Social Media: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

For every horrendous human atrocity (that makes Western media headlines), there is a social media reaction. People who don’t normally post political opinions or comments, or even follow the news want to share their thoughts with the world. It is a strange phenomenon, but it has somehow become a normalised form of behaviour in our society.

Friday 13th, sparked a variety of opinions on social media platforms. Five main categories of thought can thus be observed, including their counter comments.

Firstly, some Muslims felt obliged to apologise for their religion. Then there are the Muslims that comment on the latter, clearly stating that they must not apologise for their religion, as ISIS does not represent their beliefs.


Secondly, there are those that blame the refugee crisis for what happened. They are simply reflecting the views of right-wing politicians. Then there are those that express strong counter arguments to the latter – explaining that the refugees are not to blame and that they are fleeing the same terrors that just hit France.


Thirdly, there are those that show their support to France by using a transparent version of the French flag superimposed on their Facebook profile picture.  Then there are those that  refuse to change their profile pictures, as they see it as an outrage that we, as a society, have a selective form of grievance. That we overlook the human tragedies happening elsewhere. Hinting towards the idea, and in some cases, clearly stating that white lives bear more importance, or so it would seem, than non-whites. Thus creating a ‘Them’ and ‘Us’ rhetoric.

Click to view video.


The fourth main stance that can be observed, is the idea that France had this coming to her. That since the 1970s most of the Western hemisphere has made some awful political decisions, and that their policies with regards to the Middle East are rotten to their core, outdated and need to be changed.


The Return of the Boomerang

Another social media reaction that can be perceived as a post-incident reaction, is the coping strategy of the French people. Many people are scared, and shaken as another attack may be waiting around the corner. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who refuse that their freedoms, and love for life be reduced to a life of fear. Consequently encouraging people to go about their lives, and even go that extra mile, such as this amusing Facebook community page.

Lastly, there are those that adopt a more general perspective on the incident and call for world solidarity. This last trail of thought is not exclusive to all of the above. It is a theme that seems to be a widespread conclusion, however, the reasoning leading up to it can be very different at times.

All in all, these are just mere observations, but what can be said of them? And what do they tell us about our society? These questions bear many possible answers… In the meantime, almost two weeks have passed since the horrible attacks in Paris, and my Facebook newsfeed has gone back to its usual business – featuring posts from The Lad Bible, for example.




An Attack On Our Way Of Life

On Friday night, France was a victim of a series of terrorist attacks, killing at least 129 people.

Paris attacks

The chosen locations are interesting, in the sense that the attacks were not on the really ‘glitzy’ and touristy parts of Paris. Instead, the bombers targeted places of leisure:  a football stadium, a concert hall, and various restaurants and cafés.

What’s more, they chose a Friday night to commit these atrocities. Friday nights, in Western culture are typically known as the day, where one can ‘let down their hair’, ‘kick back and relax’ – or so to speak.

When I first heard about the attacks, I was scared for the people in Paris, some of them close friends of mine. I reassured myself that they were safe, luckily they were – for some, it was unfortunately not the case. Then I started to research the subject in more depth. When I had time to digest the unpleasant information, my initial fear and worry, soon turned into anger, as I realised that the attacks were not upon individual citizens, or on France as a state, but on the Western way of life.

France spread the famous words “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité”, and the spirit of revolution throughout Europe, after their own bloody battle for freedom in 1789. Many historians argue, that Europe as we know it today would not exist without the legacy that the French Revolution left behind. This may be a romantic vision of France’s impact on Europe, however, it still holds a special symbolic value in modern Europe, and Western culture. France is one of the first European countries where the people stood up for their rights, and fought for the many freedoms we enjoy today.


Facebook post

Given the terrorists’ choice of venues; the significance of Friday night in Western culture; and the symbolism of France in Europe, it is clear that the attackers wanted to hit the people of the Western hemisphere – or any other culture that shares the same freedoms – in the place where it hurts the most. That is our comfort zones, the places we feel happy in, and where we forget about the stress of everyday life. Whether that is whilst watching a football match, going to a concert or enjoying a meal and some drinks in the company of people we appreciate.

