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When myths go viral: Reclaiming humanity online to make #RefugeesWelcome

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In Ireland, people gather the stand in solidarity with refugees around the world. Photo: Steve Kingston

Myths and facts about the Syrian refugee crisis—and why your support matters.

My job at Oxfam usually keeps me in the behind the scenes, creating webpages, scheduling tweets, analyzing data from our website, etc.

The best part about it is that I get to hear from our supporters, our blog readers (hey you!), our Twitter followers, and everyone else we engage with online every day. In times of humanitarian crises, which seem never-ending lately, we hear from people a lot. The Syrian refugee crisis seems to have galvanized people online in a way I’ve never seen before. This can be incredibly inspiring, but it also comes with sadness and discouragement. We’ve all seen the heartbreaking viral photo of a little boy, washed up dead on the beach in Turkey, but there’s a lot of other viral content out there too – some much less sympathetic, sometimes downright hateful. To make matters worse, there’s a lot of misinformation going around.

That’s why I’m stepping out from behind the scenes today. I want to address some most common misconceptions I’ve seen on social media. Because in order for people to make a difference and take action, we first need to equip ourselves with the facts.

Myths gone viral

Noura, 24, from Homs province in Syria with her 7-month old son Ziad. They are living with her family in the informal refugee settlement of Barsa. Photo: Sam Tarling / Oxfam

Myth #1: We have enough homeless people, orphaned children, and underserved veterans in our own country and should focus our resources on them.  

Okay, so this isn’t really a myth, because it is absolutely true that there are many people in our own cities living in poverty who need help. However, compassion is not zero-sum – there is enough to go around. It’s important to help people in our communities, or donate to local charities, but that shouldn’t stop us from looking past our own borders. This is a global crisis, and we shouldn’t turn our backs on anyone because of where they were born.

Myth #2: A majority of refugees are young men who pose a terrorist threat if we let them into our country.

We are constantly hearing stories about extremist groups and terrorist attacks in the news, and this threat is nothing to take lightly. However, most Syrian refugees are fleeing these exact same violent groups. They want to live somewhere safe and peaceful as much as you or I do. Not to mention that almost half of the 12 million Syrians who need humanitarian assistance are children – that’s almost an entire generation of Syrians growing up without a safe childhood.

Myth #3: Refugees have smartphones so they must have enough money to take care of themselves.

Before the war, Syria was considered a “lower middle income” country.  The violence has affected people from all types of economic backgrounds. Some people had more savings than others to tide them over, but it’s been over four years, and those savings have run dry. The fact is, a cell phone does not make anyone any less of a refugee or any less deserving of help.  If you had to flee your home right now, your cell phone might be the first thing you grab.

So, what can we do about it?

Reema (Not her real name), 12, sits inside the partially constructed building that is serving as home to her family in Qalamoun, near Tripoli in northern Lebanon. Photo: Sam Tarling / Oxfam

What can we do to help in a situation that can feel so hopeless? Well, you’ve already taken the first step and learned more about the situation. I recommend this video if you want more.

Second, you can show the people of Syria that you support them and share the message with your friends. Share a story, a tweet, or photo, like this one, with the hashtag #RefugeesWelcome. Your support matters, even across the world.

We stand in solidarity with people fleeing violence in Syria and around the world. Click the link in our profile to stand with us. #RefugeesWelcome

A photo posted by Oxfam America (@oxfamamerica) on

Third, make your voice heard to the U.S. government. Tell them that we need to do more for refugees and commit to welcoming at least 100,000 through resettlement in the coming year. Send a letter to the President, Secretary of State, and Secretary of Homeland Security. All you have to do is add your name!

And to everyone who has shown their support already, thank you! Your financial support helps us provide refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean water, relief supplies, and more. And your voice helps us advocate for political change.

In his historic address to the United States Congress, Pope Francis addressed the refugee crisis by saying, “We must not be taken aback by their numbers, but rather view them as persons, seeing their faces and listening to their stories, trying to respond as best we can to their situation. To respond in a way which is always humane, just, and fraternal. We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome.”

So let’s take his advice and spread humanity, not hate. We need every bit we can get.

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