Beyond an image: practical ways to support refugees


The image of the body of 3 year old boy, Aylan Kurdi, lying washed up on a beach has been one of the most circulated images on social media in the past few days.  There is always a level of discomfort when faced with the human reality of the shameful failure to respond to the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep – but there should also a discomfort with people sharing images of dead weans.

Being constantly bombarded by these dehumanising images is intended to make us more receptive to the suffering of others but can often have the opposite effect, making us desensitised.  I completely understand why people who want to raise awareness of the plight of refugees may have shared the image of Aylan – I just can’t help but wonder whether  this child has had his dignity and humanity taken away quite enough in life without being turned into a meme.

What I can’t tolerate is the misuse of this image by the media; I can’t laud the actions of the “brave” newspaper editor, using a dead child to shift their wares, ignoring how much many of them have conspired to devalue and dehumanise people while they were alive.  The Sun, famed for such headlines as “Halt the Asylum tide now” and more recently “Draw a red line on immigration or else” made use of Aylan’s image, as did The Daily Mail, who just over a month ago dedicated their front page to denouncing “The ‘Swarm’ on our Streets.”   Last week, the Trinity Mirror group reported on a “13 year old illegal immigrant” and chose to highlight the child’s plight with a picture of a motorway and a police car.  The sudden desire to exploit images of kids whose right to exist many sections of the media stood so coldly against a whole week ago seems beyond disrespectful. jm13002

It’s infuriating to look on at what’s happening from a country which has been purposefully engineered to be empty over centuries; Scotland has many of the least populated areas in Europe.  We could comfortably rebuild Aleppo, Damascus and the 200 mile stretch in between, without straying far south of Aberdeen.

The callous response from Westminster has been predictable shameful, with David Cameron previously saying that accepting more migrants was “not the answer.” That suggests they refuse to understand the question.  Yesterday’s announcement of plans to provide resettlement to further “thousands” (believed to be around 4000 people) would still leave the UK lagging far behind many European states.

The rhetoric from Holyrood has been miles apart from Cameron & chums, yesterday Nicola Sturgeon suggested Scotland should accept 1,000 refugees “as a starting point” at a summit of humanitarian organisations and politicians.  We must ensure this is more than rhetoric –  a pledge of resources, infrastructure and…to making sure we do offer at least 1,000 people a home as soon as possible is essential.  We may not control immigration policy but I’m pretty sure the Scottish Government have a few vans and maybe even a Sturgeoncopter at their disposal.    Now’s not the day to talk about how great it would be to control our own borders or what we could be doing if we‘d voted Yes, now’s the hour to show what we can and must do, independently and in open defiance of that section of that elite intent on pulling up the drawbridge.


It’s not been Governments but people themselves who’ve been at the forefront of  the response this humanitarian and political crisis, so I‘d urge people to think about the many things we could be sharing and doing which might be of more use than circulating another shocking photo.

Support the convoys and collections

New collection points and conveys are springing up everywhere.  There’s the Wishaw to Calais convoy, The Calias Solidarity Mission and CalAid to name a few.  Be mindful of requests for specific items, don’t bombard anyone with things they don’t need and always try to be sure there are the means to get your donations to where they need to go.  If you’re not able to contribute financially, all these groups will always be in need of help with admin, co-ordination and people spreading the word.

Keep hassling politicians

I’d normally suggest petitions serve little purpose but the Parliamentary petition calling on the UK Government to accept more refugees has already gained over 4 times the 100,000 signatures required to be considered for a debate in parliament.  Signing it wouldn’t be the worst use of 40 seconds.

But we need to also relentlessly harangue the Scottish Government and local authorities, to ensure the promises made are kept and that the growing movement to provide solidarity is supported wherever possible.

Get out onto the streets

Again, lighting a candle is not something I’d normally endorse as a political strategy but with the Facebook events for the vigils in Glasgow and Edinburgh already attracting a huge number of supporters,  there is the chance for a massive demonstration of solidarity on our streets.

Support organisation working with refugees and asylum seekers

If someone tells you “charity begins at home,” point them to organisations like the Scottish Refugee Council, who have been helping refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland for 30 years and the Glasgow Night Shelter, which provides food and shelter to some of those who are destitute.  Sadly, the mistreatment of  many seeking refuge doesn’t end when they reach Scotland, so consider whether you can donate money or even time to groups working to change that.

Have the argument

A year ago, many of us were perfectly comfortable with getting involved in rammies about politics on the train, keen to engineer conversations with strangers, so we could eventually get to the question of how they were planning to vote.  Yet, we often do little when we hear misinformation or outright racism, so maybe now‘s the time to be *that person*.  Get yourself acquainted with some of the facts – bus stops need never be the same again.

Challenge the causes, not just the symptoms

The Syrian crisis, like the Afghan, Iraqi, Palestinian or Kosovan refugee crises before them weren’t random events.   Injustice, war, inequality and our constant need to punt guns to all comers creates these situations again and again.  The nations who’ve sold the most arms in Syria (around $15bn worth in the last 4 years), the UK included, have thus far taken in just 2% of Syria’s refugees.   We need to constantly highlight that we’re creating refugees across the globe by continuing to fund and arm brutal regimes, promoting war and with economic policies intended to ensure the rest of the world is owned and operated from the comfort of a boardroom.

Stay angry, stay organised

We can’t allow the current mood to falter – a few quid in a collecting tin or donating your old tent is grand but there will be a refugee crisis in the world this time next year and there will still be people left destitute on Scotland’s streets by the policies of the Home Office.

This crisis may fall quickly off the political agenda.  We need be keep being enraged without the need for gruesome visual prompts, to support refugees when it’s not popular as well as when it’s the Sun’s “good cause.” Perhaps most crucially, we need to keep building a strong, practical movement to challenge Governments and international institutions and to offer solidarity to all those seeking to realise their basic human rights.

Fuck living in a society which treats people like this – we can do better, and we must.



Further Reading:

Will bombs bring peace to the Middle East?


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