This feeling can, somewhat, be found in Bono’s  comments on the Paris attacks, stating “This really is the first direct hit on music we’ve had in this so called war on terror”. Music holds a special place in every society, and the fact that IS defines concert-goers as ‘idolaters gathered in a party of perversity’, further enhances the idea that the main target here, was our culture.

Bono is not the only artist to have commented on the tragic events of Friday the 13th. Many opinions can be found on social media, and Madonna for instance made a touching speech during a concert on November 14th.


The European Dream: Different European Initiatives

Different logos, and headlines from mentioned newspapers.

Different logos, and headlines from mentioned newspapers.


“The less we offer, the less likely they are to come”

On August 26th, Denmark decided to reduce its public spending with regards to its refugees. According to the Danish newspaper, Politiken, some of the allowances reserved for refugees have been cut in half. For example, refugees bearing the single status and that have no children to care for, will receive 796 euros per month, as opposed to 1 454 euros. These figures may seem alarming for some, but it is important to note that they are relative to Denmark’s cost of living.

The aim of such a policy is to reduce the number of refugees coming into Denmark, however, it is impossible to tell what the effect of such a policy will have on asylum-seekers.

In 2014, Denmark welcomed 14 815 asylum-seekers thus setting a record for the small country in over twenty years. In contrast though, Sweden welcomed 81 301 refugees for the same year.

Since September 7th, Copenhagen has been publicising its new policies in relation to refugees in Arabic through Lebanese newspapers as a means to get the information across.

The United-Kingdom

Union Jack

Union Jack

The UK – like Denmark and Ireland- negotiated an ‘opt-out’ policy vis-à-vis to common E.U. efforts in relation to asylum-seekers, such as bypassing the quota suggested by Brussels. It is in fact a legal subtlety that doesn’t bear much strength in the face of the political realities.

The moral conscience of the people of the UK was awakened by the death of Aylan and put David Cameron under pressure – along with the E.U.’s disapproval and that of the opposition – to change his refugee crisis policies. On September 7th, Cameron announced that the UK would receive 10 000 Syrian refugees.

The Guardian specified that the Syrians refugees, the UK plans to welcome, come from camps from neighbouring countries, and that they will be victims of torture or sexual violence, the elderly or disabled persons.

The Daily Telegraph view Cameron’s decision as weak, and as a calamity, since his initial plan was to limit the UK’s refugee intake to about 1 000.

As for The Independent, Cameron’s “little gestures” are perceived as an insufficient response to this growing humanitarian crisis.


Towards the end of August, Ada Colau, Barcelona’s Mayor (politically close to Podemos), made a post on facebook that went viral:

“Even if this is an issue of state and European jurisdiction, from Barcelona we will do as much as we can to participate in a network of refuge-cities. We want cities built on human rights and life—cities we can be proud of” – Translated from Spanish

What the politician meant by “refuge-cities” is the creation of a network of towns that will be well equipped to welcome and host newly arrived refugees.

According to the Spanish newspaper, El Diaro, several Catalan city halls, such as Sabadell, Sant Feliu de Llobregat, and Valencia, have since been favourable to this initiative.

Ada Colau thus wrote to the Spanish President, Mariano Rajoy, on September 5th asking him to help fund these self-proclaimed refuge-cities. Arguing, that last year the European Commission granted the Spanish Government, 521,7 million euros to help solve the question of migration and asylum-seeking in Spain. As a result, this makes Spain the European country to receive the most funds in this department, after Greece.

Furthermore, the Barcelonan Mayor has created a register made-up of families that want to help refugees with accommodation, or material donations. The email address, for this register already received 1 200 propositions within the first twenty-four hours.

Ada Colau

Ada Colau


For the Dutch, the solution to this Refugee Crisis is giving priority to the U.N.

2,4 billion euros were made available on August 10th, by the European Union to aid with this humanitarian crisis. The funds will be used to help with the welcoming of refugees, in countries such as Greece and Italy; and the tightening of border controls.

The Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsbad, argues that the more responsible initiative – especially from States that do not wish to receive refugees – would be to increase the financial aid allocated to the various U.N. programs, that try to help with the accommodation of refugees in Syria’s neighbouring countries.

This stance underlines the fact, that many refugees are forced to leave the camps in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey due to a lack of resources in these camps. They are mainly lacking because the U.N’s efforts to help are insufficient. NRC goes on to explain, that only half of the necessary funds were gathered this year.

As the conditions in these camps become intolerable, many are sold the European Dream and start a journey that may be their last.

Support the UNHCR

Support the UNHCR

Source: L’hebdomadaire, Le Courrier International, issue n 1297

The European Dream: Part I

European dream

As the number of refugees rise, European initiatives to welcome them and integrate them into European society have increased. However, European solidarity on the issue, is far from being homogenous and common European policies need to be devised in order manage the situation correctly.

On September 3rd, Francois Holland (the President of France) and Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) addressed the various European institutions in a letter calling upon all the E.U. Member States to face “the greatest European challenge [migration]”. They pleaded for better mechanisms, that would make the management of the huge influx of people more effective; that welcoming ‘hotspots’ should be made in port countries such as Greece and Italy that would provide the right tools, in order to offer the permanent relocation of refugees; that the establishment of a list of ‘safe countries’ be made; that the ‘refugee corridors’ be dismantled; and that Europe supports the neighbouring countries of the exoduses people.

In many ways, the refugee crisis is a test on the effectiveness of the European Union as an international governance tool. On September 14th, E.U Ministers gathered in Brussels to come up with common solutions to the situation facing Europe. Holland and Merkel’s propositions were on the meeting’s agenda, however, one could say that the assembly didn’t achieve a great deal.

More E.U. countries have said that they are imposing border checks to better manage the situation, but this clashes with the E.U.’s Schengen agreement which grants people free movement among E.U. States. The law does allow temporary controls in the case of emergencies, however, the influx of people is unlikely to quieten down anytime soon. Germany alone expects one million migrants this year (higher than the initial estimate of 800 000).

The German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, stated that the increasing number of border controls in the E.U. are a sign that Germany “cannot accommodate all of the refugees alone”. What’s more, the UN refugee agency has stated that refugees may find themselves “in legal limbo”, and that the different border control measures adopted by E.U. countries “only underlines the urgency of establishing a comprehensive European response”.

Besides this, Germany’s border controls have been criticised for causing 20km long traffic jams in Austria’s motorways. Their decision to also bypass the Dublin III regulation – which states that refugees must register in their country of arrival – is causing problems. Many refugees are refusing to register themselves in Greece, or Italy as they fear that this will affect their asylum seeking applications in Germany, or other E.U. states for that matter.

Meanwhile, the E.U. interior ministers have agreed (in principle) to relocate 120 000 asylum seekers. Despite this, details of how the refugees will be shared among E.U. states remains in the shadows. The details are virtually non-existent and many countries have opposed any propositions that mention mandatory quotas.

Furthermore, a plan to “search, seizure and diversion… of vessels suspected of being used for human smuggling” has been approved by the E.U. to operate in the Mediterranean. It is hard to say for the time being whether this will have a positive impact on the crisis.

Refugee or Migrant Crisis?

Refugee or Migrant 1

Being an undocumented person has consequences for international law and the way that you are treated by society. A few pieces of paper is what proves ones existence, without the proper documentation one technically doesn’t ‘exist’. Not only does this mean that undocumented persons’ basic human rights are not granted, but they are also seen as an opportunity by some to extract money from the black market, by taking advantage of people in vulnerable situations.  Many refugees fall into a black market trap. It is an issue that is very hard to regulate and often overlooked when it comes to discussing the refugee crisis. Two texts British texts, one a film – Dirty Pretty Things by Stephen Frears and the other a novel by Monica Ali, Brick Lane, expose the hardship that stateless people may face.

