With the extraordinary amount of media commentary on the unfolding catastrophe in Syria, the finger-pointing between combatants, the volume of information, sometimes patchy, and sometimes outright misinformation circulating on social media, one thing is abundantly clear and beyond any argument. A humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions is unfolding before our eyes.
Many in the West have preconceptions about Syria and the region in general, giving rise to additional preconceptions about the millions of people fleeing the crisis.
Given all of this, it is always useful to hear the voices of traditional media professionals who have taken time to visit and report back from the frontline of the crisis. And on the Ryan Tubridy Show, one of those voices brought clarity to at least some of the issues of concern.
“As the war got worse, I thought it was important that Irish people had little bit more understanding about what’s going on. This is the biggest geopolitical story of our time. The biggest mass exodus of people since the Second World War. 7 million people have left Syria, not because they want to, because they have to.”
Stephen Rae is editor-in-chief of Independent News and Media and he has visited Syria twice before, back in the 1990s. He has always found Middle Eastern people extremely friendly, outgoing and engaging. He also has friends in Syria, so when the war broke out in 2011, he took a keen interest.
Stephen has just returned from a refugee camp called Gaziantep, in southern Turkey, a country that is currently hosting up to three million of the 7 million who have fled the country. Many more have ended up in Lebanon, some in Jordan, and many have undertaken the perilous journey to Europe.
In Gaziantep, many of the refugees are “damaged, fragile and vulnerable people”, according to Stephen. “A lot of them are orphans, many are widows, who have lost their husbands in the conflict.”
But there is one preconception Stephen is especially keen to clear up.
“Most of them don’t want to come to Europe, they want to stay in Turkey until the war is over, and then they want to immediately go home. Europe doesn’t hold any interest for a lot of these people.”
Ryan and Stephen also spoke at length about the rise of “fake news” and the difficulty many people have in developing informed opinions, with so much prejudicial commentary on social media, in particular. This was particularly evident during the recent US presidential election where, arguably, fake news may well have pushed the Republican nominee over the line.
Stories claiming that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump, on the one hand, and others claiming Donald Trump had expressed disdain for Republican voters as the “dumbest in the world” came across many Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds during the election. Neither was true, both utterly fabricated, both widely believed.
It’s certainly worth listening to the full interview with Stephen Rae, and you can do so by clicking here.
Photo Credit: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Image
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