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Facts must overcome lies in refugee discourse – Doherty

10th February 2023 - Regina Doherty

Public information campaign to counter disinformation is essential

A national public information campaign to counter heightened levels of disinformation being spread online about refugees in Ireland is urgently needed, a Fine Gael Senator has said.

Senator Regina Doherty said, “Since last month, more than 3,000 Ukrainian citizens have fled the ongoing Russian invasion of their country and sought refuge in Ireland. Ireland has displayed solidarity throughout this crisis, and throughout this unprecedented event, communities right across the country have welcomed refugees with open arms. Furthermore, we continue to provide asylum to those from other countries seeking international protection.

“However, in recent weeks, heightened levels of disinformation surrounding refugees – predominantly shared through social media platforms – have given rise to a spike in anti-refugee protests. Ordinary communities are being quite literally preyed upon by far-right elements, who have used this crisis to further their own agendas.

“In the absence of a public information campaign outlining the facts in their entirety, conspiracy theories are being allowed to run rife.

“Faux reports shared in WhatsApp groups, and forwarded to others, vilify male asylum seekers, with the inference that they somehow pose a danger to us.

“Videos being posted to TikTok make unfounded claims of ‘prostitution rings’ operating from refugee accommodation centres. There is a narrative that refugees are being prioritised on Ireland’s social housing lists when, in reality, there has been zero cases of this.

“Spreading lies is one thing, but we should all be genuinely frightened by the kind of rhetoric that has been reported at these protests. A speaker at one demonstration who encouraged protesters to ‘burn out’ refugees, ‘in the name of our culture’, encapsulates the sentiment. Other demonstrations have targeted refugees in their accommodations, their homes. We’ve seen videos of terrified children watching all of this unfold through their windows.

“This is far from who we are as a country, but as well as calling out these incitements of violence, we need to acknowledge the fact that rational, reasonable people are falling victim to disinformation. We have not done enough to counter that.

“That’s why I am calling on Minister Roderic O’Gorman – and Minister Joe O’Brien, who has been given responsibility for refugee integration – to initiate a comprehensive, nationwide, public information campaign to assure communities of the reality of government policy, and to take down the agenda-driven hatred that has entered our political discourse”, concluded Senator Doherty.

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