunicado. Four were killed in the violence although it has not yet been possible to establish whether they were targeted in connection with their journalistic activities. Others had to go into hiding or flee in 2014. RSF allocated nine grants designed to help ensure the safety of CAR journalists who were in danger.

* Support for media in “Azerbaijan, Europe’s biggest prison for journalists.” According to RSF, “an unprecedented crackdown on independent journalists, bloggers and information activities turned Azerbaijan into Europe’s biggest prison for news providers. The assistance desks of RSF’s international secretariat and German section together allocated 23 grants in 2014 to Azerbaijani journalists who were in exile or in prison, or to their relatives.”

By geographic regions of the world, RSF said 50% of funds to assist journalists in danger went to the MENA or Middle East and Northern Africa region; 14 percent to Afica; 13 percent to Europe and Central Asia; 13 percent to Asia/Pacific; and 3 percent to the Americas.

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