It is also very important to distinguish a migrant from a refugee and to use the correct terminology when referring to the people who have fled war ridden zones. Some Western politicians can justify the relative inaction that has taken place with regards to the huge influx of people by categorizing them as “economic migrants” as opposed to refugees which could have detrimental effects on these people’s lives. As the UNHCR put it: “These are people for whom denial of asylum has potentially deadly consequences”. Al Jazeera has taken a strong stand on the issue, their blog illustrates the problem well.

One’s choice of word reflects an attitude to the current refugee crisis, there is a whole range of words used to in the world of migration, however, they their differences mainly lie in their interpretations.

Using the right terminology has an effect on how the refugees are firstly viewed and then treated within society. It may be a small step in the grand scheme of things but it may help grant these people, that are effectively stateless, the right documentation so that their rights can be respected.

UNHCR campaign

UNHCR campaign

Fortress Europe 1

The death of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year old Syrian Kurd, sparked international outrage and mass media coverage of the current refugee crisis. A crisis that was virtually unspoken of, even though, it started escalating in 2013. It is now considered to be the gravest refugee crisis since World War II.

Aylan’s family were on their way to Greece from a Turkish town called Bodrum, when their boat capsized and killed another twelve passengers.

Aylan’s five year old brother and his mother, also perished, but his father lived to tell the tale:

“We went into the sea for four minutes and then the captain saw that the waves are so high, so he steered the boat and we were hit immediately. He panicked and dived into the sea and fled. I took over and started steering, the waves were so high the boat flipped. I took my wife in my arms and I realized they were all dead.”

The family originally fled their hometown, Kobani, which has witnessed severe conflict between the Islamic State and Syrian Kurdish forces. Aylan Kurdi’s story is one of many thousands. Every day, people seek safety from their country’s turmoil by risking their lives and those of their families.

The media’s focus is mainly on Europe and often overlooks the fact that the majority of Syrian refugees are displaced in neighbouring nations such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. The huge influx of people often puts a lot of strain on these countries’ resources. Relatively small Lebanon, for example, hosts 1.2 million Syrian refugees whilst having a total population of 4.5 million.

Since the Syrian crisis broke out in 2011, 22 camps have been set-up in Turkey. As of 2014, it is estimated that Turkey hosts 1 million refugees, 217 000 of which live in camps.

The Afghanistan and Iraq crisis, along with the Ukraine crisis are also to blame for the refugee crisis. Again, Turkey hosts 81 000 people from Iraq and approximately 10 000 asylum seekers from other countries, including Eritrea. The sheer number of displaced people needs to be effectively managed, especially since numbers will continue to grow – not just in the Middle East but also in Europe.

Growing numbers of people risk their lives, enticed by the European dream, and decide to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Sometimes they make it – first entering through Italy, Greece or Spain and then slowly move on to Germany, or Sweden (the two European countries to receive the most refugees). Sometimes they don’t make it and end up dead and washed-up on a beach like Aylan.

In October 2013, efforts were made by the Italian Government to facilitate the refugees’ Sea crossing or rather to reduce the fatality risks by launching the Mare Nostrum Operation. The number of people coming into Italy are huge, in the first half of 2014 over 87 000 people there after crossing the Mediterranean, the two largest groups being from Eritrea and Syria. The Operation has saved over 100 000 people.

Until the instability that these people experience at home is resolved, the numbers will continue to grow and will become increasingly difficult to manage. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed concerns regarding barriers that some nations have placed to prevent asylum-seekers and refugees to come in (e.g. Hungary). These barriers don’t persuade people to not come in, it just makes it harder for them and increases the number of casualties.

The largest group of refugees come from Syria where an estimated 220,000 to 300,000 people have died over the escalating war. What’s more there is a lack of identification and protection mechanisms for these people, that are effectively stateless. Approximately 670 000 of them are undocumented, and therefore deprived of basic human rights whilst waiting for the adequate papers confirming their nationality.

Check out this video for a short and simple overview of the Refugee Crisis and the situation in Syria.

If you want to help out but don’t know where to start, this blog has some good tips.

Fortress Europe: An Overview