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#RefugeesWelcome - Social Media's Massive Response to Humanitarian Crisis

Refugees in Munich celebrating the end of their journey (via The Guardian)

We are, globally, right in the middle of a humanitarian disaster. Since 2011, civil war has been raging in Syria, the Arab Spring protests led to violent governmental and militaristic crackdowns as millions of citizens flee the country for fear of being killed or worse. The vast majority of these refugees are moving through the Middle East and into continental Europe, hoping to find somewhere to settle until the danger subsides and they can safely return home. The trouble is, not all EU governments have been entirely welcoming and there are small, but significant, pockets of people across Europe that are demanding that the Syrians be turned away.

In recent weeks though, there has been a momentum shift. Germany, who were already one of the most welcoming countries to asylum seekers in the EU, relatively speaking, made headlines as Angela Merkel made the decision to go around EU statutes and welcome more than 800,000 refugees into the country. Elsewhere, tragic stories of the dangerous journey from Syria to Europe have been trending all across social media and capturing the hearts of millions, as well as resulting in a complete 180 by the British print media.



One particular image of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi lying dead on a Turkish shore has had an understandably massive impact. It's a far cry from a unique story, but the images have circulated so widely that it has ushered in a new phase of public condemnation about the stringent attitude towards asylum seekers being taken by much of the EU. The #refugeeswelcome hashtag in particular has served to underline both the elation of the wayward souls taken in by Germany and the outrage that so many are still being turned away elsewhere, many of them stranded in Calais, unable to either move on the to the UK or back into France.



Various videos and testimonials from both sides of the argument have started to surface. On the brighter side, footage of hundreds of German citizens happily welcoming refugees in, offering them water and other essentials as they arrive, has caught on massively. On the other side a series of interviews with refugees in various areas across Europe have garnered a similarly sizeable response. One boy, interviewed while camped out in Budapest, got a particularly significant amount of attention with his pleas for the governments of the world to address the real issue: the war itself.


"Please help the Syrians... The Syrians need help now. Just stop the war. We don't want to stay in Europe, just stop the...
Posted by Al Jazeera English on Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The increased activity has migrated offline and even to places half a world away from the action. Thousands of people gathered across various different parts of Australia on Monday evening to pay tribute to Aylan and his family, as well as throw further weight behind the push for more governmental action. The fact of the matter is, the images of Aylan would never have made it anywhere near as far without public intervention. The first place they appeared was Twitter, as outraged onlookers recorded a Turkish police officer carrying the body away. Their emergence on these platforms sparked a massive debate about when it's appropriate to display such shocking material, with Facebook attempting to outright block them (which, of course, just put them in the crosshairs).



It's an age old argument, whether or not disturbing imagery should be used to get people's attention and there's no easy answer. Much of the print media opted to use the images, but the internet being what it is, many people misused them, editing them to trivialise them or undercut the issue in some other way. It's hard to quibble over censorship issues though when there have been clear, recognisable results.



David Cameron has now pledged to outline a new plan to take on more refugees, expectedly over 10,000, which still pales in comparison to Germany, but the pressure isn't going to let up any time soon so that figure could rise even further. Since 2011, the UK has granted asylum to 4,980 Syrian refugees and offered protection to 216, according to the BBC.

Social media, and the way it's mediated the public response to this crisis has a small, but significant role to play as things carry on. Germany and Austria have both been shining examples of how to react to the situation and some other nations are following suit but there's still resistance. Back in Budapest, refugees have reportedly been forced off trains, having already been stranded at the station in tight, disorganised crowds for more than 48 hours. Meanwhile in Greece, there have been heated clashes between the police and people desperately trying to get to the mainland from islands such as Lesvos. The Greek government has asserted that it simply does not have the necessary funding to address the issue properly, although Germany have now started sending even more aid there.



It's not often I encourage action in an article, but please spread the message around whatever platforms you can, the louder the outcry becomes, the more help these people will get. Beyond that, there are dozens of initiatives to bring food, clothes and general aid to stranded Syrians, finding out how to get involved has never been easier, take advantage of it


Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop. Follow him @CallumAtSMF

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#RefugeesWelcome - Social Media's Massive Response to Humanitarian Crisis Reviewed by Callum Davies on Monday, September 07, 2015 Rating: 5

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