Of Hashtags and Refugees

11 months ago, a picture flashed across our television screens, filled social media feeds, and implanted itself firmly in our minds. The picture showed a young Syrian boy, only three years old. His body lay on a beach, looking almost as though he was sleeping. The young child had perished whilst trying to reach the safety of Europe.

This picture of Aylan Kurdi automatically went viral. Thousands took to social media to declare #RefugeesWelcome. All of a sudden, the media were forced to start talking about refugees as humans, rather than swarms. Politicians began to clamour for the opportunity to show that they were trying to help those fleeing war and persecution. Donations to the Calais “Jungle” increased drastically, making a huge difference to the lives of the men, women and children living there.

13707810_10154220686365295_7540269897887360021_nLess that a year after that picture went viral, things in the warehouse at Calais couldn’t be more different. Distribution of food parcels to the shelters had to be stopped for a couple of days to allow more donations of food to be collected. Only one sleeping bag and one blanket remained in the warehouse.

The trouble with viral media is that hashtags are quickly replaced, taking with them the attention of the media and the public. At the moment, it seems like everyone is talking about PokemonGo. It looks like amazing fun, but while the world is talking about computer games, refugees are in precisely the same situation as they were before.

This isn’t good enough. I want to be able to fix everything, but I’m sorry to say that nobody has a miracle solution. What I do know, however, is that people are suffering. They need help, and we can help them. You don’t have to be the next Erin Brockovitch or the new Mahatma Ghandi to help. Fundraise, dig through your old clothes and pass them on to local groups, who can then help distribute them to where they’re needed. If you’re involved with a youth group or a school, try getting a refugee or someone who has volunteered in the camps to come and give a talk, or get the kids involved with a scheme like Shoeboxes for Syria. Even just sharing posts on facebook and raising awareness of what is happening in Calais and beyond.

The important thing is that we do something. Don’t wait for another Aylan Kurdi before you say you will #HelpRefugees.

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