4 mins

Refugee Rights: if people knew more, they would care

2020 is the ninth year of uninterrupted rise in forced displacement worldwide. And while initiatives like the Refugee Teams at the Paralympics and Olympics help shine a light on their situation, the world’s 82 million refugees are voiceless. Unable to vote and excluded from the political process, they have no say in the services provided by the authorities where they live.
The number of refugees has doubled in the past 10 years. As a result, refugee crises are now in the headlines daily, and refugees’ rights are under pressure on every continent.

Believing that “when it comes to refugee rights, people would care if they knew more,” Izzy Hughes launched The Refugee Rights Project on Instagram in August 2020.
The Refugee Rights Project is a one-woman-led awareness campaign advocating for refugee rights.

“This is a subject that does not get a balanced portrayal in mainstream media.
I want to be part of a movement that makes reading about a pro-migration stance as easy as reading the sensationalist headlines one reads in The Sun or The Daily Mail.”

With her posts, Izzy provides perspective. RRP breaks down tough topics into accessible chunks, does some myth-busting, and challenges people to join the fight for a better future.
“This isn’t just about refugees; it’s for all of us.”

I sat down this summer with Izzy to learn more about the Refugee Rights Project and to discover what inspired Izzy to “step up and do something” about a subject with worldwide reach.

What was the inspiration behind creating the account? Was there a particular moment, or was this something you have been thinking about for a while?

For me, there actually was an “a-ha!” moment.

The idea and image of RRP had been building in my mind for months while taking a brilliant university course on Forced Migration in 2020.

Editor’s Note: Forced Migration refers to the movements of refugees and internally displaced people and people displaced by natural or environmental disasters, chemical or nuclear disasters, famine, or development projects.

During the course, I realised there was so much about migration and refugee rights that I, and the rest of my classmates, didn’t know about.
Over the next few months, I saw how the Black Lives Matter movement used Instagram to educate and mobilise a whole generation to stand up and take action.
Then, one day in August, after reading yet another article demonising people for crossing the English Channel, I had a moment of clarity.
I stopped what I was doing and wrote the first post for RRP’ Seeking asylum is not a crime.
It all just grew from there.

So with The Refugee Rights Project, you’ve found a way to explore the nexus between social justice, social media, and new forms of activism?

I’ve always had a strong sense of justice and fairness. It’s the idea of righting wrongs and bringing awareness to ignored issues that motivate me.

Whenever I get the opportunity to do independent research throughout school and university, my topic ends up being ignored injustices.
I look for stories that are not yet told or those where only one side is being shared.
Refugee Rights are a topic that is ignored and misrepresented in the mainstream.

So, I don’t think anyone who knows me was surprised when I started RRP as a platform for education and activism on refugee rights.

Social Media and beyond

Instagram has been a brilliant platform to reach people.
I love the capacity it provides to share knowledge, connect with other projects and grow an audience.
However, it’s also been challenging to overcome the changes to the Instagram algorithm and issues like shadowbanning.

With shadowbanning, a post will have hundreds of engagements and actions taken from it one week. But the same post won’t even get a share next week.
That’s tough to take sometimes.
But even if a post that took 6 hours only helps one person convince one other person to engage with refugee rights, then that’s enough to keep me going.

However, I also know many people who aren’t on Instagram or social media at all.
So, I plan to launch a website for The Refugee Rights Project, hopefully in September.
I want to use the website to take people through what I call ‘Refugee Rights 101’.
The website will give access to the Instagram content in a manageable way, provide space for feedback and provide plenty of growth opportunities!

Beyond that, I’d love to find more ways for RRP’s audience to take direct action, whether through signing petitions, donating, or supporting refugee-led businesses.

What is it like to be finding yourself on the cutting edge of a very politically charged subject?

The conversations I’m most passionate about having on my page are those that make space for the voices of people with lived experiences of displacement. In particular, those that call out racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other forms of discrimination.

I feel a lot of responsibility to ensure that people engaging with the page get all the information they need to understand and engage with a topic without over or under-complicating it.

I’ll never forget the person who commented on a very early RRP post. It was just one month after the launch.
They were struggling to debunk the idea that ‘real refugees would claim asylum in the first country they reach.’
They told me that my post had given them the information they needed to go back and argue their point.

The biggest challenge is the pressure of having a large audience and feeling like they’re relying on you to keep them informed on all refugee rights-related issues.
That’s something I’m coming to terms with at the moment.

Eventually, my dream is to have a diverse team of volunteers working on RRP!
But as a one-woman project, though I can’t write on every topic, I can share resources from other projects.
And if that’s all I can do, then that’s enough.

For more information, @therefugeerightsproject on Instagram and their link in bio, for all petitions and other ways of getting involved.
Website to be announced.

Feature image: Janossy Gergely, Shutterstock