Anna Andreeva
Master of Public communications in security and defence



lieutenant-colonel Sasho Wodenicharsky, Ph.D.
Chief Assistant in Psychology and Leadership Department

Abstract: This article tackles the problem with the lack of a proper communication model for refugee integration. Over the last couple of years, the refugee crisis has impacted all of Europe and extraordinary measures have been taken to resolve the problem, but unfortunately the communication strategy for integration was not successful enough. In this paper, several new models are proposed for communication and deliverance of information, through which foreign citizens can become an integral part of society. The method of gamification has been used and applied in this strategy.

Key words: Refugees, Integration. Migrants, Refugee Crisis, Strategic communications, Communication Models, Communication strategy, Gamification, New approach, Information.


Over the last couple of years, the refugee crisis has been leading the charts for most discussed subjects on a European and even worldwide level. In the republic of Bulgaria, it quickly turned into the main internally political issue. Until recently, our country was seen mainly as a source for economic migrants to “old Europe”. Today, however, it is also a focal point for people seeking asylum and refuge in the EU, who come from far away countries and regions- mainly from the Middle East such as: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as some African regions. The presence of refugees in our country gave way for a big populist wave in the media articles and in the messages conveyed by politicians. The Bulgarian parties are racing to see which one will take more restrictive measures and a firmer position in regards to the migrants. Unfortunately, our country does not have a complete and specific communication model, which can be applied not only to the Bulgarian citizens, but also to the refugees – in regards to their welcome, investigation and integration.

Status of the refugee crisis in Bulgaria at the moment and politics for integration of those who have been granted asylum

The beginning of the refugee crisis in our country is linked to the arrival of the first waves from the Middle East in 2012. Detailed information of citizens from Arabic countries who have sought refuge in our country show the following: 2012  – 1387 people; 2013 – 7144 people; 2014 – 11081 people; 2015 – 20391 people; 2016 – 19 418 people; 2017 – 3334 people.1 Therefore, the most significant wave of migrants is registered in the period 2015 –2016.

Between 2005 – 2013 the models for achieving integration were based on the “National program for the integration of refugees in the Republic of Bulgaria”, which was applied over a 3-year period. This way between 60 – 100 people annually had the right to integrational support.2 It included financial aid for housing, social aid, health insurance, Bulgarian language classes, social orientation and cultural adaptation, professional training, translating services and support in realizing their basic rights3 The result was unsatisfactory – very few people are fully integrated (as of January 2018). Because of this, the approach was changed. The “National strategy for the integration of people who have received international protection in the Republic of Bulgaria” (2014 – 2020)4 was accepted. This act was followed by the write up of “The National strategy in the area of migration, refuge and integration” (2015 – 2020)5 which replaced the previous one.

In August 2016, the government also passed the “Ordinance on an integration agreement for the implementation of the Asylum and Refugees Act”(ARA)5 – a vital instrument, based in the strategy from 2015. With this ordinance the responsibility for integrational politics is transferred to the municipal SAR (The State Agency for Refugees). The main part of it is the signing of an agreement within a year, between the mayor or the state representative and the refugee. Despite being closer to realization and the specification of integrational actions according to time, place and participants, the Ordinance did not produce the expected results. The almost complete lack of explanatory campaigns amongst the people, as well as the local authority, created a platform for populist appearances of certain political powers and media against the refugees. The feeling of failure was intensified with the coverage of several protests (for example in Harmanli), unsuccessful settlings (Rozovo, Ihtiman, Kovachevtsi and other places) and information, more often than not “fake news”, but quickly spread in the social medias (the difficulties with the cost and building of the Bulgaria – Turkish border, its collapses, sexual harassments by migrants on the local women on the train station in Cologne, Germany and many others). Today, their integration seems like an impossible mission.

It was clear that working with target audiences on a specific scenario, preceding wide information campaigns, has no alternative and needs to be in the core of such actions, which change the social attitudes perceived as a threat to the Bulgarian values, peace and traditions. This was confirmed once more, when brought for discussion and acceptance in the National Assembly was the so called “Istanbul Convention”.

