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What will happen when the bed-pledgers are contacted to make good on their promise?

‘Is pledging a bed a true sign of solidarity or just an empty promise to ease first-world guilt?’ asks Brian O’Flynn.

Brian O'Flynn

THIS WEEK, CELEBRITIES and civilians alike stepped up to the plate and offered up their homes for refugees fleeing to Europe. Bob Geldof, infamous for his profanity-laced, hysterical reactions to humanitarian crises, publicly swore to open his Kent and London properties for any who needed them.

Similarly, bed-pledging initiatives were launched across Europe, earning themselves the handle of “Air Bn’Bs for refugees”. In Cork alone, the Evening Echo reports that close to 1,200 people have signed up online to pledge beds to asylum seekers in need via advocacy group Uplift.

There is certainly something to be said for this spontaneous eruption of ground-level activism. In an era when political indifference is the norm, it’s quite astounding to see such a pro-active response to a humanitarian crisis. It is heartening to know that when fellow humans are in dire need, we can leave behind apathy and armchair appeals to authority, and actually engage with the problem ourselves.

Promises vs action 

Contemporary society is often criticised for its “clicktivism”. The majority of people are so desensitised by media saturation and embittered by the narcissistic agendas of politicians that they don’t really engage with current affairs at all. The percentage that do bother to inform themselves about and engage with issues, often do so in a shallow way that has no real world consequences.

We are all guilty of this; we share posts on Facebook, complaining of injustices, but we rarely follow up those complaints with action. The problem with clicktivism is that it tricks us into believing we are politically active, when we are in fact making no difference whatsoever. It is at best a narcissistic practice of assuaging first-world guilt.

Many have hailed this bed-pledging scheme as a glorious exception to this apathetic norm. However, I fear it is simply a different strain of the same disease.

Hungary Migrants Source: Matthias Schrader

There is a huge moral distance between clicking a button that says you will welcome a stranger in need into your home, and actually doing it. Bridging this gap is probably beyond the average person. We need to realise that so far, people have merely clicked the button. No real world action has occurred yet, and to pretend that we have achieved something tangible with this scheme is to delude ourselves.

‘I wouldn’t really have the space, now that I think of it.’

Now that the media glare is so intensely focused on the crisis, it is at the forefront of the collective public consciousness. Every day, we see harrowing images of the refugees’ plight and read emotional appeals in newspapers and on social media. This has elicited a visceral response from people, and that’s a good thing. It’s a very, very good thing that we care so much.

Hungary Migrants Source: Associated Press

But what will happen when the furore dies down and the media moves on with its agenda? When the bed-pledgers are contacted in weeks’ or months’ time to make good on their promise, how will they react?

Oh, I signed that, did I? Oh god, yes, those poor people. It really is awful what’s happening. It’s just, I’ve got two kids and the box room wouldn’t be much good to anyone… I wouldn’t really have the space, now that I think of it.

While I have complete faith in the good intentions of those who signed up, I think that this support is more symbolic than anything else. It is a way of signifying our good will towards those in need.

Apart from a small handful of exceptional souls, I don’t believe that this movement will go beyond symbolism for most people. It is a very advanced form of clicktivism – whereby we are not just complaining, but promising to do something about our complaining – but it is clicktivism nonetheless.

But let’s say I’m wrong. Let’s say that the majority of those who signed up have fully thought through the consequences and are preparing their homes, as I write, for the arrival of their future guests. The problem is that even if these people did take in refugees, they would only be able to do so in the short term.

Distract from real solutions

A Syrian family cannot survive indefinitely on your donated food and your box room floor. These people have risked life and limb to get here because they believed that they would find new lives awaiting them at the end of the rainbow. A temporary set-up in a generous host’s spare room is hardly what they had in mind. These people need to be rehoused and resettled with carefully planned and coordinated government schemes. They need to be fully integrated into our society, with their own family homes, jobs and back gardens for their kids to play in.

The government is now assessing suitable properties across the country for the settlement of refugees. They have promised not to filter the incomers through the deplorable direct provision system.

What we need to be doing is putting pressure on the government to follow through on these promises; that is where our activism should be focused, because it is the surest way of securing happy, fulfilling lives for our new citizens.

Hungary Migrants Source: Associated Press

I hate to be a big, cynical party-pooper, but we have to be realistic. Bed-pledging is a wonderful show of solidarity, but the vast majority of people will not follow through on it.

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Most disturbingly, this scheme has potential to distract from real solutions. If people feel they have already done their part by simply signing an online form that they’ll soon forget about, there is a real danger that they will switch off, or lose their sense of obligation to help in more concrete ways. It also shifts the onus to act away from government, and onto ordinary people.

While this is empowering and has fuelled some great initiatives (like the convoys being organised to bring supplies to Calais refugee camps), it is also deflecting the responsibility of those who should be acting; i.e. our elected officials. They are the only ones who can administer long-term solutions to this crisis. They need to be pressured to follow through on their promises to accept asylum seekers, to process them quickly, and to rehouse them in such a way that they can integrate fully into Irish society and begin their new lives.

Spurred the government to act

Looking on the bright side, the level of engagement and initiative that was shown by the Irish people with the bed-pledging scheme will have some positive real-world consequences.

Already, the government has recognised how strongly the people feel about the refugee crisis, and this is obviously what triggered their decision to increase Ireland’s refugee intake.

90392888 Source: Sam Boal via Photocall Ireland

Minister Frances Fitzgerald said yesterday: “We will make very best use and respond to that huge sense of sympathy that is out there and the offers of help which have been made by the Irish public who clearly are responding to this crisis.”

The scheme contributed to the national outcry that has spurred the government to act. That is a great achievement in itself, but it means little without the corresponding reaction of our elected officials.

Bed-pledging is a nice idea, but it’s not enough on its own.

Brian is a student at the University of Edinburgh and a regular online contributor to Attitude magazine, the UK’s best-selling LGBT publication. He also contributes to The Outmost and GNI. His focus is on social justice issues and analysis of pop culture.

Read: Ireland will take in 4,000 refugees>

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