Internet Activism #Refugeeswelcome
Over four years of war in Syria have led to the worst humanitarian crisis in a generation. More than 220,000 people (including over 10,000 children) have been killed, half of the country's population has been displaced and over four million people have fled the country. During this time we’ve all been watching the shocking images and hearing the heartbreaking personal stories of those affected through the press and via charities helping in the humanitarian crisis. Powerful personal stories have been able to humanise these otherwise faceless refugees but in the UK’s tabloid press, there’s still been much negativity around refugees fleeing to the UK. However, finally after a rise in increasingly vocal online campaigns, in recent days we’ve finally seen more positive reporting. Many people have set up crowdfunding sites and yesterday’s shocking images of drowned 3 year old Aylan Kurdi have grabbed the world's attention and led to many asking the UK to relax the rules and let refugees into the country via the hashtag #refugeeswelcome which has been trending today.
Those who remain inside Syria risk death, illness, abuse and exploitation on a daily basis but those fleeing are also extremely vulnerable. Whilst international agencies and charities are working hard to support millions of people who have fled to refugee camps, conditions are challenging and supplies are scarce. Those who flee further to try to find safety are also vulnerable. Latest statistics from the United Nations’ refugee agency shows that more than 2,500 people have lost their lives while crossing the Mediterranean Sea this year (while countless others have died stowed away in cramped unsafe vans and lorries).
The public reaction to Europe's migrant crisis has been deeply polarised; many in Europe have been horrified by the news of migrant deaths but there have also been several mass protests demanding stricter controls on the influx. Over the years it’s been evident that each European country has taken a different approach to the crisis. Germany expected to take at least 800,000 asylum seekers this year but this figure could increase to 1 million. Between June 2014 and June 2015, the UK took 166 Syrian refugees. This summer there’s been almost silence from British ministers over the distressing scenes unfolding across Europe. Downing Street is refusing to take part in a new quota system proposed by Berlin, which would see refugees fairly distributed among all 28 EU states.
It’s interesting to see the marked difference in media coverage of the crisis in the UK and Germany, even amongst tabloid newspapers. Some UK tabloids have used dehumanising language and have been responsible for spreading anti-refugee sentiment. Writing in the Sun, Katie Hopkins likened refugees crossing the Mediterranean to cockroaches. By contrast Bild (Germany’s best selling newspaper) ran the front-page headline “We are helping”. Obviously no country’s media is giving a completely fair and accurate picture of the crisis but Germany has had more sympathetic reporting on the plight of refugees crossing the Mediterranean. Last week German paper Bild dubbed Britain “the slacker of Europe”. It said the UK had taken only 114 refugees for every million of population – a third of the EU average (Germany had taken 905 and Hungary 3,322).
In Britain, the tone of much tabloid coverage has been remorselessly negative. In May the Daily Mail ran the headline “How many more can Kos take?” reporting that “thousands of boat people from Syria and Afghanistan” had set up a “migrant camp” and that British holiday makers found the situation “disgusting”. Last week the Mail illustrated a story about the rise in net migration to the UK with the headline “How many more can we take?” saying that many of the “migrants” would now try to “sneak into Britain”.
However, today there finally appeared to be a shift with the Sun’s front page and editorial urging the prime minister to help those in situations “not of their own making” saying: “Mr Cameron, summer is over … Now deal with the biggest crisis facing Europe since WW2.”
Yesterday's tragic images led to many using social media to say that those fleeing war and persecution are welcome in the UK. People across the country have been calling on the government to address the plight of those trying to escape conflict. A petition urging the Government to accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugees in the UK has already gained nearly 220,000 signatures, the social media campaign #refugeeswelcome is a top trend on Twitter and a pro-refugee rally in central London is planned for 12 September.
Many charity groups have long offered support to asylum seekers, some of which are listed below. I hope that more sympathetic and positive media coverage and the increase in online activism makes a big difference and leads to the UK supporting more vulnerable refugees. If you want to make a difference, here’s what YOU can do:
Many charities are desperate for donations:
Migrant Offshore Aid Station are dedicated to preventing migrant deaths at sea.
Refugee Action provide advice and legal support for asylum seekers.
Doctors of the World are providing essential medical attention to migrants living in appalling conditions in and around Calais.
Women’s Refugee Commission works to empower women and their children during humanitarian crisis.
Save The Children are distributing much-needed items for children and babies such as nappies, food and first aid kits.
There are a number of petitions online, this one hopes to force the Government into accepting more refugees into Britain. It’s already topped 180,000.
You can email your MP via this 38 degrees page
Please share this blog so other people know how to help & let online friends know when you’ve signed a petition.