This article about the “‘refugees welcome’ fad” seems to miss the point.
It’s worth reading, because it comes from a much more informed place than I’m at with regard to the state of the EU and its current policies regarding refugees, migrants, and international relations generally. It highlights relevant facts and raises important questions.
But it doesn’t spend as much time answering those questions as it does rhetorically deploying them against an opposing position which I’m not convinced it understands.
The description in the final paragraph of ‘Refugees Welcome’ as a way to “make Twitter users feel better about themselves” seems telling. It’d help the Telegraph’s point if ‘Refugees Welcome’ could be bundled in with other short-lived online crazes like #kony2012 and such, but it is demonstrably not a hashtag, and as far as I’m aware it’s far more prominently featured in places like football stadiums than social media. Trying to dismiss it as something these young people with their iPhones and their SnapTindGrindChats will get bored with in five minutes shows a lack of understanding of what people are actually saying.
Which is a shame, because what they’re saying is nothing complicated. Anyone who can write an article with a nuanced view of the international situation, as this one certainly has, would be able to understand the point being made by ‘Refugees Welcome’, because it’s not a complex and nuanced position on international foreign policy at all. It’s not a practical stance on exactly how certain issues of crisis management in the Middle East should be addressed. It’s not a strategy for fixing a problem.
It’s a broad, non-specific attitude, a very general approach, a knowingly hazy statement of values. There are people desperately trying to come to the UK, from countries ravaged by civil war and political upheaval, and they’re dying in the attempt alarmingly often. And a lot of the public discussion about these people ends up making these desperate refugees (and, by extension, anyone born overseas or from a recent immigrant family, because that’s how racism works in the minds of people defending their homeland from a foreign “invasion”) feel unwelcome. Whether it’s overtly xenophobic, or just coldly pragmatic on how the local economy might be affected if we tried to stop so many children drowning, that’s the impression being given. If you’re not from here, you’re not welcome here.
‘Refugees Welcome’ is about countering that narrative. It’s about giving some hope, to anyone for whom the UK is a potential sanctuary from nightmares beyond my white middle-class understanding, that if you’re in need of refuge, you will be welcome here. It’s not pretending that the problem isn’t complex and multi-faceted, or that it can be fixed by happy thoughts and goodwill. But it certainly can’t be fixed without them. We’ll get to hammering out the details and rigorously analysing data to determine how people will actually best be helped; if we’re worth anything as a modern civilisation, our best minds are on the case. But for now, let’s also try and get the word out there that this is the sort of nation we are.
Just because it’s a catchy slogan, doesn’t mean it’s a fad. It’s a catchy slogan because it sums up how a lot of people feel.