Social Media and the Refugee Situation – You Decide How to Participate

Written By: CENSA Editorial Board

Over the past year, Europe has seen an increasing number of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers attempting to escape terror, violence or persecution. In 2015, there were a total of 1,321,560 asylum claims alone in the European Union. And the International Organization for Migration estimates that more than 1,011,700 migrants actually reached Europe by sea, and almost 34,900 by land.[1]

The challenges associated with the sudden influx of people have resulted in political tension and debate across Europe over how to deal with the crisis; social media has played a particularly large role in shaping discussions about possible remedies. For refugees, the use of social media has been more about survival than activism, with many using phone apps to navigate their way to safety [2] – a stark contrast from how social media has been utilized by others to comment about the migration. A simple Twitter search for #refugees yields a wide range of results, including NGOs promoting activism, journalists covering the crisis, and various citizens voicing personal opinions from various nations.[3] 

Expressing support for a cause via social media has been made easy with convenient posting and the use of hashtags…maybe too easy. Many posts reference real issues facing the refugees, but can be superficial and lacking in depth and context. While such posts are successful in bringing to light the plight of the migrants, they can also shift focus away from significant and meaningful action. In April, for example, the British House of Commons rejected the Dubs Amendment – a proposal to grant 3,000 refugee children asylum in the United Kingdom [4] – because online conversations shifted focus away from child safety to debates about how the government handles important decisions. This obfuscated the real issue, and the main message was lost in the shuffle.

In contrast with the challenges social media presents in the European refugee crisis, many users highlight the performance of other meaningful work that has had an impact in the field; however, these positive messages are also often lost in the noise. One example is a group of German entrepreneurs teaching refugees how to develop software code. Another involves two refugees who have returned to Iraq to fight against ISIS. 

This area of communications clearly has room to grow, but in a world of 24-hour news cycles and constant online access, further attempts to spread positive messaging can have real impact – especially if combined with more promising field efforts to distinguish the wheat from the chaff.

[1] BBC News. (2016, March 4). Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts [Online News]. Retrieved from

[2] Julian S. (2016, April 16). Refugees are more connected than ever. Rescuers must be too. [Online News]. Retrieved from

[3] #refugees, Twitter Search, June 24, 2016, 11:10 a.m.,

[4] BBC News. (2016, April 28). Government defeated again in Lords over child refugees [Online News]. Retrieved from