As an example of working and focused communication structures, can be the ones pointed out by NATO. For several years now, The Alliance is used by the advantage of the so called Strategic communications. This activity covers five separate units, related to informing the public and influencing the approved audiences. Information operations, Public diplomacy, Civil relations with the public, Military relations with the public and Psychological operations. Of course, when taking on coordinative documents, things do not always go smoothly in every aspect. “One of NATO’s main principles is that we cannot counterattack propaganda with more propaganda”7 stated the speaker for Allianz Oana, Lundjesku.

In the Republic of Bulgaria there isn’t only a lack of such a structure on a national level, but some units are also not present to influence daily, to hold separate campaigns and to professionally and responsibly inform the public for specific situations. For now, we have:

  • Pilot course on Strategic communication (Sofia, 2014) for the staff of the Ministry of Defense, and one more – in the Military Academy “G. Rakovski”, as well as the course in the Master’s Degree program “Public Communications in Security and Defense” – also held there;
  • Lectures held by professionals in Public diplomacy, held in the courses of the Bulgarian Diplomacy Institute (since 2007) and several other universities;
  • The Bulgarian Army has a company for Psychological operations

It is clear that, the National Authority for Strategic communications would be extremely useful in spreading the facts, circumstances and politics of the country in relation to the refugee crisis, but also to actively influence the public discussion. Last but not least in importance, the structure is required in order to counter foreign propaganda.

Model for communicational campaigns for integration of refugees and reducing the fear in the Bulgarian citizens during the refugee crisis

A developed communicational model on a national level is required for the successful resolution with the refugee crisis. Its aim can be to facilitate the quick and successful integration of migrants in the country. The people who are granted a status in Bulgaria, should become part of the community and not remain marginal – but also to contribute to the community. Such a strategy aims to facilitate the process of their “inclusion”, where they are introduced in an easily accessible way to basic laws, principles and possibilities in our country. In this, it is right to differentiate two main sub-goals: improving the attitude of the Bulgarian community towards the acceptance of refugees and, relatively, improving the attitude of the refugees towards life and development in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Because of the populist wave, fueled by the media and political powers, a large percentage of our society is afraid of migrants. The “Father of History” – Herodotus8 also writes about the troubles refugees bring. It is exactly against these negative attitudes, that we need to work – for overcoming them. The Bulgarian people need to be given objective information, regarding the real reasons why these people leave their native countries and how they can contribute to our country.

On the other hand, migrants with Arabic backgrounds, but also those from Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, who come into our territory are not informed well enough about the rules, laws, cultural differences and opportunities in Europe and Bulgaria. For many of them, our country is just a transit point – they often (and willingly) share, that their goal is to reach West Europe, most often Germany and Sweden. Many of the refugees on our territory are people with education and professions, which could be useful in the development of the economy and to fill job positions in several fields, but it is hard for them to receive information on where and how they can find work. The other part of the refugees are young and strong men, but have no desire to start work here and to contribute to the country which has given them status. This can and should also be changed – through professional broadcasting of messages according to the interests of the concerned sides.

The communication strategy, which can be implemented in order to achieve the above- mentioned goals, would need to change and/ or further develop the already existing tactics and approaches. Considering the accessible information on the topic, the scale of the phenomenon and the collected experience, the conventional efforts and rulings are clearly insufficient for achieving a mutual understanding and quick integration, which can contribute to the community and the nation. From this inconvenient point – between the Scylla of international agreements and pressure to accept refugees in quotas, on one hand, and on the other – the Charybdis of the traumatic national memory of accepting refugees in small groups of Armenians at the end of XX century, white- guards at the beginning of the XX century and Bulgarians from Malaysia , East Thrace , the Aegean sea and geographical Macedonia (after the Balkan war and the WWI) , we can come out with developing and implementing new, creative and proven effective methods. This is what they have done in neighboring countries – in the Republic of Turkey, for example, they refer to the refugees settled in their country as “guests”. After all, guests are welcome, but at some point they leave…

In the last couple of years, especially after 2003, a new approach of communication was implemented (after 2011 it has also been used in social media) this is the so called gamification (English Term). It is perceived as a process of implementing the elements of a game into a campaign or initiative, where the expectations are that it increases the results multiple times. Gamification guarantees a virus – like effect of spreading, ensures the participation of the users, the perception of a given product or service becomes immensely quicker and easier. According to Yu-kai Chou, one of the pioneers of this industry “Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This is what I call “Human-Focused Design” as opposed to the “Function-Focused Design.” It is a design process that optimizes for the human in the system, as opposed to pure efficiency of the system.”9

According to him, games control the motivation and interest, which is why we can learn a lot from them. They have the incredible ability to keep people involved, to build trust- based relationships between them and to develop their creative potential.

