4 Sep 2015

Refugee debate heats up on social media

1:53 pm on 4 September 2015

As the refugee crisis in the Middle East and Europe continues, New Zealanders are using social media to call for action and offer help.

A refugee - or migrant - family stand at a camp, with a series of changing words underneath them reflecting their identity.

Earlier this week graphic artist Toby Morris addressed the refugee crisis. Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

The country's annual refugee quota is 750, and Prime Minister John Key had said the government would not reassess quotas before a scheduled review next year. However, yesterday, amidst mounting pressure to take action, he softened his stance.

More on the global migrant and refugee crisis from RNZ

As a harrowing picture of a dead three-year-old migrant gained worldwide attention, the pressure came from opposition MPs and humanitarian groups, but could also be seen building on social media.

Advocacy group Doing Our Bit, led by Wellington resident Murdoch Stephens, has been campaigning for two years to double the quota and to double funding for groups working with refugees.

The group has also started a campaign on online petition website ActionStation to immediately offer spaces to 100 more refugees from Syria - over and above the annual quota.

At 11am today, the petition had gathered over 6500 signatures - over halfway to its target of 10,000.

ActionStation national director Marianne Elliott said in an email that interest had grown rapidly.

"We started this back in June and it was very slow - which was personally heartbreaking for me at the time, as someone who has worked and lived in the Middle East," she said.

"But this week the tide of public concern really seems to have turned and it has been growing fast."

She estimated that over 4500 of those people had signed the petition this week.

New Zealand's refugee quota

Another cartoon by Toby Morris. Photo: RNZ / Toby Morris

Many have also pledged to take in refugees on a Facebook page set up by activist Urs Signer.

One Auckland woman, Susan Wills, said she had a sleepout and a spare room, and would be keen to help.

"Becuase we have travelled in Syria and were overwhelmed by the hospitality, the friendliness and kindness of the people who we met there, we wouldn't hesitate to stretch out a hand ourselves."

Ms Wills said, in the meantime, she had offered to donate household items and any other help she could provide to refugee agencies.

'Can New Zealand make a difference?'

While many posts on social media in the last 48 hours were firmly in favour of increasing the quota, others questioned how much of a difference New Zealand would really make.

Some people also questioned what would happen if extra refugees arrived.

How people are reacting on Radio New Zealand's Facebook page:

How people are reacting on Reddit:

With the country's potential flag change also trending on social media this week, Scoop's Lyndon Hood argued this point: "If a flag is supposed to represent our nation, let's make the nation something we're proud of."

One of two images by Lyndon Hood, linking the conversation about the flag change with calls to increase New Zealand's refugee quota.

One of two images posted by Scoop journalist Lyndon Hood on Twitter, linking New Zealand's potential flag change - a trending topic this week - with calls to increase the country's refugee quota. Photo: Lyndon Hood

One of two images by Lyndon Hood, linking the conversation about the flag change with calls to increase New Zealand's refugee quota.

Photo: Lyndon Hood

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