YOU’RE probably aware that it was World Refugee Day on Tuesday. It was a day designed to show solidarity with the suffering of the upwards of 22 million people – equivalent to the entire population of Australia – across the globe forced to flee their homes because of persecution, war or violence.
The day was conceptualised by the United Nations in the hope it would shine a light on the plight of these vulnerable masses and urge governments to work together in finding a solution to this undeniable global crisis.
In support of the movement, YouTube teamed up with the International Rescue Committee to tell the stories of individual refugees through a series of short videos put together by well-known vloggers.
The hope was for the videos to be a beacon of kindness and understanding. Sadly, a project that began with good intentions quickly became a lightening rod for hatred and division.
The videos, under the campaign #MoreThanARefugee, depicted the real life stories of refugees as they dealt with being uprooted and settling in a foreign land. These are heart-warming tales of ordinary people learning to live in extraordinary circumstances, a unifying human story – or so I thought.
These empathy-inducing videos have received nothing short of a Nazi-esque backlash, receiving far more dislikes than likes and provoking hateful comments that would make Hitler blush.
Perhaps it was borne from my naivety, but the last thing I expected after watching the uplifting video was the waves of hatred contained in the comments section.
Pure vitriol and what seems like unbridled loathing is pretty much all you can find there. A torrent of abuse directed towards these most unlikely of targets:
Maybe this isn’t surprising to some people, maybe I’m naïve in my belief that people don’t want to see others suffer, but this really alarmed me.
I understand there are a variety of reasons as to why people are reluctant to embrace refugees. They’re not reasons I tend to agree with, but they are generally voiced from a logical if misguided standpoint – the fear of the faceless ‘other’ can be a convincing narrative. But I always trusted that if you could humanise the issue, put a real face to the otherwise inconceivable crisis, then people would connect on a personal level and our humanity and common decency would prevail.
That is exactly what the YouTube campaign aims to do. To cut through the statistics and the fear and to tell the stories of some of the world’s most desperate people. To present them as unique individuals whose lives have been upended by unjust wars and conflict, people who are vulnerable but still hold a remarkable amount of dignity in their time of great need.
The hope was that maybe we could see a bit of ourselves in them, to contemplate what we would do if it was our family at perpetual risk of terror and suffering, and think how we would want to be treated had we been dealt a different hand in life.
But somewhere along the way, this level of humanity seems to have been lost on a large section of the population.
Perhaps we’ve shut down because the reality is too much to handle. Trying to put yourself in their position triggers a horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach. Hearing about the persecution, the drownings, the dead of night scurrying across borders – it all makes for uncomfortable reading.
The problem seems insurmountable, and until we come together to combat it, it will be. More bodies will wash up on shores, and more children will die at the hands of dictators and drones. Given the backlash to this innocent campaign, it is clear that we are long way off this happening. It appears those of us who want to see more sympathetic treatment of these vulnerable masses have failed to win over public opinion. And sadly, the cost of that is death.