A main principle of gamification is to guarantee the reception of constant, measurable feedback from the consumer; the possibility for a dynamic correction of the consumer behavior and, as a result, the quick assimilation of all functional possibilities of the application, with a step by step introduction of the details to the consumer.

Another method of gamification is the creation of a legend or a story, which guides the process of using the application. By applying dramatic approaches, a sense of understanding is created in the consumer, that they are a part of a cause, and are interested in reaching the set goals. Not only this, but in gamification, a step by step modification and complication is applied to the problems and with that to the consumer experience, which ensures development of the exploited results by maintaining the interest of the consumer.

Main characteristics of gamification are:

  • Dynamics: using a scenario, which requires the attention of the consumer and reaction in real time.
  • Mechanics: using elements, characteristic of computer games such as virtual games, statuses, presents etc.
  • Esthetics: creating an overall impression for a game, which contributes to the emotional involvement.
  • Social interaction: a wide specter of techniques, providing interaction between the users, which is characteristic of such games.10

It works because it leverages the motivations and desires that exist in all of us for community, feedback, achievement and reward. When combined with the latest research on motivation and the big data generated by user interactions, gamification empowers businesses to create true loyalty.11

The dramatic approach to gamification, can turn out to be especially useful for creating a successful strategy for integration of refugees and control over the refugee waves.

The two main target groups, which can be cover by the eventual strategy are: The Bulgarian citizens and the refugees. The latter on their part are divided into two subgroups, metaphorically called “Aladdin” and “Sinbad”

On the target group of the Bulgarians will be focused methods for accepting the refugees, since until now our perception has a lot of fear from them planted in it, because of the massive populist campaigns. As of September 2016, 61% of the citizens see the migration as the most serious outside threat to national security. The “Eurobarometer” (November 2016) shows, that 71% are against the settlement of third world country citizens in Bulgaria (outside of the EU borders).12 The national representative sociological survey conducted by “Sova Harris” on the request of the Institute of Economics and International Relations and “Friedrich Ebert” Foundation shows, that in Bulgaria the attitude towards the refugees is not one-sided and is strongly influenced by the public messages.

The most important conclusion is, that the Bulgarian society is soaked with a series of fears towards the refugees, but for the bigger part of the Bulgarian community (with the exception of the 5%) these fears have not turned into hate towards the refugees and do not carry the ideological load of xenophobia. The majority of the nation thinks that, the refugees present a threat to the national security of Bulgaria considering the difficulties with integration, fear of different religions, ethnos and culture, but most of all the anxiety that our country is currently in a hard economic state. The overall opinion is that, the solution for the problem with the refugees should be the same for all countries within the EU.13

The refugee target group shows several types of attitudes according to which we identify two subgroups – refugees, who have no desire to work and to integrate in our country, and refugees who have successfully been integrated. As was above mentioned, the two subgroups are metaphorically called “Aladdin” and “Sinbad”. “Aladdin” represents primarily the refugees with an Arabic background, who have no desire to be integrated and mainly wait on support from the state or in other words “rub the magic lamp and wait for everything to be given to them”. “Sinbad” are their opposite: these are “travelers”and “explorers” who, just like in fairytales, are adventurous, have desire to conquer new territories and to learn more about them and contribute to the local community. In relation to developing such a communication strategy, an interview was held with a representative of the refugee community in Bulgaria – Alla Alturkmani (further on A. A). He can be absolutely associated with the “Sinbad” group. A. A. is of a Syrian background. He left his country five years ago, just a little bit before the start of the big refugee waves. The reason he left was the civil war and that, the day after he graduated from university, he was summoned to join the army, with no right of turning it down. His only option was to run. He came to Bulgaria. He had ambitions to travel to West Europe, but due to lack of funds, he gave up. After this he started working as a general employee, despite the fact that he has a university education in economics and quickly learned Bulgarian. He just didn’t receive any information from the authorities here on where and how to search for a job. After he became friends with Bulgarians, they provide him with the required information and currently Alla works in three places – not as a general employee, but as a qualified member in his field, he even teaches Arabic to Bulgarians in a school. A. A. lives with Bulgarians and all his friends are Bulgarians. He does not want to move to West Europe and is happy in Bulgaria. There are several conclusions which can be made from this interview. In first place is the misinformation regarding opportunities for development and the applied laws of the country. The refugee centers have no authorities, who can provide information about where to find a job, living space, etc., this is handled only by voluntary nonprofit government organizations (NGOs). This is extremely insufficient, in order to be able to help everyone with their questions in the refugee camps. For this purpose, the communication needs to be changed in the centers themselves, in order to have information easily accessible for all who are taken in. As a second point, we can conclude that the Bulgarian community is not always against integrating refugees, and that it can even be helpful. Because of this, we need to work in the direction of informing Bulgarian citizens, on how they can help with the integration and in this way to remove the fear rooted by the media and political powers. Integration is not a “mission impossible” and with the proper strategy can be quite easy.

On the other hand, though, there are people in the “Aladdin” group which have no desire to be integrated in society. Towards them the approach needs to be different, because with this state of refusal of any kind of integration, these people can become harmful to society. Aside from information, we need to focus on working on their moral values and attitudes, mainly with their culture, as it is vastly different from European culture.

The methods and tactics, which were concluded after the research was held and the chosen approach of gamification, are focused on the Bulgarian citizens and the refugee society in Bulgaria. The name of the campaign will be “Choose the right way”. The tactics are focused towards the target –groups are:

  1. Book-Game (for the Bulgarian community): In the book the reader will usually be put in the role of the main character and according to their actions, what they decide and choose, the story changes. In the case of integration. The book will present the following: We place the reader in the shoes of the Syrian citizen. The story begins with them departing from their country and develops on their way to Europe and their first couple of months in the European country in which they have arrived, in this case Bulgaria. Whatever choice the reader makes, the main character will always be at a disadvantage and will have problems. For example: On page three the reader is presented with a question: “Do I pay a trafficker to take me across the border or do I try to cross it myself?” If they choose the first option, the reader has to turn to page six, where the main character is cheated by the trafficker and is not boarded on the boat or the boat sinks; if they pick the second option, they turn to page eight, where the main character is captured by a persona “type Dinko”, tied with pig tails and beaten. The aim of the book is to provoke compassion in the Bulgarian reader while “in the shoes” of the refugee, and to see why this person is running from their own country and what obstacles they must face and how they live – after understanding the problem with integration, it would be much easier for it to be resolved and the percentage of fear in the Bulgarian people regarding the topic of “migrants” will decrease.
  2. Book-Game (for the refugee society): The book-game, focused towards refugees will be based on the same principle and will be in Arabic (Pashto, Dari etc.). In it though, the main character will be a refugee and the “right way” for them will be to choose to integrate because in this way their life will be easier and trouble- free. There will be directions on finding work, language courses and basic laws in the country. If the reader chooses a development of the act, where they become a part of the Bulgarian community, the book will have a happy ending; if they choose not to work and have no desire to integrate, then the main character will have problems. Specifics: the book will open and be read from right to left – opposite the Bulgarian book.
  3. An installation in a public place (for the Bulgarian society): Labyrinth – the second chosen tactic is to install a labyrinth in the larger cities and cities which have refugee centers. The labyrinth will be open to everyone who would like to go in, but there will be no explanation on what it is for. In the labyrinth there will be questions and if the right answer is given – it will guide them in the right direction they should go. You would be able to reach the exit only if the correct answers are given, which would be in favor of integration. For example: “Would you help an educated refugee to find a job?”. If the answer is “yes”, the direction will be towards the exit, if “no” it will mislead you in the wrong direction and you would go further into the labyrinth.
  4. An installation for refugee camps “Labyrinth”: the idea for the installation is the same as with the Bulgarian target-group, but here the way towards the exit is after choosing to integrate.
  5. Television game with bread making: this is focused towards from target-groups – because as is in Christianity, so is in the Islam, bread is a sacred food. It will be broadcasted on as a TV or online show for making bread following Bulgarian or Arabic recipes. Aside from bread they can cook other meals as well, since food and its preparation are methods for bringing people together.

For example, we can point to Germany, where there is already a television broadcast that is targeting refugees since 2015. The broadcast is on NTVV and is called “Marhaba – Welcome to Germany!” And is in Arabic. Since September 2015, n-tv host Konstantin Schreiber has attracted Germany closer to refugees in more than a dozen episodes of the multi-layered Marhaba – Arrival in Germany series. In early March 2016 he was awarded the prestigious Grimm Prize. His task is to explain to refugees basic rules, laws and traditions in Germany. In the beginning is the Basic Law. Why? Because much of our freedom and history are centered on it, and it’s a kind of compass that shows where we come from and what makes us different. It is about the role of religion, the relationship between men and women – because of all the debates that have arisen. These issues are not addressed in the Basic Law.

But in clear and unambiguous terms, it is stated what we mean: “The dignity of man is inviolable, his respect and his defense is the duty of all state power”, “Everyone has the right to the free development of his person” and “All men are equal before the law” – the host said.14

  1. Courses following suggestology (for refugee centers): in the refugee centers they should learn Bulgarian language. The best way, especially for kids, is through games.
  2. Mobile application: it will be in different languages: Bulgarian, English and Arabic (Pashto, Dari etc.). In it there will be information for the locals and for the refugees. There will be games and Bulgarian language lessons. It will also contain links to different site for schools, work, academies etc.

We can conclude that, until now there hasn’t been a successful model for refugee integration- not only in Bulgaria, but in all of Europe. The tactics, which we are implementing are easy to execute, and it can be assumed that, based on the concept for a game, compassion and shown results in two types of solutions, out of which there is only one “right choice”, there will be a more tangible effect over the process for integration in Bulgaria and Europe as a whole.

The communication channels, which would be suitable for promoting such a campaign are the traditional media, which would show the activities mainly through reporting and interviews; online media, where they can publish interesting interviews, materials and even part of the games; and social media, where they can have a mass campaign for events, mainly focused on the younger audience, who use mobile devices.

The main concept of the created strategy, would be to support the institutions and organizations which work in this field. These are precisely: The European External Action Service, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee on Non-Military Aspects of Crisis Management in the CFSP, the State Agency for Refugees, the European Youth Forum, the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. The youth organizations can be extremely helpful. They have a large influence over younger communities and a large part of them work as volunteer organizations.

1 Institute for European Policies, Bulgaria, the EU and the “Refugee crisis”. How to improve the policy of international protection and integration of refugees?

2 Ibidem.

3 For the specific measures, see: Star Vankova, Monitoring Report on the Integration of People Who Have Received International Protection in the Republic of Bulgaria in 2014, p. 7

4 More detailed in: National Strategy for Integration of People Who Have Received International Protection in the Republic of Bulgaria (2014 – 2020).

5 More detailed in: National Strategy on Migration, Asylum and Integration.

6 More detailed in: Law on Asylum and Refugees, 2015.

7 NATO with a new communication strategy against Russia’s disinformation efforts. [Available from: 28.01.2018].

8 Herodotus. History, Part I, “The Story of Crez”. Fofia: Science and Art, 1986, pp. 40-43.

9 Chou, Yu-Kai. What is Gamification. [Available from: 05.02.2018]., 3.02.2017,

10 Terminology Dictionary, Gamification,, last visited on 03/02/2018

11 What is gamification? [last visited on 2.02.2018]

12 Institute for European Policies, Bulgaria, the EU…

13 Kyuchukov, Lubomir. Influence of the Refugee Crisis on Bulgarian Society and Bulgarian Politics: Fears, But Not Hate, p. 15.

14 Auszug aus “Marhaba, Flüchtling!” Unsere Scharia heißt Grundgesetz. [Available from: 13.02.2018].

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